By Scarlett Zhao, Communications Manager – EMEA, Alibaba Group
“If you are right-handed, don’t think of writing with your left hand.”
In the lectures and discussions during The Xec., imposter syndrome came up a fair few times. The term was new to me but the experience of it was far too familiar. I often struggle with finding confidence and I have missed opportunities by overthinking the what-ifs and doubting myself. It is clear to me that I can do things well and learn new skills fast. On top of that, I have accomplished all the things I’ve put my mind to. But the internal voice narrating my working life chiding ‘I’m not good enough’ and ‘someone else is so much better at so and so’ still troubles me deeply.
“If you are right-handed, don’t think of writing with your left hand.” This is what my mentor on The Xec. scheme said to me after I expressed my concerns about things that I’m not good at. It was as obvious as that but, in my mind, I would let my weaknesses overshadow all my strengths.
For example, English wasn’t the dominant language in life until two years ago when I moved to London. I often thought that being a non-native speaker would be the Achilles’ heel in doing PR. In turn, in fixating on this point, I would turn a blind eye to my strengths in navigating the cultural differences between the East and the West, as well as my track record of delivering at my job including the language requirements for developing content.
Growing up in a culture of focusing on critiquing people by focusing on what is wrong, as opposed to what is right and what could be great, has left a sizeable imprint in my mentality towards all things, especially in the world of work. Acknowledgement of this issue, I now understand, is the first step towards overcoming this challenge and having that mantra at the back of my mind will bat away some of those self-doubts.
“Give yourself credit”
I’d describe myself as a “deal with it” type of person. Whatever is going on, I tend to deal with it quietly and then move on to the next task right when it appears. No pause, no looking back.
In February 2020, I moved from Beijing to London to begin a new chapter of life. Notice the date. I packed all my belongings, said my goodbyes, reassured family that I’d see them soon (with regular trips to China being a guaranteed aspect of my new job role) and boarded the flight. A matter of five weeks later; global pandemic, lockdown and ‘the new normal’ of working from home in my first London flat.
I dealt with it. I landed in a new team. I adapted to a whole new working culture. I reinvented my role due to travel restrictions. I even taught yoga to my colleagues over zoom. All of this from my living room, next to an A road (back then I had no idea it meant lots of traffic and raving music from cars), above a chicken shop with abundant chemical smells and smoke.
I moved out from that flat over a year ago. I now look back on these times through a different lens, based on what a few people remarked to me, “you have to give yourself credit.” For the longest time, when someone asked about my experiences I would reply with ‘It is fine’. However, that wasn’t quite true. This period of my work and life were supremely challenging (as it was for everyone). Until I was told repetitively that I had actually achieved a lot I never gave myself any credit.
The importance of these three words has been hugely significant in the way I now try to work. It was like someone turned on the switch that allowed me to look back, and not just move on without pause.
In fast-paced life I think we are all guilty of this. I now understand that it is vital to look back, reflect and recognize what we have achieved and give ourselves a big hug.
Inclusion brings inspiration
When I was asked why I applied for The Xec. I answered with ‘I need it’. I was being honest. By then I had spent over a year in an isolated environment with little network in this country. Also, by then I had spent over 5 years doing PR in the same company, in-house. I needed to talk to people and I needed to learn different perspectives.
The Xec. has met my need and given me more. Learning about diversity related topics is greatly beneficial to me, especially having lived in a relatively monoculture society most of my life. Beyond that, the experience of working with a group of people from such diverse backgrounds has been illuminating. It made me see that inclusion brings tremendous inspiration and is a must for successful teams.
Some people may think that diversifying a team would lead to diluting top talent. The fundamental problems within this argument are their definition of talent and the neglect of talent in progression. I would say that skills can be easily gained with training and support, while different perspectives, mindsets, and life experiences are hard to obtain.
In my own experience, I have benefitted and learned way more from talking to friends who come from different parts of the world (and often hold different values) than the long hours I spent in school. Similarly, I have seen so many sparks in our conversations and working process between The Xec. cohort.
While learning is infinite, unfortunately the act of learning can directly feed into imposter syndrome.
It is a truism that the more you learn, the more you realise how much you do not know. Taking The Xec. course has illustrated this point so clearly.
Through the last nine months, I have had the pleasure and privilege to learn from numerous incredible people; industry leaders, experts and forces of creativity in their fields. Moreover, spending time in the company of my brilliant Xec. cohort, has been eye-opening. The more I learn, the more the sheer breadth of knowledge embedded within, and required for, our industry has become apparent. As enjoyable and fulfilling as learning has been, I sometimes felt overwhelmed by how much of my knowledge was lacking. There I was, again, comparing myself to my peers and the best in their fields. However, I now remind myself that it’s wonderful to learn new things from the best – you can’t know everything – and to trust people’s expertise.
Ultimately, my final thought for this post would be a simple statement: Don’t be afraid of asking for help. I always felt that asking for help would be seen as a weakness of me and a burden for someone else. However, my experience with The Xec. has shown me many times that people do want to help (if asked). They do want to share their knowledge and experience. They, too, will gain from your requests for help. Asking is not a weakness. Acknowledging your weaknesses and seeking help to improve is a strength.
Connect with Scarlett Zhao on LinkedIn.