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  • Kim Meninger

Be Your Own Biggest Fan

Updated: May 12, 2023

Be Your Own Biggest Fan - Jenna Comins-Addis


In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, I speak with Jenna Comins-Addis, a high-tech professional, who shares her experience as a transgender woman. One of the reasons I was excited to speak to Jenna is that she doesn’t experience impostor syndrome. Her confidence, sense of self and perspective on work can empower all of us to grow our own confidence. She also shares ways that we, as allies, can better support the LGBT community.

About Jenna Comins-Addis

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Transcript:

Kim Meninger Welcome, Jenna, I can’t wait to have this conversation with you today. But before we jump in, feel free to introduce yourself. I’d love to learn a little bit more about you.

Jenna Comins-Addis Thank you, Kim. I appreciate you inviting me on to your podcast. My name is Jenna Comins-Addis. I am the Digital Media Specialist for Aras. And we actually have a bit of a connection, Kim. You spoke at my company for International Women’s Day. And one of my fellow marketing peers recommended that I reach out to you. And that’s exactly what we did. We had a little conversation a few weeks ago, just about the topic of women in the workforce, and about impostor syndrome and finding confidence where we both stand and even just things about women in the work world. And it’s really nice of you to invite me here and we can talk a little bit more publicly.

Kim Meninger Yeah, I really appreciate that, too, Jenna. I know, I remember when you and I first spoke feeling really energized by our conversation, I feel like you asked really good, challenging questions. And I’m always up for that. And so I thought, what a great opportunity for us to continue this conversation in a way that other people can listen to. So I’d love to, you know, as you and I talked about previously, I’d love to hear a little bit more about your personal story. So you are a transgender woman. And I’m really interested in learning a little bit more about, you know, if we, if we rewind in time, to anything you’re willing to share with us about your experience prior and how you knew and what that felt like for you.

Jenna Comins-Addis Sure, it’s a bit of a difficult question in terms of trying to explain it to people effectively. That said, what I explained to people is, I knew something was different about me when I was probably about six. But I didn’t have a word for it. I was a kid. And maybe everyone felt that way. Maybe this is something that will go away. And it never did. And I never really had a word for it until I was kind of in the fifth grade. So that was 10, 9/10 years old. And even though I heard it, first heard the term transgender, it didn’t really resonate with me, it didn’t really quite click until I got older. I was in high school. And it began to make more sense. And it wasn’t really until I went to college, when I was away from my peers that I went to school with, the people I had grown up with, that I really began to start to take strides in coming out. It was a bit of a challenge, especially because I was the only trans person I knew. I had to rely on the internet to really find my way. And that was a little bit challenging, it was actually a lot challenging. But I found my way, experimenting with style, experimenting with things around town, Bloomington, Indiana, I went to Indiana University, too. Great location, lots of great people out there. It’s not what the Midwest is, really not what people think of the Midwest. It’s not anything like it. It’s our very own little microcosm of the world and it was a really great experience. Great four years out there.

Kim Meninger I’m glad to hear that. And because, yeah, we have different impressions of different parts of the country and based on the headlines and things that have been going on in the last few years or so. But it sounds like it was a supportive environment for you. Well, what was it like in high school? Like, do you remember just how you felt in relationship to your peers?

Jenna Comins-Addis It’s, it’s kind of hard to put that aspect into words. I was never really out to anyone in high school. It was something that I was kind of dealing with personally. It wasn’t something that I really was pushing toward and knew was something that if I wanted to continue becoming a better version of myself, it would really have to be in its own area. I couldn’t really, I didn’t, I didn’t feel comfortable coming out to the people around me publicly. And I had to do it in a place where I was just had a fresh start. And that’s part of what going to college out of state was. Part of me also knew that the hardest people to come out to it was never going to be one specific person. It was always going to be the men in my life. The people who I had played sports with. My dad, my uncles, my grandfathers and not because I didn’t think they would support me. I knew that I had, that they had my back, especially because that was not the first queer person in my family. My cousin came out before me as gay. And I knew that he kind of had walked so that I could run. He was definitely, he definitely made it easier for me. But these were people who considered me like a son, because I was to them, and I don’t blame them. And it was going to be a big switch. That said, my interests are the exact same, my personality is mostly the same. Just everyone who I’ve ever spoken with has said, doing that really changed value was the way you presented yourself, and you’re still the same person we’ve always known. And that’s exactly what I intended.

Kim Meninger Wow. So did you feel, I mean, you mentioned having a cousin who kind of paved the way for you. Did you feel worried? Did you feel like you had to really think about what you were going to say? Was that conversation really anxiety-provoking for you?

Jenna Comins-Addis No, it really wasn’t, especially because my parents were so in my corner. They were my biggest advocates, my day ones from the start. Jenna, we support you. We love you. It was, I couldn’t, I couldn’t have asked for a better coming out experience.

Kim Meninger Wow. That’s wonderful to hear. Do you think they were surprised?

Jenna Comins-Addis Surprised? Yes. Shocked? No. But it was certainly a moment of time. It wasn’t like they were just counting down the hours, counting down the minutes, counting down the seconds until all right, this is gonna be it. No, they were I said, I have something to tell you. They were, they weren’t totally predicting this, there was still a little bit of a shock. But I think if we all take a step back, it all kind of makes sense when you put all the pieces together.

Kim Meninger You have siblings?

Jenna Comins-Addis No, I’m an only child. Oh.

Kim Meninger So that’s yeah, I can imagine that being an interesting experience too, in some ways, it might be nice to have the support system of siblings, but it might also complicate things a bit too. Yeah. Wow. So you mentioned too, not having a community around you, especially when you were younger, and you had the internet. How did that feel when I mean, the internet is such a wild place. Do you feel like you had access to the information you were looking for? Did you even know how to, how to search?

Jenna Comins-Addis Part of me was very lucky that YouTube existed. There’s a lot of places where people talk about their experience, Reddit is a great place too. There’s lots of people on there who have very similar stories. It’s part of the reason why places like my LinkedIn, my Instagram, they’re public. I don’t make them private. I want to be a resource for someone who went through the same experience I did. If I could even passively be a resource for someone to show that things progress, things change, things get better, I would like to be that resource and therefore be open.

Kim Meninger That’s really inspirational. I love that. And you know, even just in your own lifetime, and you’re a lot younger than I am, I’m sure you’ve seen change. Do you feel like the experience is different now for someone who’s just coming out versus maybe when you were?

Jenna Comins-Addis Oh, I definitely… You remember? I’m not sure how much on the radar it would, it would be for you. But Katie Couric came out with a documentary called the Gender Revolution. Probably in about 2016 maybe. Just a guess. [Yeah.] That was kind of this moment time. There was this…. That’s just after I had come out. It was really beginning to be the time when the advocacy was taking off, but also the political lightning rod that the LGBT community became for both sides, using it as a way to sway voters one way or the other, whether it was bathroom bills, or it was human rights or the Supreme Court passing the law that discrimination based on sex and gender and sexual orientation was unconstitutional. I had come out just before that, and now you’re seeing so many people come out as non-binary as tr… again, as a form of being trans but somewhere in between the lines. There’s not really any sort of rules to go by. And that’s a great thing. People can be their own selves. They don’t feel like they have to adhere to any specific way, shape or form of being.

Kim Meninger So let’s talk a little bit about confidence. Because I know you and I have talked about impostor syndrome. It’s not something that you necessarily personally identify with. What does confidence look like to you?

Jenna Comins-Addis To me, confidence looks like being your own biggest fan. If you’re not going to be your own biggest fan, who, who will be? You need… if you don’t believe in what you’re doing, if you don’t, even, it’s the same thing in business. If you don’t believe in your own product, why should anyone sell it? If you’re not gonna believe in yourself, why should anyone advocate on your behalf? It starts with yourself. It’s really nice to have someone advocate on your behalf, whether it’s in business, or it’s in life, but the best person is yourself. That doesn’t mean be arrogant, doesn’t mean have a big ego, it means know where you stand. And don’t back down.

Kim Meninger So, how do you think you were able to develop confidence whereas a lot of other people maybe aren’t their own biggest fan, and there is such a challenge sometimes to believe in yourself?

Jenna Comins-Addis I think it really came from having a good support system. It came from having parents who believed in me and let me explore what I wanted to explore whether it was in school, or it was clubs, or it was in activities outside of work. They never really told me you couldn’t do that. No, go for it. Be, be what you want to be. And I think also leave it at that.

Kim Meninger Yeah, really, it sounds like you have amazing parents, which is definitely a big part of the imposter syndrome conversation that I’ve had with many and, and it’s not as though while there are certainly, you know, some bad parents out there, I think for the most part, parents have good intentions, and they just don’t realize the way that their messages undermine their children’s confidence. And so you know, a lot of parents put a lot of pressure on achievement or you know, have very high standards for their kids, which can make it difficult to feel like you live up to them. I mean, it sounds like your, your parents were very supportive, which is great.

Jenna Comins-Addis I was always told, do the best you can and that’s all we’re asking for. And that’s, I always put forth my best effort even to this day, when in the business world, you take everything with enthusiasm. You don’t complain, you don’t, you ask questions, but you don’t get mad at, if you get busy. No, being busy is good. It means there is a line of people who believe in the work that you’re doing and want and believe in the results that you have. Be excited.

Kim Meninger I really like your attitude about that too. Because I do think we live in a time where people feel overwhelmed. There’s a lot going on and a lot, you know, there are certainly I think some changes that could be made to the work model. But I also think attitude plays a big role in that.

Jenna Comins-Addis I really hate when people, when people, when someone asks you, how are you doing? Oh, I’m busy. That’s how you’re doing. I am doing busy. No, you say you’re doing well. I’m busy but things are great. Are you kidding me? Would you rather be sitting there bored? No, it’s so much better to be having a lot of things cooking. I’m a really big fan of motorsports. And there’s this quote saying that if you feel like you’re in control of everything, you’re not going fast enough. You could say the same thing in, in business, if you feel like you’re in control of everything, you’re not taking enough risk or you’re not creating enough, you’re not producing enough.

Kim Meninger That’s a really interesting perspective on impostor syndrome, too, because while impostor syndrome, I see it as having degrees, right? So some forms of it might be milder and others more intense, but I do see it as a signal that I’m making myself uncomfortable, which is a good thing. And I think to your point, if I’m feeling too comfortable, usually that’s an indication that I’m not stretching myself enough. So I need to do something a little bit different, step, step outside my comfort zone a bit. How do you think about that in the context of your work and everything that you’re doing? If you feel confident, how do you know that you’re challenging yourself? Like, what’s the line for you between comfort and, you know, challenge?

Jenna Comins-Addis I think the line kind of starts where if you need to start asking questions, that’s when you know that you’re beginning a new, starting a new grand experience. If I know exactly what I’m doing with everything, it’s kind of mundane, I want to have to be able to ask questions. I want to be able to clarify, and I definitely want to be able to seek the advice of my peers, take criticism, and do what’s best for a brand, do what’s best for the business, do what’s best for the overall team, be a team player. If I can do my job as best, then I’m definitely benefiting the team for the best.

Kim Meninger And I, once again, I think that’s a really good attitude and how we look at our situations is a choice. We don’t often see it that way but it really is a choice. And I think it’s important to ask ourselves if we are feeling self-doubt, or stress or anything else, you know, is there another way to interpret the situation?

Jenna Comins-Addis Yeah, there’s no shame in asking questions to your manager or your manager’s manager, there’s no shame in writing an email. If you don’t know, and just guess, you might be doing, you might, you might be missing out on the key objective.

Kim Meninger Yeah, I think that’s such an important point, too, is a lot of times when we struggle with self-doubt, we don’t want to ask for help because we’re afraid it’s going to reveal the incompetence or that the secret that we’re trying to hide, when in actuality all it does is perpetuate the self-doubt, because to your point, better to clarify upfront than to go down a path that you’re not sure is the right one, only to then have to shift gears and fix it later. So having, I think confidence means having the courage to say I don’t know or I need help.

Jenna Comins-Addis There’s a lot of arrogance in thinking you know everything. I sure as heck don’t know everything, and I don’t think I ever will. And there are people out there who know things that I don’t and I want to be instilled with that knowledge.

Kim Meninger And I think that is the, the interesting… I’m trying to think of the right way to frame it. But essentially, it’s like, I think we intellectually know that we can’t be perfect, that we can’t know everything. But the emotional part of many of us is still putting on that pressure. And so to get to a place where we can say, I’m comfortable with what I know, but still want to continue to grow and learn. And I also know that there will be things forever that I don’t know, and that’s okay, too. I think that’s really the, the goal, or the, the ideal place for us to be but it’s so hard for so many people to get there because that sense of insecurity or that sense of you know, I need to know everything, I need to do everything myself can be so overpowering. So are there any times when you experience self-doubt?

Jenna Comins-Addis Meaning again, I need like a minute?

Kim Meninger Sure, yeah. Yeah.

Jenna Comins-Addis I think I experience self-doubt when I see someone succeed more than I am. I feel like oh, did I not do the right strategy? Or did I not attack this issue, problem or task at hand with the best strategy? It’s not, it makes me feel very, that is a form of self-doubt, right there. Did, could I have done this better? My intentions were great, but should I have taken someone else’s advice or followed someone else’s guide more? Is something that, something does, sometimes does creep into me. Should I have to try that differently? And was I, have I been going down the right path for too long that’s too late for me to switch to a new strategy in solving a problem or task.

Kim Meninger So if you find yourself in that kind of a situation, how do you bounce back from it? Do you have a go-to strategy for that?

Jenna Comins-Addis Tomorrow’s another day. People will be willing to let you have another go. There’s, there’s going to be new tasks coming up. There’s, there’s new things to do. And that’s new opportunity to try new things, never be afraid to try new things. I gave a whole talk actually, at Northeastern. I was the first trans person to join a sorority at Indiana University. So I gave a talk at Northeastern because they happen to have the same chapter of sorority that I was in I was in Delta Phi Epsilon. And I talked about my time in my sorority, but I didn’t just give a report. I framed it in the idea of trying new things, taking leaps of faith and going towards something that may not be known to myself.

Kim Meninger Yeah, well, and that’s a powerful example, too, because I know that that had to be an emotional one, too. I mean, how, how did it feel to go through that process?

Jenna Comins-Addis I mean, talk about the possibility for opportunity of being felt like an impostor. At that moment in time, I was very early on in my transition, actually. I was, I had come out, maybe just, maybe like, six months before I had officially gone through the sorority recruitment process. And it was a lot of taking cues from the people around me as best I could. I was definitely still kind of new to the world of, of womanhood. And I knew that it was going to be a challenge. I knew I wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I did find a chapter that fit me really well. And the rest was history.

Kim Meninger That’s really great. And did you encounter any kind of resistance? Was there anything?

Jenna Comins-Addis No, yeah, not really, it was really something where I asked if I could go through recruitment. They said, yes, I went through. And I found my place. That I was very surprised. I thought there was kind of to be, oh, let me talk to this person, or let me talk to that person, the Panhellenic Indiana University was more than welcoming. It was a very great experience. No chapter gave me any problems and I found my place.

Kim Meninger That’s really great. I’m really, I’m really glad to hear that that was your experience. And I’m hopeful that that is the experience of many others as well.

Jenna Comins-Addis I sure hope so too. It’s, especially the Midwest, again, gets a little bit of a bad rap at times. But Indiana University, they certainly have, have a good advocacy program in place.

Kim Meninger So how would you say, your trans identity factors into how you see yourself?

Jenna Comins-Addis I like to think of it more as a footnote at this point. It’s really something that doesn’t overly define me. Sure, it’s, it is something that does define me. But in terms of a business setting, in terms of how I go about my day to day life, whether I’m in a restaurant, or I’m at a sporting event, or I am among friends, I’m just Jenna, or I’m just a woman going down the street, or I’m just a woman who works for my company.

Kim Menninger So, you know, obviously, you know, I don’t want you to feel like you have to speak for everybody. But as we all continue to, you know, diversify our communities and meet new people. And, you know, what do you suggest to people who want to be more supportive? You talked about being an advocate, are there ways that others of us can be an advocate as well?

Jenna Comins-Addis The word there is a very specific word for it is to be an ally. To be someone who well not LGBTQ yourself, is an advocate on a queer, on queer people’s behalf. Someone who calls out bigotry when they hear it or see it. Even if someone who’s not queer is in the room. A person who is willing to go to LGBT-related causes and Pride, have fun. It’s a great time, it’s a great parade, highly recommend anyone to go to a Pride parade. Ask questions, the absolute best thing you can do is ask questions. I know I tell people you don’t feel like you need to walk around, walk on eggshells when talking to me. I’m a pretty open book, wherever you want know, I’m willing to help out. In that sense. Definitely ask questions you don’t know what you don’t know until you ask.

Kim Meininger And I really appreciate your openness to that too. You know, it’s I can imagine that it can be uncomfortable at times too. But I think that’s how we get to know each other. And that’s really what, how we break down some of the barriers and normalize the experience.

Jenna Comins-Addis My company actually has started what are called business resource groups. They are advocacy groups for minorities in business. So I run the LGBT group at Aras and I told people in our company kickoff, I give them two calls to action, be an ally and ask questions. And definitely want give us a shout out. Our business resource group. Definitely want to make sure, I know you guys are listening. So I want to make sure that you guys get a little airtime.

Kim Meninger That’s great. I think that’s wonderful. And so, Jenna, I want to thank you again for having this conversation with me. I also want to invite you to share where people can reach out to you if they want to follow up or anything else that you’d like to call out today.

Jenna Comins-Addis Sure, definitely want everyone who want to add me on LinkedIn, feel free to do so. Jenna Comins-Addis. Comins hyphen, Addis. Follow me on Instagram if you so decide to do so. I’m on Twitter as well. Feel free to give me a follow if you’d like. Always open to talk things in the Transworld, talk sports talk all things Boston. I’m from the Boston area. Check out Aras. If you’re an engineer, if you like PLM. If you are interested in the product lifecycle management landscape, check out Aras. A R A S.

Kim Meninger Thank you so much, Jenna, and I’ll make sure that the links are in the show notes as well for anybody who wants to follow up with you. But I really appreciate your being here today.

Jenna Comins-Addis Oh, thank you very much, Kim. It was great to speak with you again and again. Thank you for speaking at our international women’s day meeting. That was a really great presentation you gave and I’m really glad I got to further our conversation in a more public setting.

Kim Meninger I am too. Thank you.

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