Give Impostor Syndrome Its Proper Space
Updated: May 12
In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, we explore the absurdity of Impostor Syndrome. My guest, Kelly Hoey, shares her story of an incident that held her back for 15 years before she finally faced her fears and realized that her Impostor Syndrome had no foundation. She has since become a published author and accomplished public speaker who wants to help others manage their self-doubt.
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Kim Meninger Welcome, Kelly, I am really excited to talk with you today. And I’m going to start by inviting you to introduce yourself. I know you’re Kelly Hoey, what more can you tell us about yourself?
Kelly Hoey Thanks for having me and I’m looking forward to delving into this topic. So I am the author of a book called Build Your Dream Network, Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World. Being an author is not my first career, nor was it one that was ever, you know, kind of on a checklist, bucket list of things I wanted to do. I started my career as an attorney. That’s sort of a default, perhaps, but an enjoyable career I had for 11-12 years, was then in a law firm for management, had the chance to become the global president of a business network for women, got involved in the startup community. And then took a pause and a breath and said, what is the thread between all these various and disparate little pieces of my career? And then in 2017, my book came up.
Kim Meninger Wonderful. And I know you and I talked privately about some of the impostor syndrome around the book. I’m really glad that you spoke with such pride just now when you mentioned the book. But, you know, I always want to ask the question of what does impostor syndrome mean to you? How has it shown up for you? And I’m guessing that there’s more to say about the book here?
Kelly Hoey Oh, yeah, there’s a, there’s a lot to say about the book and you asking that question, I think back in terms of another, you know, earlier part in my career, which I’d love to explore with you as well. But in terms of impostor syndrome, you know, it’s like that sometimes crippling, sometimes just nagging, like gremlin in your head, that is like your negative cheerleader. And the basis for that impostor syndrome, you know, often has no foundation, but it is there because someone has knocked us, or some belief has been internalized and knocked us off our game. Like, okay, I want to tell, like, a funny story, because it does make people laugh. So I was in law school, first-year law school, we needed to do moot court, you know, kind of practice, you know, argue thing, you had to do this. And there was like three so-called judges, she says, you know, kind of air quotes who were practicing attorneys. And clearly one of the attorneys was not having a good day. And that person in terms of being a judge took it out on me. Or at least that’s the way I perceive it. At the end of doing my little, excuse me, my moot court part, I burst into tears. And I swore I would do no public speaking, which I did none of for 15 years. I convinced myself that I was no good at it. [Wow.] I know. I know. Crazy, right? I mean, I would go into court when I was practicing in Toronto, and I would, you know, argue things in, you know, the situations I needed to do and negotiate on behalf of my client. But if you said to me, Kelly, would you be on this panel? Oh, Kelly, would you do this? I’m like, no, I don’t do those things. I don’t do those things.
Kim Meninger Oh, my goodness. And so I’m tempted to ask you, but I don’t want to get ahead of the conversation here. I’m tempted to ask you what happened after 15 years?
Kelly Hoey That’s when I changed from being a lawyer. So I did this career transition and took on a role. So I left the active practice of law to become manager of professional development for a global law firm. And no sooner had I landed on the job when the firm said, Oh, we’re having an associates conference in three weeks. There’ll be like 550 attorneys attending. And you need to prepare, like 25 minutes of remarks to tell everybody who you are and what you do. And I’m like, yeah, no. And they’re like, no, no, yes. No, there was no choice. And so I was like, right, like this, get off that horse and did that again. Now, I didn’t rush to do any public speaking after that. But I was in a role where I was putting together programming all the time. And so I was, you know, planning out what the programming was, choosing who speakers were, getting the moderators and then I’d sit in the back of the room and watch my product, in essence, being presented to the associates and I was like, Yeah, this is no, this is not, no, that person, no. And I think finally out have just annoyance and frustration, I, you know, grabbed the microphone and took over the stage. So but it, but this stupidity for 15 years told people like no, I don’t do those things. [Wow.] I know.
Kim Meninger And I just feel so bad for you that you had that experience because I think there’s so many people who can relate to that, there’s that one defining moment in our history that set the course for this whole challenge that we have. In some cases, it starts earlier. And in some cases it starts later. But most of us when we reflect, can look back and say, that was a turning point for me.
Kelly Hoey Well, that’s part of the reason wanting to have this conversation with you because it’s so ridiculous. Here I am now this published author. I’ve had a speaker series that I co-founded and ran for like two years with Apple. I have been on CNBC’s Power Pitch. I’m represented by Penguin Random House’s Speaker’s Bureau like it’s so ludicrous. That for 15 years, and I think that was part of wanting to talk to you about it and share this with your listeners, is not in a kind of, oh, I did it, you can do it too, kind of BS sort of way. But for other people to come, maybe take a look at what was that tripping point? And what are the real realities and facts around it? And what is just the nonsense that you’ve, you know, like, taken on somebody else’s bad day? Or taken on someone else’s, you know, instead of taking their, their poorly worded criticism and trying to figure out what was constructive in it, you’ve now internalized it saying, well, I’ve just crapped this.
Kim Meninger Yeah. Well, and it sounds like in that, at the end of that 15 year period, where you were told this is not optional, you have to do this right? You, you really got pushed right back into the deep end again. Did you find yourself having to consciously do anything from a mindset perspective, from a behavioral perspective to be able to show up in the way that you wanted to? Like, what, what was that experience like for you to do that again, after all that time, and after all of what you had told yourself, during that time?
Kelly Hoey It was a very formal speaking situation that I had to then do. So walk on stage, walk up to a podium, you know, address people, wear a suit. I think I was only concerned because I was so new into the job of just not coming out, you know, like a donkey’s butt. I’d been, I’d been working so hard for that career transition. I think that was the only thing that I just didn’t want to come off as, like, just complete, like, jerk and, you know, have the firm think why did we hire her? So I think I really, there wasn’t, and I, you know, work from prepared notes, which now and where I am now, in terms of my comfort level with speaking, I don’t like to work from PowerPoint, I don’t like to work from prepared notes. I’d like much more to have a direct connection with the audience and engage with them and see what’s resonating with them. And so there was a formality with it. And I, all I think I can remember from the time is like, just don’t let my hands shake too much. And let’s just get through these 20 minutes.
Kim Meninger And then do you feel like that shifted everything immediately? Or did you have to ease back into beyond that, you know, getting to where you are today?
Kelly Hoey It, I mean, it’s just started the process. I think I was still hesitant. I was like, alright, if I have to do this, but not a well, that was okay, I’m gonna do this all the time. Now, there wasn’t, definitely wasn’t that. I think the shift started to happen, as I said, when I was really putting together programming and workshops and content and then thinking, this person delivering it or the it’s, there’s something missing and wrong here. And I have to get up there and fix it in the sense that going forward, I can’t just rely on other people executing my vision. I need to, I need to be front and center.
Kim Meninger That’s always such a frustrating thing. I can remember incidents like that throughout my own career where I’ve held back and let other people move forward or let someone else ask the question or make a comment. And thought, I could have done it so much better. Darn it.
Kelly Hoey What we often say to people in their careers is like, pause, think for a minute. Okay. Think of a rock band. Oh, and, and with whatever band, your favorite band, all right, think of that rock band. Who are you? Who are you in the band? Which person? And for many years, I would have said to people, oh, I’m the roadie. You know, I’m off stage. Or if I was on stage, I’m like, I’m the backup singer. And now these days, I say to people like, Mick, move over. I’m taking the mic. It’s mine. Thanks. Oh, and so you know, there’s might be an element of alright, you maybe ease back into things, once you had that moment of thinking, I’m not good at this, I can’t believe it.
Kim Meninger Now, one thing that just occurred to me is that you have this slow progression of getting back on that horse again, and starting to believe in yourself again. But we all know that nobody’s perfect. And there are a lot of factors that influence how we show up in certain situations. Were there any moments when you felt like, this is going to happen again, where I’m, you know, I’m going to get drawn back into that I’m not good enough, I’m not going to do this again? Or how did you handle moments of self-doubt after that?
Kelly Hoey It was as soon as you said, you know, we’re not perfect. I mean, wha? I’m a Virgo, of course, everything has to be perfect. No, I mean self-doubt and that kind of impostor syndrome sneaks up, you know, it’s kind of insidious, you know, it’s kind of like a, I’m gonna say mold in the basement, you know, cobwebs or you know, those kinds of things like some dust, I mean, things that are insidious, it just sneaks back up on you. And it is something you need to sit there and put in its proper place. And see what the reality is, I mean, one of the lessons I always say to people, in terms of networking, and networks is listen to your network, they may see more in you than you see in yourself. And part of that could be what they see and what they experienced with you. And help you take that impostor syndrome and sort of say to it, I see you now go and sit in the corner and be quiet. Like I’m not, you know, I think we have these self doubts. And rather than sort of saying, hey, this is how you banish them, it’s like, acknowledge they’re there every once a while, but give them their it’s the proper space. So, I mean, for me, when I think about other ways, impostor syndrome, you know, has shown up, it showed up when I wanted to write my book, an overwhelming urge to write a book, which was a whole new feeling to me because it was never on the career path. But when people asked about it, it was a very quiet voice. And when I think back, a boss of mine I had back in sort of 2006, 2007, you know, in that timeframe. You know, he had said to me, you need to tell people what you do. You need to talk, you need to like guide people on this thing, networking, because you do it differently, so much more differently than anybody else. And other people could benefit from your lessons, you should do this. And I remember telling him he was an idiot. And that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. And whether that kind of flipping off rather than looking at him saying, tell me more. I think I just assume that didn’t everyone network the way I did? But was there some other manifestation of doubt on what it was that has turned out to be, you know, my unique skill set and voice on a subject matter that something a lot of people struggle with?
Kim Meninger I really like what you’re saying too, about, first of all, listening to your network, but also the idea of expressing that curiosity, not immediately jumping to the conclusion that you have no idea what you’re talking about, or you’re just trying to be nice, right? You’re, you’re jus,t you’re just saying that or whatever that inner critic voice that’s telling us that this is not valid feedback I love I often recommend that idea of curiosity. Tell me more. What? Can you expand upon this a little bit? And that can help quiet some of the self-doubt and also give us some important information.
Kelly Hoey Yeah, because it could be, you know, that thing that you do so easily. Even if, even if you don’t have massive doses of confidence of, I do this easily. Doesn’t everyone do it this way? Okay, maybe they don’t do it this way. Well, what can I do with this? Even if there’s somewhere in there that you’re like, ooh, but that would be scary to explore this further. And what would that mean? You know, kind of behooves you to sit there and say, all right, tell me about this. What do you mean? Why do you think I like, what makes you say that? This, you know, to just even explore and understand a little more about yourself?
Kim Meninger Absolutely. So you did it. You wrote the book? Yeah.
Kelly Hoey And Tim, and Tim is, Tim is like the first acknowledgment. I had to eat, to eat crow, you know, a decade or so later, tell him he was right. But, yeah, you know, finally, finally, you know, wrote the book. And that, you know, gives, gives a whole lot of satisfaction. And but then again, I mean, it’s a kind of one of those things, you enter a profession, which is kind of, not kind of it is crazy making in terms of your confidence. Because everyone you meet, who’s an author asks, well, how many books have you sold? How’s your book doing? Have you made a bestseller list? Like, oh, there’s more self-doubt, crazy making because of egos and insecurities. And one of the things I find I need to do is, so I live in New York City, and they have those horse drawn carriages in Central Park, and the horses wear those blinders, it’s almost like some of the stuff, I have to stick those blinders on. Because the amount of other people’s negative or jealous or insecure, you know, energy that you can take on as an author is just new levels of manic, let me tell you,
Kim Meninger That self-awareness is so important too. right, because you’re able to not only name your own self-doubt, but to also name the dysfunction that’s coming from the people around you. Right. And that is a hard thing to do, it’s really hard to stop and consciously acknowledge this isn’t about me, what they’re asking is about their own insecurities, whatever’s going on in their own heads, I have nothing to do with this. And so I’m just going to march forward and tune it out.
Kelly Hoey It’s again, I think, and you know, I’m guessing with how you work with people on their impostor syndrome, very much aligns with when I talk about networking, where I often sort of say to people, like pay attention to your energy levels, you know, where are the times in engaging with other people that you, regardless of your personality type, you’re just kind of filled with energy, like their, their presence, or the activity, or the learning kind of buoys you up and fills you, even if it’s exhausting? And when are the times, and it could be with one person or 1000 people in a room have, what are the times that you’re really happy you have a smartphone and you can stick your face in it and not talk to anyone? And pay attention to that stuff. And sort of then take a bigger step back and say what does it tell me about myself? What does it tell me about this group or this club or this meetup? Like, but most importantly, what does it tell me about me? Why was I energized when I walked into that event with 20 people on that date? But why did I have zero energy with a similar group and same size, you know, yesterday? Like, what, what was different? Because you need to put into yourself into the situations that lift you up.
Kim Meninger I absolutely love that. And you’re, and you’re right, that is very analogous to what I talk to people about when working on impostor syndrome because the thing about impostor syndrome is that if we tell ourselves, I am not good enough, or I lack confidence, or whatever it is, it becomes this sweeping, all-encompassing way of defining ourselves when in actuality, impostor syndrome is very episodic. It’s very situational. And it’s really important like you’re saying to understand what are the triggers? What are the situations when you feel like I’m on fire? I am showing up as my best self I’m energized. I feel good and what are those situations that undermine me and feeling, I have no value to offer, I’m a fraud, I don’t belong in this room. And to try to, as much as possible, create the conditions that allow you to thrive and be your best self. But to also be able to anticipate what some of those challenging moments might be and be prepared, have some kind of a tool or something that you can pull out in the moment to help you get through it more powerfully.
Kelly Hoey Yeah, I would sort of think, the understanding of when you know, you’re going to be in a situation that is, you know, not your optimal. [That’s right.] And understand why you’ve made that choice, and then grounding your discomfort in that, oh, I’m here to do X, or I’m here to learn Y or whatever it may be, as a way of helping you through the situation.
Kim Meninger Yes, that that purpose piece is really important, too. Because if you can stay focused on that instead, right? Yes, I’m intimidated by the people around me. But my reason for being here today is X, then that can help at least give you the strength to power through.
Kelly Hoey Exactly. Oh, my God. And we all need that, we all need that strength.
Kim Meninger Now, you and I talked a little bit about this YWCA event that you went to. Do you want to share more about that?
Kelly Hoey Yeah, it was really extraordinary. I got this letter a number of years ago from the YWCA of New York City, and they had invited 100 prominent New York women to come to a girl’s leadership event. So it was an event designed by and for girls, and I think there was maybe, maybe it’s, it’s gonna be like 1000 girls there, but or maybe it’s 500 and there was 100 women. Anyway, the prominent women were there to kind of zip it and be there to answer their, their questions. But our role we weren’t, we were not, we were the amuse boosh at this, you know, gourmet dinner, so to speak, you know, we were not the main course, this was all about the girls. And even the programming, the speakers were all these girls, except for the executive director of the YWCA. And I remember sitting there at this table, and it was a very diverse group of girls, in terms of cross-section of schools in New York. So it wasn’t just public schools, there were some private school girls there, there was charter, like it was self-selected cross-sectional, these are girls who didn’t know each other because they were all randomly kind of seated at these tables. We, you know, the prominent women, we were told which table to go to. And these girls, they, it wasn’t like, there was 10 friends were sitting at the table. They were all meeting each other for the first time. And they were coming from, you know, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, like all over the place, Staten Island, you name it, they were. And I remember watching and their interactions and the things they were talking about, you know, 13,14,15 years old, and well, they owned every accomplishment, every mistake, every flaw. They owned their identity, they owned their sexual identity, every bit of it. I remember just sitting there thinking, and why on earth do we wring this out of them? Why on earth at some point do we temper this amazing energy? And perhaps, in watching and listening to them, I was thinking about myself, as you know, what point are we thinking that we can do anything and something next minute, you’re being told that’s not ladylike? And that’s not realistic? And that’s not, not, not, not, not? And that’s all you ever hear. And I was just so profoundly moved by these girls. And their behavior. It was, it was really quite intoxicating in that sense. And intoxicating in that tragic way as well that I think about how many times we just kind of lack of a better word, you know, kind of beat this out of them, so that they no longer believe who they are, what they can be.
Kim Meninger My hope for their sake and all of ours is that they will continue to show that strength and that confidence. But as many of us know, there’s something, there’s some turning point in our lives just like you described to us at the beginning, right that moment that changes everything. One of the reasons why I am so passionate about having these kinds of conversations is so that it brings to the surface, some of those unconscious you know, we’re not, we’re not actively thinking about a lot of this. But my hope is that people listening will think I can point to that moment, right. I have my own moot court that you mentioned. And just by naming it, and raising the awareness around it, can start to think differently, reframe it a bit and be more intentional about how we all move forward. And, you know, hopefully, too, I don’t have girls, I have two young boys, but I’m conscious about this with them too just the more mindful we are about our own experiences, the more that we can support the next generation that’s coming through and kind of help them to anticipate what some of those challenges might look like.
Kelly Hoey Yeah, it’s looking back and thinking, which are the aspects of our life that are like, like my moot court? They’re like, the ridiculous moments that you’re like, oh, good grief. And, you know, and maybe sharing this and thinking about it out loud with you, Kim is, is enabling me to say like, alright, then there’s this thing called impostor syndrome. All right, it now it has now got like Miss America, it’s got the moot court banner on it, I can make it look ridiculous. So that the elements of that impostor syndrome that are the ones that are societal, or gender-based, parental, like whatever it is the ones that are harder, the ones that are more insidious, the ones that are more difficult to shake off, if I can dress up impostor syndrome with you know, my Miss America, you know, moot court banner, I can, I can make it look ridiculous and quiet it even more. And I think that’s helpful because it’s funny how little incidents can just trigger such strange, big, consequential actions. Hmm.
Kim Meninger I am so grateful to you for telling your story today. Is there anything, I know you’ve already shared so many inspiring ways of thinking about this and how you’ve gotten through this yourself. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about today that you think would be helpful to share?
Kelly Hoey One of the things is, is for those of us when we reach positions of some level of accomplishment, I think it’s important for us to share our stories. But I also think it’s helpful and necessary for us to help other people work through their stories. And so maybe this is my kind of rallying, you know, my call to action to sort of say, this is why you mentor, this is why you provide that guidance to help other people through their challenges. And my guess is when you do that, you’re also going to work through any lingering, you know, elements of your own, that may be holding you back as well.
Kim Meninger I love that. I think that’s such a powerful way to wrap up too. Because you’re, you’re absolutely right. And I can’t, you know, as a, as a coach, I owe so much of my own confidence and my own confidence journey to the experience of supporting other women who are going through similar challenges. So I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Kelly Hoey I think that’s one of those things that people will say to me, Kelly, you’re one of the most confident people I know. But there’s an element that’s like, yes, and confident people can have flaws and have imperfections and have doubts. And maybe the confidence comes from not being confident all the time, but working through the ridiculous as well as the insidious bouts of impostor syndrome.
Kim Meninger Absolutely. You’re absolutely right. And I will share more information about your book in the show notes as well for anybody who’s interested. And thank you again, Kelly. I really appreciate this conversation. Thank you