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  • Kim Meninger

Stop Making It Bigger than It Is

Updated: May 12, 2023

Stop Making It Bigger than It Is


In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, we talk about our tendency to make what we’re doing so much bigger than it actually is, which leads to stress, worry and self-doubt. My guest, Neha Lagoo Ratnakar, shares personal stories of times when she has overinflated the significance of what she was doing in ways that created unnecessary anxiety and stress and how she navigated these situations. We also talk about her extensive global experience, living in eight countries and speaking eight different languages, and what that has taught her about herself and humanity.

About My Guest

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar was born in Indore, India and currently lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands with her genius husband, a strong-willed daughter, and an extremely gullible dog. Neha’s nomadic life as a trailing spouse could have cost her career, and she knows what taking a break feels like. As she has continued her career journey across changing geographies and sectors, she’s faced challenges and learned invaluable life lessons. It’s these challenges and lessons that have carried her to where she is today as a writer.

When Neha isn’t writing, she’s a talent development professional and a part-time entrepreneur. She’s also been a face painter, a handwriting analyst, a website designer, and a henna artist.

In her spare time, Neha enjoys playing improv and saying “yes” to the curveballs life throws at her. And when life has nothing to throw, she shakes things up anyway by doing something crazy. Back on Your Feet is Neha’s first published book.

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Transcript:

Kim Meninger Welcome, Neha. It’s such a pleasure to meet you this morning. And I’m excited to have this conversation with you, I would love to start by inviting you to introduce yourself.

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar Thank you. It’s my pleasure to be here on your podcast. And what a great morning it is to be talking to you today. So, a bit about myself, I’m Neha. And professionally, I’m a talent development professional. I’ve been in this field for the past 14 years. And personally, we’ve lived in eight countries, now I speak seven languages at different levels of competence and I were 10 years old. We, I’ve been able to reinvent myself, start new careers, new vocations, new hobbies, everywhere I’ve been to and make friends everywhere. So that’s a little bit about me. And I think my life ties in very well with the theme of your, your podcast because in each new place that I’ve been to, I have felt like an impostor, for at least the first few months that I didn’t know what I was doing, how I could make friends before I even belong there. So I can’t wait to have this conversation with you today.

Kim Meninger Thank you so much. And I’m so interested in talking with you from, from a personal perspective, while I have not lived in eight countries, and so I can only imagine the culture shock and moving around internationally in that, in that I have moved a lot as a, as a child in particular. And so I understand that anxiety, I understand that insecurity when you, when you go someplace new and you think, am I going to fit in here? Are they going to be what, what do I think about differently than I did before? So can you talk a little bit about how moving around so much really influenced you in both potentially positive and challenging ways?

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar Sure, moving around has been one of the biggest things in my life. And I think it has definitely positively changed me. Because I’ve become more open about new things about not feeling your best, not being most confident, but yet making it work. And try not to like that is for example, that’s a common thread throughout my life. I’ve learned so many languages over the years. And, of course, initially, I used to be hesitant about speaking those languages before I had a certain level of mastery on them. But then I realized if I wasn’t practicing them, I wasn’t getting better at them. It’s, it’s like wanting to swim only when you’re an expert, and only then you will enter the swimming pool, right? There’s no choice like that. So learning language has a lot to do with practice. And that’s one thing that helped me become more confident just practicing even when I was feeling like an idiot when I didn’t know what I was doing. If the other person was completely understanding me or not, I kept at it kept trying. And that’s one thing that has defined all these eight, nine years that we’ve been moving around, and definitely, I struggled to find negatives and all these moves. But one thing, of course, is important to me, which is food, I’m a vegetarian. And that has been a struggle in many of the places that we’ve lived in. So but then I’ve tried to combat that problem with learning my first sentence, which is I’m a vegetarian in any language that I’m supposed to speak in that new country. So that’s, I don’t even learn the basic sentence of Hello, thank you what I just learned I’m a vegetarian before I land in a new country. And that has been…

Kim Meninger I’m a vegetarian, too. So the next time I travel to another country, I’m gonna reach out to you to help me speak that in that. But one thing that I want to pick up on that you’re talking about that I think is so important, even outside of moving and even outside of language is the need to practice something new. And I think that we, you talked about the analogy of wanting to swim when you’re an expert. So many of us put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect on day one. And we don’t, we don’t value we might intellectually or we might when it comes to other people. But when it comes to ourself, we’re so critical and we think I can’t do this unless I can do it perfectly and it becomes a vicious cycle. Right? Because you can’t do it perfectly. Yeah. So you’ve practiced it or if, if ever right so, so I have often thought of learning a new language. It’s a very humbling experience that can actually build resilience muscles build confidence muscles, right? When you, when you overcome the discomfort when you realize you’re making progress. It actually shows you that you’re improving and that you can do something and I think that’s a model for how we, we could think about Our own development in other arenas as well.

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar Yeah, absolutely. I’m completely with you on that. And nobody says that you have to practice any new skill in a high-stakes situation, right? You don’t have to learn a new language and go into hostage negotiation situation, all of a sudden. You can go and practice it in a supermarket with the taxi driver that you have to tell directions to. Or if the if we take the context out of languages, any new skill that you learn, for example, if you’re not too confident about that, start talking about it in small videos, or simple low-risk situations, like go to koat.com and start answering questions on those topics. And slowly you will build that muscle but you’ll also realize how much more than you know, how much more you know than you give yourself credit for. Right? So I think these small situations where you can find ways to practice your new skills, new language, whatever it is, can really help you build confidence.

Kim Meninger I think that’s such a great point. And, and so worth thinking about. Because a lot of times we only think in terms of the workplace and to practice those outside areas, and then bring it into the workplace when you’re ready is such a great coach. How do you think having access to different cultures and really getting to see different people and what they value and how they behave and how they think how has that influenced how you see the world and yourself?

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar It has transformed me over the years to say the least. And I’ve realized that people, no matter where you go, people are forgiving, when you’re trying something new, or when you’re trying to learn their language, their customs. If you always act like an ex-pat who can’t wait to go back to their own country, then you’re in trouble. But if you act like a person who and I say act very consciously because that’s what it is, in the beginning, you’re just acting that you feel comfortable in a new place where you don’t speak the language, you don’t like food, you don’t like the weather, but you’re still acting as if you belong there as if you’re comfortable there to make new friends to create a new life. And when you’re doing that, it’s important that you try new things out, you show your vulnerability to locals, you even if you start saying thank you please, or I only speak a little bit of your language, it really helps warm people up and they open up faster to you, they help you faster, they’ll try and they’re broke broken language to speak English or whatever language you feel comfortable in. I experienced this firsthand in Brazil, when we, when we were really new, there was the first time we had gone out of India. And I didn’t speak any language. But again, my vegetarianism came into play there, I was looking for a place that I could find some vegetarian food, which didn’t only have steak as an option. And I was looking for the nearest subway and I couldn’t find my way around. There was a time before smartphones. So I was I just had a Google Map memory and I stepped out of my hotel room. And I went to a small shop where the shopkeeper was sitting alone. There were no customers there. But I asked him for directions for subway, however, I did, I showed him a sandwich. And I said some days away. And he started explaining to me in Brazilian Portuguese, of course, I couldn’t understand anything. But he realized that I needed help. And I kept saying sorry because that’s, that’s the one word I knew in Brazilian Portuguese. So I kept saying sorry that I couldn’t explain anything. So he left his shop, he walked with me two blocks to show me the subway sandwich place so I could have my lunch. And I can’t believe he did that because he was the only person manning the shop. And he just left it to help a complete stranger and a foreigner who needed a sandwich. Nothing important nothing there was going to was a do or die situation. But he helped me out. And that’s just one of the millions of examples I have, where people have helped me by going out of the way just because I was trying to speak a little bit of their languages language or it was vulnerable in that situation.

Kim Meninger That was really reinforced. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but that was really force your faith in humanity, because I think we so often hear the bad stuff, right? We hear so much of it, whether it’s intentional or unintentional these days, an us versus them. Right. And what you’re talking about is when you show vulnerability and you show respect for other people, they will respond with kindness and with patience. And I think that that’s one of the benefits of getting outside of your own little bubble right is to be able to see that other people are more similar to us than we think they are. And to kind of break down some of the barriers, break down some of the myths so that we might have about people who aren’t like us.

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar Absolutely. And, and the world is going around because there’s more good than bad in the world, right? So I, I really do believe in the power of God and that there are more people, good people in the world and bad. And talking about vulnerability, it is also very strongly connected to impostor syndrome. One thing that I’ve used to my advantage in the past is this was a lunch situation, but also in personal life. If I’m feeling like an impostor, if I’m feeling nervous, if I’m not 100% sure about the solution that I’m putting forth in front of my client, or my business stakeholder, I find it, it really relaxes me in that situation. If I just confess, if I just say, Hey, I’m kind of nervous about this conversation, especially if it’s a money-related conversation, I’m always on the backfoot. So it helps to ease my nerves. If I say, Hey, I’m a little nervous about this. But I’m prepared to have a good discussion. Let’s take this forward. So showing this vulnerability, vulnerability also helps you in, in these situations where you’re feeling like an imposter where you think you’re not totally ready, or you’re not. You’re, you’re faking that confidence that others can see.

Kim Meninger I really liked that a lot, too, because I’m a big proponent of naming the thing that makes you feel uncomfortable, because if you don’t name it, if you don’t say it out loud, its power grows and grows, and it’s becomes a distraction, because you’re about it, at the same time that you’re doing something else. And so you can’t give your full attention, or you can’t focus your brain on the thing you’re actually trying to do. You’re, you’re sort of part of us thinking about, Oh, no, what if they find out x? So I really love that idea of being vulnerable enough to name what it is that you’re uncomfortable with. And then it also triggers empathy, more often than not, in the other person too, because then once they know that, they’re reading your behavior in context, and they want to support you.

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar Right. So even if they don’t like the idea, that still not be, they won’t attack you, or they will attack as improper theory, they won’t. They won’t be strongly against it, they will show that discontent with the idea or, or concerns in a more positive way.

Kim Meninger Yeah, I’m just, I’m in general, just a big believer in being human, not pretending that we’re perfect. Not that we have all the answers, but just being really honest and being humble with each other. And there are going to be people who are jerks everywhere. They’re going to be people who aren’t as receptive to that style. But when we can be ourselves, it takes the pressure off, we don’t have to pretend.

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar Absolutely.

Kim Meninger So you’ve been working in talent development? How does what we are talking about here map to talent development? How are you a better talent development leader because of your own experience?

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar Wow, thank you for asking me that question. First of all, because it reminds me of a very important lesson that I learned early on in my career. I was, I was newly minted Training Manager for a retail chain in India. And I knew nothing about retail. Okay, I just got an opportunity because of my management training experience before that. And here I was in the training center on the second week of my job. And I was expected to train 30 people on something related to retail, I don’t even remember something operations related. But I was completely unprepared. I had a presentation behind me. And I didn’t know what I was talking about. I think I just read through the slides. And I had never had a worse training in my entire career till now. I gave that presentation. And I felt like a complete impostor. And I was such a fraud on that day. And it wasn’t a perceived impostor syndrome. I was a fraud, fraud that day because I knew nothing about the field. I didn’t know what I was reading from the, from the slides. And if I had somebody had asked me a question that day, I would have completely bombed. So after, after that horrible training, I went back to my boss and I said, Hey, I can’t I can’t work like this. I know nothing about the field about what I’m teaching. So you have to give me an opportunity to work in the retail space, you have to let me go into a shop clean at the shop floor stack things, do the billing, meet the customers do everything that a regular retail worker needs to do. And only then will I feel like I know anything to be able to train these 2000-odd people that you have in the chain. And I don’t know how I got the courage to ask that question to my boss, but he actually agreed he said yeah, I’m not paying you two salaries, but if you’re fine with one salary, continue doing your current job but work every day for four hours in a retail setup. And I did that. So I went to a small shop in my neighborhood that was in you know, The company and started doing everything from scratch, I started stocking, cleaning up, I started making the reports, doing billing, meeting all the customers. And a month into that job I, I was, I was feeling much better about where I was, how much I had learned. And my boss comes back to the shop and buy something random and comes to the shop till the billing counter and says, Hey, I want that, that new girl may have to pay me and the store manager brings me out like, you have to get this customer. So I billed him. By then I had good hang of the tilling till machine. And I quickly made the bill and my boss was super happy with it. He was like, Neha looks like you know enough to come back to your regular job. But that, but that one experience taught me so much about, about that feeling of being an imposter. Sometimes it’s something that we create ourselves. And sometimes it’s real, sometimes you really don’t know what you’re talking about. So it’s also important to introspect to actually objectively see if that impostor syndrome that you’re feeling, the feeling of being a fraud that you’re feeling. Is it real? Is it stemming from your need to know more that you are really in competed on what you’re expected to do? Or is it subjective? Is it something that you have created like a, like a monster, which doesn’t exist?

Kim Meninger That’s such a great point. And I love that story. I love that you did that, that you had the courage to do it and that you were willing to put in that extra time. I think about this luck. Sometimes people will ask me, How do I know if it’s imposter syndrome or I really don’t know enough to do my job? And I think you’re hitting on that in the story that you just told. It’s really being honest with ourselves and not coming from a very panicked kind of emotional place for more of a reason, thoughtful place of what could I learn that would help me to feel more confident in my job? What could I, what are some steps that I could take to perhaps learn something new, or put myself in the shoes of the people that I’m supporting? What kinds of steps can I take to strengthen my skills and capabilities in this role? And that’s exactly what you just described.

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar And that’s more…

Kim Meninger I would say it’s more efficient, new than then, you know, a lot of times we tell ourselves the story of I just need a whole new career path, or I need a whole new degree or you know, something that’s really overblown, when in actuality, it doesn’t sound like that, in the whole scheme of things that took up a lot of your time.

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar Though it did, it did. If you’re really dedicated to something if you really want to learn, you can learn it really quickly, right? And you don’t have to do a whole Ph.D. or even a postgraduate degree in something to be able to learn something.

Kim Meninger Exactly, exactly. And so you wrote a book, can you tell us about that?

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar That’s another story of being imposter. I have the book in my background. But for the longest time, I wasn’t displaying it in my background. Because I thought, That’s too much in the face that’s like, it look like I’m bragging about my book all the time on all the Zoom calls, teams calls that I’m on, or all the Instagram videos that I’m making about the book. And it was so stupid because I had actually written the book, the book is like my baby environment, I shy away from showing off something that I’ve created from scratch. And people are saying great things about the book, they’re still doing it, I still get emails and messages and notes from people who really appreciate what I’ve written and how it has helped them, and how relatable they find my content. But I for one was being the one shying away from showing it off for talking too much about it. In fact, that is also how I, how I got my social media coach. So I’ve, of course, I’ve known for years and years that being vocal about your thoughts on having an online image or a brand is very important for your career. But I’ve had to stop myself from putting an idea out there in form of a post or a video because I thought who’s gonna listen to it? Or am I making sense here? Or how do I look or silly things that are making a grammatical mistake here? I wouldn’t put my ideas out there. And this book really forced me to get a social media manager because how else was I going to promote my book, and she’s not a manager anymore? I call her my coach because she doesn’t know she’s my coach, by the way, a young, young lady who thinks oh, she’s just showing me the ropes on social media because this 40-year-old, this 40-year-old cannot make decent posts. So I asked her questions whenever I have some but she’s like my coach in real sense because she was the one who inculcated that discipline of creating a social media calendar of listening to ongoing discussions and giving my views about them, and then not censoring myself when I have an idea and discuss it with her. And that helps me Of course, clear, clear my thoughts. But also, when she gives me a thumbs up, I know the idea is good to go. And I just put it out there without thinking twice. So she’s my coach, and she doesn’t know it. But that has really, really helped me get over that imposter syndrome of showing my real thoughts or putting my ideas out there.

Kim Meninger It’s so interesting as you’re talking because I think that so many can relate to what you’re saying, maybe not as writers of a book, but in general, not wanting to look like they’re bragging or, you know, not wanting to come across too forcefully. But in theory, you wrote that book to help others, right? And if you don’t share it, people are gonna know it’s there, and they can’t read it and get the benefit.

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar Absolutely, absolutely.

Kim Meninger So tell us more about it. What is the, what is the book about?

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar So the book is called back on your feet. And it’s, it’s a career restart book for, primarily for women who’ve taken a break in their careers, for whatever reason for, for childbirth, or for taking care of a family member or any other health reasons or anything else. But it’s essentially a career restart book, where women can find, find clarity of thought, and actionable steps that they can take to restart their failure, no matter where they are in life, no matter how long their career break was, no matter what their past career or interests profession was. And I’ve stayed away from it being a preachy book about me behind my thoughts about things. So I’ve sprinkled the book with a lot of stories from women from very different fields, right from, from Air Force officers to makeup artists, to cooks, to triathletes, all these people who struggle and struggle in life have faced a lot of challenges, but have come out on the other side after getting over their low confidence, or their lack of experience sometimes, or the huge gap in their career, or inexperience even, and how they’ve been able to make it work in their lives. So these stories, and of course, the book, which is very actionable. That’s what back on your feet is all about.

Kim Meninger I love that. I mean, so many of us have a break in our career paths, for whatever reason, like you said, whether it’s caring for somebody else, you know, just perhaps, challenges with the economy. And you know, there are certain points in history where people have lost their jobs, and it took a lot longer to find something else. And so it’s so helpful to have a guidebook to navigate. So often, when we’re in that situation, we feel like we’re the only ones. And so it’s great to be able to reference a book that has lots of stories of people that it reminds you, okay, this is doable. That’s really great insurance. And so is there anything else that you see when you think about your job today in developing talent that you see gets in the way of people progressing or reaching their full potential?

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar So while researching for the book, the one thing that came, came into light for me was the fact that people stop themselves from putting themselves out there. In terms of applying for jobs, for example, they don’t even apply for jobs unless they are completely qualified for it. If they don’t check all the boxes, they don’t apply for the, for the job. And I’ve done this in the past, I have applied for jobs when I was only 50% 60% qualified. And I have gotten through a few rounds. And I’ve also been selected for a few of them. One, one time, I remember after I was just back from my maternity break, some I’ve taken four-five years off to take care of my child and a big company. I, they had a senior position open in talent development, and I wasn’t thinking much I was applying to every company that decent. And I applied to them. I went through the first round of interviews the recruiter interview that went well second round of interviews, my hiring manager interview that went well, the third level of interviews where they wanted me to meet their senior leaders. And right before the interview, I think a few hours before the interview, I opened the resume that I had submitted in this company and I saw that there was a grammatical mistake, okay, a stupid, glaring grammatical mistake in the very first line of the resume. And I panicked, I immediately call my best friend. I was like, You know what, what I did? They’re not going to hire me. There’s a huge resume mistake and they’re going to find No. And, and my best friend was like so. And I was like, they know that my grammar sucks that English is not my, it’s not a strong language for me. And she was like, Are you applying there as an English teacher? No, I’m not. And she’s like, then what are you worried about, and at the stage of resume review is long past, you’re on the third level of your bloody interview. And they must have seen something great in you that they want you to meet the senior leaders, they must have some confidence to put you in front of the senior leaders. So have that confidence in yourself, just, just audit on what you’ve written in the resume because it’s all true. And show them what you’re capable of. So that stayed with me over the years, looking at these little mistakes, where you realize, oh, you’re an imposter. They can’t have you as a talent manager, or talent development director, because you can’t speak perfect English in front of a few 1000 People shouldn’t stop you from sharing your thoughts shouldn’t stop you from creating wonderful talent development programs for companies that really need it.

Kim Meninger That’s such a great story, too. I think we all need friends like yours. Because we are so hard on ourselves. And then when you really get somebody who gives you that perspective, it’s so helpful to remind yourself Oh, yeah, actually, right. I do have more to offer than I think I do. And to stick with it. Because like you said, I mean, maybe they’ll maybe they won’t hire you. But they certainly won’t hire you if you don’t apply. And so, you know, I just, I think that that tendency, the way that we have to play small comes from a place of self-preservation, we don’t want to expose our vulnerabilities. We don’t want to humiliate ourselves or to fail. But what we end up doing is sacrificing our opportunities to challenge ourselves to grow. And so one of the things I think about a lot lately is, we’re so aware of what the costs of taking a risk are. But we don’t think about the cost of not taking the risk. And I think we owe it to ourselves if we’re going to make that decision to not move forward with something is to name very specifically what we’re losing potentially by not taking that risk.

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar So true, and so beautifully good. Kim, thank you for saying that. You’re so right, we minimize ourselves to a degree that it’s, it’s not helping anybody, not the world, not yourself. Definitely. You’re just censoring all your talent, all the amazing things that you can do, and hiding it from the world. And sometimes we think that what’s at stake is so big, we just unnecessarily make it much bigger than that it actually is I have another story for you. Oh, good. So I, I love doing Mandy probably would have seen it in my video right now is, I love making your head up the Indian, Indian henna designs. And I learned it just a little bit from a local teacher just to be able to do my own hand every once in a while and I felt it felt like it. And when we moved to Brazil, I didn’t know anybody there. So I was super bored. And I stepped out of the hotel and got an opportunity to make money at Hard Rock Cafe there. And I was surprised when I got that opportunity of course. But then when the day came to actually go there and start making it for their, their clients. I was like I’m not an indie artists. That’s not what my profession is. Even the person sitting in the local market in my hometown in India, he he makes like a million times better hair. And they designed for comfort about $2 a design. So who was I to charge like 100 pesos for a design and a happening place like Hard Rock cafe and, and in Mexico City no less and who’s to make money in a new country to represent many artists all around the world, or even to represent India? Just see how big I’d actually made it so much bigger than I actually it actually was. I wasn’t like I was representing India and Olympics or I don’t know polwart Or something was just making candy for some people in a cafe in Mexico City. But I made it so much bigger. And I felt like such an impostor. But I’m glad I was able to work through it. I forced myself to take up that opportunity. And boy did I have fun. So you have to sometimes force ourselves to get out of that syndrome.

Kim Meninger Yes, I love, love that you did that, and you still did it anyway, right that you found yourself making it so much bigger than it was. But you still took the risk and did it. And I think that’s so true that we do that we, we say things like who am I? To do this? Right? We blow it out of proportion. And to just be able to take it back to a simpler place, right can definitely make it easier to move forward. But at the end of the day, so much of what we’re talking about is just the anxiety is going to be there, but just do it anyway. And once you do it, you realize it’s not as scary as you think it is.

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar All right, nothing’s gonna happen. No, hell is going to break loose, right? If you don’t perform well, if it’s not a do-or-die situation, in most cases, thank God, I’m not a heart surgeon, maybe the, it is a problem for them. But at least in my profession, that’s one problem. And in most cases, that’s exactly right.

Kim Meninger That’s a good way to keep it in perspective. At least a heart surgeon’s stress, they must experience Oh my goodness. So where can we find you and your book if anybody’s interested in learning more?

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar Sure. So I’m quite active on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook. And you can find me by my name Neha Lagoo Ratnakar, or just say hello in some places. And my book back On Your Feet is available on amazon.com all over the world, and Barnes and Nobles and Amazon books and Google Books. So I’m right there. It’s available in both ebook version and paperback, paperback.

Kim Meninger Thank you so much, Neha. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you today. And I’m hoping that people will go out and buy your book too because I have no doubt there’s a lot more where this came from. So thank you so much.

Neha Lagoo Ratnakar Absolutely. The pleasure was mine. Kim, thank you for having me on your show.

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