Episode 287:

In the agency space, we have to constantly be reinventing the wheel because everything keeps changing. By the nature of our business, we are always doing something for the first time which, by default, lends itself to having a nagging doubt now and then. In a world where it’s impossible to have all the answers, but also being a leader in an industry where you’re supposed to understand everything, it’s easy to fall victim to imposter syndrome. Fortunately, you are not alone and there are some fixes you can deploy.

Kris Kelso is here to help silence that nagging voice of doubt. An author and executive coach working mostly with entrepreneurs and doing leadership work, he has literally written the book on imposter syndrome. Kris’ book, Overcoming the Impostor is about silencing your inner critic so you can lead with confidence.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Kris and I discuss many aspects of imposter syndrome. We talk about its prevalence in high achievers and the underlying fear that it represents. We look at what it costs us as creative professionals and the many ways it can weaponize our gifts against us. And, perhaps most importantly, we’ll walk through some tangible reframing techniques that can quiet that inner critic.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

 Imposter syndrome

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why imposter syndrome is not gender based
  • The reason imposter syndrome is more prevalent in high achievers
  • The difference between self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • The underlying fear of imposter syndrome
  • What does imposter syndrome cost us?
  • The damage of “productive procrastination”
  • How imposter syndrome weaponizes our gifts against ourselves
  • How to quiet the inner critic
  • Helpful reframing techniques
“Everybody at some point experiences a level of imposter syndrome, it’s just a matter of how much and how often.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet “It’s important to learn that the feeling of imposter syndrome is a sign that you are doing something good or something good is about to happen.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet “Oftentimes, the thing that we hide or worry about is actually working in our favor.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet “When you try to overcome your imposter syndrome by posing, you actually become an imposter.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet “We don’t grow when there’s no stress.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet “If you’re a driven person, a high achiever who likes to climb the next mountain, you don’t want to go on autopilot so just go ahead and enjoy the next adventure.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Kris Kelso:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 3:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too. Welcome to Agency Management Institute, Build A Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid-sized agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable and if you want, down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Thank you so much for coming back and joining us for another episode. If you are a regular listener, I think this particular topic for most of you is going to ring very true and hopefully be super helpful. If you are a brand new listener to the podcast. Welcome, and boy, you picked a great episode to jump in on for your first episode.

Drew McLellan:

So before we talk about my guest and what we’re going to talk about, I want to remind all of you that April 6th and 7th of this year, if you’re listening in real time, 2021, we are hosting a workshop called running your agency for growth and profit in Chicago. So it’s two days of really best practices and metrics that you can use to run the business of your business better. So we’re not going to teach you how to do SEO better or branding better, we know you’re good at that, what we know you’re hungry for is information of how to make more money and keep more of the money you make by running your business more efficiently and effectively, so that’s what we’re going to focus on.

Drew McLellan:

So we would love to have you join us at the workshop, again, April 6th and 7th. Yes, it’s live. No, there is not a virtual option, you can’t zoom in, it’s going to be live. We are capping it at a small number of people so that we have plenty of space in the room, we can social distance, so it’s going to be just fine from a safety perspective. If you are already traveling, if you’re already seeing clients, then this is probably perfectly appropriate for you. If you’re not ready to travel by car, train, plane, whatever yet, then the good news is we offer this workshop once a year, so you can join us in 2022.

Drew McLellan:

So if you’re ready, we’d love to have you, if you’re not ready, totally get it and we’ll catch you next year. So you can go to the AMI website, agencymanagementinstitute.com, click on the, how we help navigation and you’ll see a tab that says workshops and right there you’ll see, running your agency for growth and profit, and we would love to have you there. Okay?

Drew McLellan:

All right. Let me tell you a little bit about this episode. So my guest is a gentleman named Kris Kelso. And Kris just wrote a book called Overcoming The Impostor. Silence Your Inner Critic and Lead with Confidence. And so, as you might imagine, the whole book is about impostor syndrome. What’s interesting is based on Kris’ research and I certainly see this in my own experience, entrepreneurs and high achievers are particularly prone to have impostor syndrome. And when you think about it, that sounds odd because, while they’re high achiever or they’ve taken the risk of running their business, they must be super confident. But you know, in your own heart, that part of being an entrepreneur and part of being a high achiever is, that you’re constantly pushing your own boundaries, you’re doing new things.

Drew McLellan:

Certainly, in our space, in the agency space, we have to keep reinventing the wheel because everything keeps changing. And so, we didn’t have to understand TikTok three years ago, now we do. We didn’t have to know how to help a client get on Amazon Marketplace, but now we do. We didn’t have to understand messaging around pandemics or racial tension, but now we do. So by our nature we’re constantly doing things for the first time, which therefore by default tends to lend itself to us feeling like every once in a while, “Gosh, maybe, maybe I’m not, maybe I’m stretching too far. Maybe I have no business doing this. Maybe in this meeting with a prospect or a client, they’re going to figure out that I don’t have all the answers.” And that inner voice, that critic can really paralyze somebody.

Drew McLellan:

And I’ve seen that with some of you. And I think everybody. I think everybody has every once in a while that voice or that feeling in their stomach of, “Oh, I’m about to fall on my face, or this doesn’t feel… I don’t feel as confident as I am exuding on the outside. On the inside I am freaking out.” And so, Kris’ book talks about all of that. And what we can do about it, where it comes from and how we can begin to quiet that voice down and to be able to march in without as much of that nagging, you don’t belong here kind of thing in our year.

Drew McLellan:

So I’m excited to talk to Kris and to learn from him what he has learned in the research of writing the book and for us to get some very practical tips on how to wrestle this to the ground. So, let’s jump into it.

Drew McLellan:

Kris, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Kris Kelso:

Thank you, Drew, so great to be here.

Drew McLellan:

So tell the listeners a little bit about how you came to study the topic of impostor syndrome and sort of your background of what got you to writing the book?

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. So it’s been a journey for me. I have been an entrepreneur now for about 14 years. Founded two different companies and ran those over a 10 or 11 year period. And then for the last three to four years, I’ve been working as an executive coach mostly with entrepreneurs and doing leadership development work and some public speaking and things like that. And I have struggled with impostor syndrome at many points during my career, but didn’t really know what it was called, hadn’t heard of it. Until just about four, three or four years ago. And when I started to read about it and learn about it, first of all, it really resonated with me. I saw, “Oh, okay, there’s a pattern that I’ve recognized that I’ve seen.” And it was a huge relief that it wasn’t just me and it wasn’t just in my head that it was a very common thing that a lot of people have dealt with even to the point that psychologists have studied it and categorized it and named it like that.

Kris Kelso:

And so, I got again to just talk to some people. First, very casually. In conversations with clients or other entrepreneurs. And I started to get some really interesting feedback that a lot of people… First of all, a lot of people were unaware, but once they learned about it, heard about it, they had kind of the same experience I did and it really resonated. And they said, “Oh, that’s that feeling that I felt. That’s that voice that I’ve heard in my head.” And so it started as conversation and then I wrote an article about it, which got a ton of visibility and a lot of feedback and really let me know that I had struck a nerve. And I started speaking about it at conferences and events and the more I would talk about it, the more things would happen.

Kris Kelso:

Like, people would come up to me and say, “You changed my life today. You made a difference. I can’t believe… The reason I was here, was I needed to hear that talk.” And so, after a little while, it just became really clear that there was a message and a lesson to be learned here that needed to be heard and wasn’t getting out there. I searched and looked for a book or some content specifically written to entrepreneurs about impostor syndrome. And I couldn’t find it. There’s been a lot written about women. There’s been a lot written about college students entering the workforce, but I couldn’t find something that really resonated with me and sort of my tribe, and so, it just sort of became a compulsion, I had to write this book.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. So, you mentioned women and college students. I think one of the… What I suspect you’re going to tell me is a misperception. One of the misperceptions about impostor syndrome is that it is gender based.

Kris Kelso:

Yes. Absolutely. The early research in the ’70s that was first done on impostor syndrome was all focused on women in the workforce. Women in a, quote, man’s world. Women trying to climb the corporate ladder and it was thought to be mostly a female problem. And then, eventually, some genius figured out that men can get insecure too, that men can have self doubt.

Drew McLellan:

I suspect just women are better at communicating it, which is why it was more identified with women in the beginning. And men are less skilled. Sometimes I think admitting their own insecurities or scary feelings. And so, the assumption was made that it was a woman thing versus men just don’t share that way.

Kris Kelso:

That’s exactly right. And further studies over the last couple of decades have shown that it happens equally among men and women, but women tend to be more willing to be honest about it. Women are more open about it. So it does skew female from a perception standpoint. But the reality is, men have those feelings of being an impostor too. We just tend to suppress them and pretend they don’t exist and try to fight through them and are unwilling to come out and say, “Yeah, I’ve struggled with some self doubt.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. And we could probably spend an hour talking about how little boys and little girls are treated different and how we communicate differently. But let’s just agree that this is a universal problem regardless of gender identification. Everybody sooner or later has a level of impostor syndrome, it’s just about how much and how often, right?

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. Yes. The studies that I’ve looked at say that, up to 70% of the population will feel this way at some point in their career. The most interesting thing though, that I found is that it tends to be more prevalent among high achievers. So the more ambitious you are, the more driven, the more innovative, the more you are self-motivated and pushing your own boundaries, the more likely you are to get into a situation where you feel like you might be a fraud, or you might be over your head. And on the surface, that seems counterintuitive, but when you really dig in and realize that that is part of the cause of it, is you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. You’re stretching yourself, you’re in-company with people who intimidate you or who you admire and maybe think you don’t quite measure up to. Those are some of the things that feed that impostor syndrome.

Kris Kelso:

And the truth is those are all good things. That’s a good sign and one of the things that I’ve learned in my own life and that I talk about a lot in the book, is learning to recognize impostor syndrome as a sign that I’m doing something good or that something good is about to happen.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, interesting. So here’s what I’m hearing you say, is that, among entrepreneurs and high achievers, we’re constantly doing things we’ve never done before. We’re climbing to new heights, we’re standing on a new ledge, and even for the most confidence, sometimes, standing on that new ledge you look down and go, “Oh, that’s a long way down. Maybe I don’t belong here.”

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. And maybe how did I get here?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Kris Kelso:

How did this happen to me? There’s a great quote from a CEO named Toby Thomas, who said that an entrepreneur is like a man riding on a lion, everyone around him is saying, “Wow, look at that guy, he’s so brave, that’s amazing. I wish I had the guts to do what he’s doing.” And yet, all the while the man on the lion is saying, “How in the world did I get on this lion? And how do I keep from being eaten by it?”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Kris Kelso:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yep. Yeah. I think everybody can relate to that for sure. Yep.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. There’ve been many times in my career that I’ve been given accolades or awards or verbal high-fives for the things that I’ve done as an entrepreneur. And usually in those moments, I’m not celebrating, I’m sort of freaking out a little bit on the inside, because what looks on the outside like this boldness of braveness feels to me like a series of near catastrophes. And I’m just figuring out my way through it along the way, but that outside perception is often very different from what’s going on the inside.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I suspect part of the problem is, we as entrepreneurs and business owners, in our case, with the listeners agency owners, we are selling our expertise. And so in our mind, we have to look to the outside world. Like we have our act together and we know what we’re talking about because that’s what we’re actually selling. So if we admit that we are a little unsure or we’re afraid, or we’re doing something as… And for us, it feels like a crazy experiment in our mind that does not solidify the trust and confidence that we want our employees or our clients or our prospects to have.

Kris Kelso:

Yes. One of the hardest things for people with impostor syndrome to do, is admit they don’t know something. To say, “I’m not sure what the answer is.” And in particular, when people are looking at us as the expert, when our employees are looking up to us, when our clients are looking to us, when we’re on a stage in front of an audience or on a podcast, and someone asks the question that you don’t know, you have that internal dialogue. Well, if I’m honest, it’s going to erode my credibility. So I have to come up with something that sounds like the right answer, that sounds intelligent.

Kris Kelso:

And the truth is, number one, people usually can see right through that. When you start to hem and haw and dance around it and try to come up with a smart sounding answer, people will see through that. But they also tend to really respect someone who says, “You know what? That’s a really good question and I don’t know the answer, but I bet we can figure that out. I bet there’s an answer out there and I’ll go pursue it.”

Kris Kelso:

And so, one of the mindset shifts that I talk about in the book, is flipping from, I have to have all the answers to I know how to get answers. I know how to find out things because there’s always going to be lots and lots of things I don’t know, even in my own domain of expertise. And so, there’s always going to be something I’m going to encounter new and I have to be comfortable with that and I have to be willing to say, “I don’t know. That’s a new one for me, but, hey, let’s figure that out. Let’s put the right team together and let’s do the research. Let’s go experiment. Let’s go try some things and fail at some things and figure it out.” And that’s the skill. That’s the expertise we need to really rest in, is the ability to get the answers not in having the answers.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think, certainly in the agency space and I know from my friends who own businesses, but they’re not agencies, the attitude really is when a client or a prospect asks you about something, or if your agency can do something, the adage is, you say yes in the meeting and on the way home, you think, “Oh my God, we have to figure out how to do that.” And there’s a very much, a fake it till you make it kind of attitude.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. Yeah. And I hate that phrase, fake it till you make it, because it really comes across very deceptive, but the truth is for creative people, especially, and a lot of people in advertising and marketing are very creative. When they say, “Yes, we can do that.” They’re not saying, “Yes, I know exactly how I’m going to do that.” They’re saying, “Yes, we have the skills to figure that out.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It gets back to your earlier point, which is, you don’t have to say you’ve got all the answers, but you have the confidence in yourself and your team that you will figure it out.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. So I had executive coach years ago in [Roger Hall 00:16:57], and he was a PhD psychologist that worked with a lot of business owners, still works with a lot of business owners and he taught me about the difference between self-esteem and self-efficacy. And self-esteem is largely emotional. It’s a feeling of confidence. It’s, I believe in myself. And the problem is emotions can be very fickle. Emotions are easily manipulated, right?

Kris Kelso:

Self-Efficacy on the other hand is based on a factual analysis of your track record and what you’re capable of. And not just that you’ve done the thing you’re attempting to do before, but that you’ve done so many other things before that give you the confidence that you can do the thing you’re about to do. And this lesson was in a particularly challenging time in my career when I was making a pivot myself and I was shifting to something new, and I just, honestly, wasn’t sure if I could do it. And what he helped me realize is, I’ve done a thousand things for the first time in my life and my career. Right? And my career has been full of first times. And in fact, every time I’ve ever done something meaningful for the first time, it was always proceeded by the same thing, which was a lack of experience.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right. Of course. Like a [inaudible 00:18:20].

Kris Kelso:

So I had to really come to the conclusion that, what I’m attempting to do, I can be successful at it, not because I’ve done it before, but because I’ve been so successful at so many other things that I’ve attempted. And in the marketing space, it’s the same situation, right? A client says, “We want to do X, or we want to try this thing that’s new.” And you say, “Well, okay, we’ve never done that, but we’ve done a million things for the first time and been successful.” It doesn’t mean it’s been a hundred percent successful. It doesn’t mean that any failure in your past disqualifies you, but you’ve been able to figure those things out before and so you can confidently say, “Yes, we can.” Without feeling like, “I’m lying, I’m deceiving, I’m faking it.”

Kris Kelso:

You’re not faking it. You’re saying we have the skills to figure that out and we’re going to go tackle it, right our way.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And you know the marketing and advertising industry, I think is sort of ripe for this because it’s our job to keep coming up with new things and new channels and new ways to communicate. And so, by default, if we’re doing our job well, most days we’re doing something for the first time. And so, you can see how people in our space could get really quagmired in impostor syndrome. I know in the book you talk about the fact that there is an underlying fear behind impostor syndrome. Talk to us a little bit about that.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. The basic fear behind impostor syndrome is that one of these days, somebody is going to figure out and realize that you have just been making it up as you go. That you don’t really know what you’re doing, but you’re just sort of learning on the fly and figuring this thing out. And that when that happens, the jig is up. And you’re going to be exposed as a fraud, which as we’ve already talked about it doesn’t mean that you’re a fraud because you’re always figuring out things new. The famous author, Maya Angelou, right? Well-Known, written a lot of very successful books after she had written something like 11 books, she was doing an interview and she said, “Yeah, every time I publish a new book, I think, this is the one, the jig is going to be up, they’re going to figure out that I actually don’t have any idea what I’m doing. That I’ve just gotten lucky 10 times and this one, there everybody’s just going to throw their hands up and go, what were we thinking?” Right?

Kris Kelso:

So lots of people feel like they have been lucky or gotten by on, making it up and just happening to hit it right. And the truth is, that is what success looks like. Success is trying, sometimes failing, but learning from those failures and then continuing to succeed. And when people find that out, they don’t disrespect, they don’t doubt you. Often, they admire you even more. For me personally, the fact that I didn’t have a college degree and I was running a company I always try to hide that. I always worried if anybody finds out, I don’t have a degree here. You know, I’m sitting in a room full of MBAs, and if somebody figures out that I don’t have a degree, then they’re not going to listen to me. They’re going to discredit me, they’re going to doubt me, et cetera.

Kris Kelso:

And yet I found it to be the exact opposite. So often when people hear for the first time that I don’t have a college degree, they say, “Wow, it’s actually really impressive that you’ve done what you’ve done without that education.” And so, the thing that we hide, the thing that we worry about often is working in our favor, not working against us. And so we have to quit making assumptions about what people are going to think if they know the truth.

Drew McLellan:

So I want to talk a little bit about what impostor syndrome costs us. But first let’s take a quick break and then when we come back, let’s talk about that and how we can try and overcome those challenges. So, we’ll be right back.

Drew McLellan:

Hey there, do you have an up-and-comer inside your agency, who’s become like your right-hand person? How are you investing in them? Who are they surrounding themselves with and who are they learning from? You might be interested in taking a look at our key executive network, it’s built to help you groom the leaders in your agency. It’s designed to surround them with other AMI taught agency leaders and it’s facilitated by one of AMI top coaches, Craig Barnes. They meet twice a year and they stay connected in between meetings with calls, zoom, get togethers and email. And my agency owners call it one of the best professional development investments they’ve ever made.

Drew McLellan:

Head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and look under the membership tab for key executive network. All right, let’s get back to the interview.

Drew McLellan:

All right. We are back with kris Kelso and we’re talking about impostor syndrome. So I think, and I have watched amongst the agency owners that I work with, I watched that impostor syndrome can just paralyze them. That they just get stuck and they can’t move. And they doubt every decision they need to make, which means they don’t make any decisions. So when we allow impostor syndrome to get the best of us, what does it do?

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. So for some people it’s just sort of a nagging worry, right? It’s an internal fear, it’s a stressor. And it’s a drag on you, but it doesn’t completely hold you back. But in some cases like you’ve described, it can become debilitating. If you really let it take hold, if you let those doubts completely erode your confidence, there’s a couple of things that are going to happen. Number one, you’re going to be very afraid to take any kind of risk, right? You’re going to go into preservation mode and you’re going to work to shore up your image rather than to actually work towards accomplishing things. And when you’re trying to shore up your image and it’s back to that expert thing, when you’re trying to be the expert, and you’re trying to come up with the answer and sound like, you know it all, even when you don’t, you’re actually eroding your credibility and you’re hurting your relationships and you’re potentially destroying your business.

Kris Kelso:

In the process, you could erode the trust of your clients and those kinds of things out of a desperate attempt to try to preserve that image, you’re killing it.

Drew McLellan:

What’s fascinating about that is, what you’re saying is when you try to overcome your impostor syndrome by posing, you actually become an impostor?

Kris Kelso:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah.

Kris Kelso:

Once you believe it enough, it really does happen because you do erode your credibility, you do look like a poser and people see that. And yet at the same time when you open up and are honest about where your expertise begins and ends, when you talk about the fact that you don’t know everything, but you know how to go figure it out, you take all that pressure off, right? There’s a story in the book about a guy who, he was rising really rapidly in the ranks of a huge company and impostor syndrome was just really weighing on him. I mean, he just felt, everywhere he went and every promotion he got, he felt, “I don’t deserve this, I’m just a kid from some small country town and how did I get here kind of feeling?”

Kris Kelso:

And what happened was he started avoiding meetings. He started procrastinating important work because he was afraid of failure. He was afraid of doing the wrong thing so he would just not do anything and it cost him his job, ultimately. He lost the great opportunity he had and he said, “Looking back, I see that it was all in my head. It was just me.” I sabotage myself because I didn’t believe the people that said you can do this. And then as entrepreneurs, I see it all the time as well. We put off the important work of going out and getting a client because we’re afraid of that rejection. And so, we engage in what I call productive procrastination, which is where you just come up with a lot of stuff to do to consume all your time.

Kris Kelso:

You work on your website and you go get your finances in order, and you organize the office and you buy those post-it notes that you’ve been needing for weeks, and you just find stuff to fill your time to avoid the failure that you’re so afraid of. But again, you’re not going to build a great business by organizing your office, you’re going to build a great business by going out and doing that proposal and taking a risk of being rejected, but ultimately winning in the long run.

Drew McLellan:

One of the things you talk about in the book that I think is enlightening, is the idea that our impostor syndrome actually, I think the phrase you use is weaponizes our gifts against ourselves. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. So what I’ve seen is that the very thing you think is hurting you someone else may look at it and say, “That’s the thing that I wish I had.” And so, again, I talked about my college experience or my lack of a college degree that I felt like held me back and other people saw as a great part of my story. And I’ve even had people say, “Well, I think I just got by on my degree. My degree gives me impostor syndrome because I think people give me more credibility than I deserve just because I have a PhD, but I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Kris Kelso:

And so, the things that are unique about us, right? One person is a great eloquent speaker, another person is shy and reserved. One person is really great at relationships and networks really well and feels like they couldn’t do anything on their own, they always have to leverage others. And another person feels like, they don’t build relationships well, and that makes them inferior. They wish they were better at relationships, they’ve always had to do it alone.

Kris Kelso:

So the very thing that makes you unique, and the thing that someone else may be admiring about you, that voice of the impostor, that inner critic will try to convince you that that’s the thing that is holding you back. That that’s the thing that makes you inferior. That that’s the thing that will forever keep you from getting to the position you aspire or achieving whatever it is you want to achieve, and that’s just a lie. Those are unique qualities and traits that make every one of our journeys different. And we should celebrate those differences. We should celebrate that we do it in different ways and that we can have success through a dozen different paths rather than all having to follow the exact same path.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, I think, I really do believe most people at some level, as you said, 70 and I bet it’s even higher than that. Feel this at some point in time and certainly we’ve talked about it, that’s there’s a spectrum of how it impacts their ability to perform. But how do we shut that inner critic up? How we get past that nagging feeling that we’re faking it, or that we’re a charlatan, or that we don’t really know what we’re doing or however we experience it? How do we make it go away?

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. Well, there’s two things to mention there. Number one, I don’t know that it ever goes away completely. I think that you learn to manage it and harness it. And what I mean by that, is you will certainly in certain areas of your life and career, get to a place that you feel very confident that you know what you’re doing, that you don’t have self doubt walking into a particular situation. But if you’re the type of person that is pushing the boundaries, that is stretching, that is trying to always do something new, then you’re always going to be encountering new situations where you do feel in over your head. And that voice is going to come creeping back. And so even when you’ve mastered it in one area, there’s another door, there’s another place for that voice of the impostor, that inner critic to try to get his foot in and get an advantage.

Kris Kelso:

And so, then what you’ve got to do, is have the right kind of community around you, the right set of people in your life who will help to keep your perspective healthy, right? So much of impostor syndrome is just a skewed perspective when we get isolated, when we get in our own heads and when we just spend time ruminating over what’s going well, and what’s not, and what we think we can and can’t do, without any outside voices, that’s when that impostor can really gain strength and get an advantage over us. But when we have the right people in our lives, and I’m talking about mentors, coaches, advisors, as well as a strong peer group, people that are on a similar journey with us and even mentees people that we’re mentoring people that we’re helping somebody that may be two steps behind you on your journey that’s following a similar path. And even though you feel like, “Man, I’m only a couple of years into my business, I haven’t mastered this, who can I mentor?” Well, somebody that’s a month into their business can learn a lot from you.

Kris Kelso:

And when you turn around and help someone that is not as far along their journey as you are, or that looks up to you because of what you’ve accomplished regardless of how small it may seem to you, that’ll give you a boost of confidence to realize I have some value here. I may not be where I want to be ultimately and I may not be where someone else’s that I admire, but I have something to offer and I am learning and I am growing and that’ll help to quiet that voice. But there’s one key ingredient that has to be there for community, for these groups of people, for these relationships to work for you rather than against you, and that key is vulnerability.

Kris Kelso:

If you are surrounded by people who are not willing to be vulnerable, and you yourself are not willing to be vulnerable. If everybody is putting their best face on, is putting their best foot forward, is telling the great story of their agency and their business and their career, and only giving the highlights and never ever talking about the faults and the weaknesses, well, boy, that’s just going to feed your impostor syndrome. That’s just going to make it worse, right? Because you know the reality of your own business and your own life and your own career. But if everybody is just sort of fronting, then it’s not going to help you at all, it’s going to make it worse. You might as well be alone at that point. If everybody is willing to be vulnerable and open up, then you really can get that honesty and have those conversations that will give you some relief from that stress.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s really interesting. So at AMI, we have several kinds of sort of community and peer… We own a peer groups. We have a private Facebook group for podcast listeners. And one of the things I love about when agency owners sort of under the AMI ecosystem come together, is that, sometimes by default, sometimes by design. So like in our peer groups, everybody has to pass out their financials. So there’s no faking how your company’s doing, right? And what you learn over time is, you’ll see the guys that you think are crushing it, have a really lousy year. And you’ll see the people who have struggled all of a sudden get back on their feet and start dropping double digit profitability to the bottom line. First of all, you recognize it’s a continuum, but you see that everybody struggles in some of the same places you do.

Drew McLellan:

And even in the more informal, like the Facebook group where people are not sharing their financials, they very quickly recognize that they’re actually hungry to open up and ask for help, and support each other, and congratulate each other, and be a place where you can be vulnerable. You can admit, “We just lost a big client, or I’m not sure what project management system to choose,” or whatever the question is. But I think humans are hungry for that. I mean, so that’s the good news. I think we’re hungry for it, you just have to find it.

Kris Kelso:

Yes. I’ve been a part of so many peer groups where a member will come in, first of all, totally afraid to be open. They don’t even want to come to the peer group because they feel like their news is so terrible or their business is doing so poorly. They don’t want to disclose and then when they finally just lay it out there and they say, “This is what I’m going through,” the feedback that they get is so encouraging, so helpful. They hear things like, “Oh yeah, I’ve been through that. Just a couple of years ago, we were right there and here’s what we were able to do.” Or, “Yeah, we have one of those years. Every four or five years, it’s part of the cycle it happens.” Or, “Yeah. I remember when we lost our biggest client and our best employee on the same day. And boy, that felt like the end of the world, but guess what, here we are, we’re still there and we’re still working and we’re alive and kicking, and we may be better for it.”

Kris Kelso:

And so, by being vulnerable, they’re open to that kind of feedback and actually walk away feeling so much better about their situation because they, again, it goes back to if they get a right perspective, right? Our perspective gets skewed when we’re alone, when we’re isolated and other people who are honest will help us reframe and get our perspective right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. You know, I saw a lot of that this spring and into the fall. So, a lot of agencies, of course, got decimated with the pandemic and especially if they’d spent… Especially if they did a lot of media buying, a lot of that went away. And I had an agency owner say to me, “I don’t think I’m going to come to the peer group.” And I said, “Why not? We were meeting virtually at the time.” And I said, “Why not?” He said, “Because my business is crumbling and I used to be this huge agency, and now I’m down to a handful of people and I’m embarrassed.” And I said, “But that’s exactly why you need to come to the peer group meeting, because they’re going to help you see it for what it is.” So he ended up coming and very embarrassingly sort of shared his numbers and his story, and I watched these people gather around them and remind him of all his successes and everything that he had done over the years, and everything that he had built.

Drew McLellan:

And the confidence they had in what his plan was moving forward and how amazing that was going to be. And at the end of the two days, he sent me a text and he said, “Thank you, for making me go to that meeting, I have so much energy and faith in myself because they all have faith in me. I just, I couldn’t see it.” And so, it’s exactly what you’re talking about.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. There are some stories in this book that I did not want to share. There are some stories of some points in my career that were not very widely known and that are embarrassing to me. And my publisher and my writing coach, and in talking with my team about the content of this, they all said, “You’ve got to share those things because that’s what’s going to really help people.” And so, I put those in there for the benefit of others who are struggling with something, because if you can see yourself in my trials, then you also can see yourself in my success. You can see yourself attaining, and achieving, and not just about measuring up to me or anybody else, but you can see yourself getting through it because you know I’ve gotten through it. And so that’s the value.

Drew McLellan:

As you said early in the conversation, it’s about recognizing this isn’t just you, that this is something a lot of people struggle with.

Kris Kelso:

That this is part of the part of the journey. Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I’m assuming that there is some… It feels like impostor syndrome is a monologue where somebody is whispering in your ear, “You suck, you’re a failure, you can’t do this, you’re going to go down in flames. They’re going to know you’re faking it,” whatever it is. How do we turn that into a dialogue? What do we say back in our own inner dialogue to tamp back some of that?

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. That’s a great question. And there are some reframing techniques that you can use. One of them is… And this is… I don’t know. Not that I mentioned this in the book, but I just wrote an article about this a couple of days ago. It’s about the fact that anxiety and excitement are the same emotion, right? When you’re nervous, when you’re scared, when you’re… You’ve just got to give the biggest presentation of your life and you’ve got those butterflies, and simply saying to yourself, “I’m not nervous, I’m excited.” Nervousness is an anticipation of a bad outcome, excitement is an anticipation of a good outcome. Both are an anticipation of what could be and it’s just about reframing that idea of what you’re looking forward to.

Kris Kelso:

Similarly, when that voice is speaking to you saying, “You don’t deserve to be here. You are in and over your head. These people are all smarter than you and you’re the only one that doesn’t deserve to be at this table.” The way you respond to say, “Thank you for pointing that out. That’s great news. That means I’m in the right place. That means that there’s a learning opportunity here. That means that I can uplevel.” If I stay with people that are beneath me, then there’s nowhere to go, but down. But if I’m with people that I feel are superior to me, when I’m in over my head, that’s where I’m going to learn how to swim. Right? That’s where I’m going to grow, that’s where I’m going to stretch. And so, yeah, a big part of it is learning to recognize the voice of the impostor as a sign, as a signal that, A, you’re doing something bold and daring and, B, there are really good things on the horizon and you’ve just got to stay with it.

Drew McLellan:

Yup. You know what’s interesting, I played baseball all through high school, and I was a pitcher, and I used to get anxious on the days that I was starting. And one of my coaches said to me, “That’s good.” What that means is that you care enough to bring your best game. That those butterflies, that anxiety is you gearing up for the best game of your life. And if you didn’t feel anything, what that would tell me is this game doesn’t matter to you and I wouldn’t want to put you in the game. And so even today, as I’m about to step on a stage, or teach a workshop, or whatever, I feel those butterflies, that little bit of anxiety, excitement mix. And what I say to myself is that’s great. That means you’re going to bring your best game and these people deserve your best game. So good on you for being a little nervous about this because it means you still care.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. And it means you’re going to grow in the process.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Kris Kelso:

We don’t grow when there’s no stress. We don’t grow, in the same way that if you work out your muscles and there’s no pain, it means you didn’t stretch anything. You didn’t actually exert beyond your basic natural abilities, and there’s no growth when that doesn’t happen. And so, we should never try to eliminate stress from our lives. We should never try to completely do away with any anxiety. We just have to make sure it’s a healthy amount and that we can manage it and that we harness it, harness that energy to push us forward rather than letting it hold us back. And so, again, it comes back to having the right perspective and reframing those things as the things that are going to build us rather than the things that are going to destroy us.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah. Really great perspective. So Kris, this has been a great conversation and I’m sure a lot of people are like, “Whew, okay. It’s not just me, everybody has this. And what it means is that I’m destined to do big and important things and I’m willing to do big and important things.” Yeah. I think your analogy of the muscles is exactly right. That people who are willing to stretch themselves are the ones who were willing to go to new heights, take on new challenges and accomplish things that if somebody is pretty content, just being where they’re at, where it doesn’t hurt, where it’s something they’ve done a million times before, there’s a growth curve difference there.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. Yeah. There’s a big difference. And I kind of liken it to, are you playing solitaire or are you playing a more advanced game that has levels and movement? Somebody said one time, life is like a video game. It gets harder and harder and it gets faster and faster and then you die. Which it’s tongue in cheek and it’s funny, but the truth is that often the reward for beating level four is you move on to level five and it gets harder, but that’s also the joy of it, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Kris Kelso:

As opposed to just playing a game like solitaire, which nothing against the people that play solitaire, but it’s the same game over and over and over again, there’s no advancement of your skill. You just sort of do the same thing and it can become very mindless at times. So, I want to be pushing the boundaries, I want to be growing and if you’re trying to develop yourself, you’re trying to push yourself, it does mean you’re going to be in pain sometimes. It does mean you’re going to hit a wall occasionally and have to figure out how to get over it, around it, through it, under it, you know what, figure out the answer to this challenge, but that’s where the learning happens and that’s what makes us great.

Kris Kelso:

We want to be great and we have to realize the great is not a destination, it’s a journey. It’s sort of a state of being, that we have to continue to do every day to move forward.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I was talking to an agency owner the other day and he’s been super successful for the last four or five years. Just year over year growth, all of that. And the pandemic, it hit a lot of agencies, it hit him, and he’s having to rebuild some things and it’s hard all of a sudden. And so we were talking and I said, “I think you’ve forgotten that this is supposed to be hard,” right? Because you’ve been kind of coasting the last couple of years, everything’s kind of been falling into place, but that can’t last forever. So you need to look back at the last four or five years that were a joy ride and go, “Okay. I know I’m going to get back to that, but I have to get through this hurdle first.”

Kris Kelso:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So sometimes I think we forget.

Kris Kelso:

We forget. It’s easy in the smooth times, the coasting times to forget that there’s still a hill to climb and there’s still something to do. And for most of us, if we coast too long, we’re going to get bored anyway.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Yep.

Kris Kelso:

Right? So the thing that we want, I’ve talked to so many people that either sold a business or did something great and they finally retired and after about three they’re looking for a new business or they’re looking… Because I said, “I don’t want to rest. I don’t want to relax.” The coast, I can only play so much golf and coasting just doesn’t fulfill me. So yeah, recognize too that, if you’re a driven person, if you’re an achiever, if you’re somebody who likes to climb the next mountain you don’t want to go on autopilot, you think you want that, but when you get there, you’re not going to like it anyway. So just go ahead and look forward to the next adventure.

Kris Kelso:

And we take those breaks along the way. Sometimes you have a, like you said, a couple of years stint where things just go really smoothly but look forward to the next hill to climb because you’re going to enjoy that just as much and rest up for it.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right, right.

Kris Kelso:

Rest up and prepare.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. To your point it’s level five. It’s not level four anymore.

Kris Kelso:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

So you got to be even more at your game.

Kris Kelso:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Kris, if folks want to find the book, learn more about you, track you down, what’s the best way for them to do all of that?

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. Pretty easy to find. The easiest way to get the book is to go to overcomingtheimpostor.com and you can buy it direct there. There’s also links to all the major retailers from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and even independent bookshops can get this book. So anywhere you buy books, you should be able to find it. Overcomingtheimpostor.com is the book website. You can find more about me at kriskelso.com and that’s Kris with a K. K-R-I-S-K-E-L-S-O. And I’m active on social media sites, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and Twitter, and those kinds of things. So as long as you remember, my name starts with a K, I’m pretty easy to locate.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. Thank you so much for your time today. Thanks for sharing all that you’ve learned and your own experiences. I know that this episode is going to be super helpful to people, so thank you.

Kris Kelso:

Thank you, Drew. I really enjoyed this conversation. It’s been great to be here.

Drew McLellan:

All right, guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. I’m hoping what you took away from this episode is the recognition that even if you’ve never spoken aloud about the fact that you sometimes have doubts or you sometimes get anxious, you are not alone. And that if you can find a group of people that you can express those feelings, and you can get some feedback, whether it’s a mastermind group, or it’s the Facebook group for this podcast, or wherever you may go to surround yourself with people who understand your world, that there’s great relief in getting that feedback in that perspective. And so, you don’t have to bear this by yourself. And it’s something that everybody struggles with at some level, and maybe by you talking about it you can help somebody else as well. So, I hope you take away that reminder.

Drew McLellan:

So I’ll be back next week with another guest to [inaudible 00:48:51]. Thinking a little differently about your business, I do want to say a big thank you to our friends at White Label IQ, as you know, they’re our presenting sponsor. They help us bring the podcast to you every single week. They are a great solution for agencies who are looking for a white label partner for PPC, dev or design. They are delighting and knocking it out of the park for many AMI agencies. And I know they could do the same for you. If you want to learn a little more about them, head over to whitelabeliq.com/ami, and as you probably know, if you’re a regular listener, they have a special deal there just for you.

Drew McLellan:

All right. In the meantime, I’ll be back next week. Please know how grateful I am that you spent the last hour with us. I know how time compressed you are, and so, I am always grateful when you give us a little bit of your time. Talk to you next week. Thanks for listening.

Drew McLellan:

That’s all for this episode of AMIs, Build a Better Agency Podcast. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. Don’t forget to subscribe today, so you don’t miss an episode.