I am obsessed with two authors right now, Amor Towles and Jenny Lawson. This post was inspired by Jenny Lawson and has absolutely nothing to do with Amor Towles – but you should read his books. They’re incredible.
In Jenny Lawson’s 2nd book, Furiously Happy, she dedicates a chapter to the story of narrating the audio version of her 1st book. In it, she talks about being scared by her inexperience as a vocal actor and that she might miss the opportunity to narrate her own story. Then a friend sent her a simple text message.
“Pretend you’re good at it.”
She went on to do an incredible job. I know this because I’ve listened to the audio book and she nailed it. As I listened to the story I couldn’t help but remember my first years in marketing and how I attempted to do just that.
I started my career in marketing as a drive through teller – a bad one. I have trouble sitting still and doing the same thing over-and-over-and-over… which is basically the whole job. I was so bad at it they moved me to the slowest branch in town, where I worked the drive through. I was sent to training after a few months, where I learned about what the bank called “referrals”. 95% of a customers’ interactions with a bank are with tellers, so we could “refer” business into the bank by nurturing that relationship. Strangely enough, I had never actually witnessed someone do this.
So I gave it a shot.
I would peer into people’s cars and ask questions. If they had a car seat in the back, I would ask “Have you started saving for college yet?” If they had way too much money sitting in their checking account, “Did you know that you qualify for our wealth management program?” Then I’d fill out a piece of paper and hand it to the people who actually had offices. I’m still not totally sure what it is they did.
In a month I brought in a quarter million dollars for my bank. I thought to myself, “I wonder if someone would pay me money to do only this?”
Eventually I learned “referrals” are actually called “leads” and yes, some companies will pay you to do it.
The next few years were a blur. I taught myself HTML so I could build crappy websites – which I took great pride in. That got me a job at a digital marketing firm – where I had to learn what SEO Research meant and then teach it to others.
Eventually I left North Carolina to help run digital marketing for a small agency outside
Washington, DC. This is where I hit a wall. I was completely out of my depths. In two years I’d gone from miscounting cash to giving marketing plan presentations to clients.
To say I was bad in the beginning would be an understatement. I was not a strong speller –
and writing is about 50% of my job. I wasn’t confident in my knowledge when people questioned me. I had never even run an email campaign before.
But now I had clients so I had no choice but to pretend I was good at marketing.
Many times I drove home in tears, unsure if I would ever make it as a professional marketer. Then I’d sleep and the next morning I’d walk into the office with a smile on my face determined to land the jump today.
With time, I got better. I no longer spelled Executive Summary with an -ery. Eventually I learned that letting other people proofread my writing made me more professional, not less. Eventually I learned how to harness the power of data to differentiate myself and operate at a higher level.
Eventually I got it.
It took years before I didn’t feel like a fraud anymore. Experts call this “impostor syndrome.”
But as I look back over my career I notice a trend. People kept giving me responsibilities I wasn’t necessarily prepared for. I ran digital marketing for an agency 2 years in. Then I ran my own marketing department only 3 years in. At my last company, I actually ran their corporate rebrand! I wasn’t technically ready for any of these, but people saw gumption in me and they gave me a chance.
What I’ve discovered in 10 years is that if you give people a chance, they will often rise to the occasion. We all “pretend we’re good at it” for a while. Eventually, if you stick with it, you will be.
Don’t give up on yourself, because “potential” eventually turns into “expertise”.
That goes for you too Jenny. Can’t wait to listen to book #3.