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For Women in Business Who Feel Like a Fraud

Feel Like a Fraud

Guest post by Maria Tribble, VP, Enterprise Sales, PathFactory

[Note from Lori Richardson: This is an important post and I'm so thrilled Maria wrote it to share originally on Linkedin and gave us permission to post and share through Women Sales Pros. If it resonates with you, please share it as well. ] 

Maria says: This has been my part of my internal narrative and experience as a woman, a mother, and a technology sales professional. I realize now that I must talk about the negative committee that meets in my head not just for my peers in business but for all of our daughters. We need to make these safe topics for girls and women of all ages to discuss. I hope the men who read this will comment with examples of lies they tell themselves to broaden the conversation and perhaps, discover that we have some of the same common doubts, fears, and concerns.

FRAUD – I am a fraud & someone is going to figure me out.

This is classic “Imposter Syndrome” and something many women and men face in the workplace. In fact, according to an HP study, women only apply for a position or promotion when they are confident they are 100% qualified versus men at 60%. 

The only way for women to grow and change is to start. You (and I) must start saying yes to challenging assignments and get comfortable with being uncomfortable in these new roles. I noticed a change in my career when I was working for a narcissist which required that I learn to have courage and self-promote. I needed to become my best advocate and needed to learn how to positively advocate for others. I reached out to my network of friends and colleagues to talk about the negative messages I’d been telling myself. Just as Lori Richardson, CEO of Score More Sales, often suggests, I started listening to the little voice that says “but what if I can”…

The truth is, I’ve consistently been a top performer and president club award winner for over 15 years. 

[Imposter Syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.]

JUST LUCKY – I just got lucky [with my territory] [with a lead] [with timing] last time but I'm surely going to fail this quarter.

This one is often reinforced in the sales profession by under-performers looking for proof of why other sales professionals are more successful than they are with hitting their quotas, winning quarterly spiffs and continually closing large deals. These haters, always looking for an external source, cause, territory or vertical to blame, are never far away. But you simply cannot let this type of negative talk continue on your team. Sales is a mental game and this type of negative energy will spread like a virus and create rot on your team. You cannot let jealousy amongst your peers bleed into your internal narrative.

Women are often successful in sales due to their strong listening and empathy skills – the ability to read the room. You must be ready to try new things and fail gracefully. It’s so easy to let fear, ego and isolation guide you. You must foster a trusting and collaborative culture in sales with your team and your leaders. 

The truth is that I’m focused, curious and genuinely interested in the “why” a given prospect would want to work with me. I’m a master goal setter in business and life. I’ve been slicing and dicing my territories by industry and crafting personalized messaging for as long as I can remember. I often know on January 1st what deals I’ll close throughout the entire year. Action plans and strategy sessions are my jam.

[As a leader, you must be able to recognize when your team members are circling the self-doubt drain and be ready to redirect them and get them back on track. For some that will mean telling them to close their computer and go for a run. One of my SVPs would say, “Maria, go cut the grass. You do the best deal strategy when you can’t multitask.” A cluttered mind cannot find clear solutions.]

RESPECT – I’m not old/male enough to be respected in business. 

I've been pretending to be 40 as long as I can remember. It just felt like the age you needed to be in order to be a respected woman in the field of sales. I have had peers and subordinates who have openly disrespected me due to age, gender or both. The competitive jealousy has often led me to self-doubt and daydreaming of an escape hatch (you know, I was quite good at landscaping and driving dump trucks in college). You cannot let them influence your internal narrative.

The truth is that respect knows no age. In my second year out of college, I was working for a telecommunications company in Philadelphia when news hit of our bankruptcy. I’d been in my role for a matter of weeks, when I was tasked with calling my 100+ customers and explaining why we’d filed for bankruptcy and asking them to keep their trust in us to continue as their vendor. Later at an all hands meeting, the CEO stood up in front of 400+ employees and explained how I had set my fears aside and jumped right into the uncomfortable conversations, ultimately managing to secure 95% of my customers during that tumultuous time.

As Lori Richardson says, you must “work where you are celebrated, not tolerated.”

BODY SHAMING – I’m so ugly and overweight. No one will take me seriously.

There is a terrifying statistic that 90% of women have body image issues. It took gaining a friend in the 10% to help me understand that I was not alone in my body shaming. I spent 6 days silently walking along the Camino de Santiago in Portugal this April and during that time I began to finally understand how this had affected my life. I’d been anorexic in high school, though this was never openly discussed or acknowledged. I was, after all, a far less serious case than many of the girls in my school. 

[Adding fuel to my personal body shaming was the fact that I’d been openly judged and shamed by that same narcissistic boss I mentioned earlier for the clothes I chose to wear that were more pantsuit and less showgirl. He was disgusted by my comfortable shoes at an event in Vegas where he clearly expected his female employees to wear stilettos. He even called one night, after seeing a flashback high school picture of me on social media, to tell me how gorgeous I was then (with all of my ribs and hip bones clearly visible).]

These experiences can make you feel like you've never been more alone. As a result one often reacts by not talking about them.

NO ONE SPECIAL – My [parents] [uncles] [aunts] [brother] [grandparents] [friends] are the smart and successful ones. I’m no-one special. 

My family is made up of published writers, famous painters, law firm partners, Ivy League graduates, non-profit founders, architects, neurosurgeons and everything in between. My best friend commanded 400 Marines when she retired after 28 years. 

I’ve often felt out of place around these amazing people thinking I’m no one special compared to them. But here’s the truth – I have an incredible and fulfilling career that’s based on making human connections with brilliant humans all over the world. 

It turns out that these negative thoughts I have are not uncommon. Did you know that 80% of our thoughts are negative?

Most of us would never talk to another human being the way we talk to ourselves and certainly not to someone that we love.

The only way to survive the negative committee that meets in your head is to talk about the lies you tell yourself while also acknowledging the truths. I hope that by writing and sharing mine you will all feel more comfortable discussing here with your own peer groups. 

In the end, the truth is that I am strong. I am fierce. I am valuable. A few weeks ago, I went white water rafting for the first time through class 5 rapids – and I survived (and had a ton of fun doing it!). Seven months ago, I flew to Portugal and walked the Camino de Santiago following simple yellow arrows for days on end. And, I found my way.

The truth is, I am not a fraud. I am not “just lucky.” I've earned respect based upon my skills and abilities. My appearance has nothing to do with my capabilities and expertise. My success is my own, and has value like anyone else does.

What are some other lies you tell yourself?

What are you doing to change the narrative inside your head?

What are some of your positive beliefs?

Maria Tribble

VP, Enterprise Sales, PathFactory


7 Responses

  1. The biggest hurdle I’ve had is more a negative outlook from not understanding the value of networking early. Because I’m not an MBA or business undergrad and moved into sales from clinical nursing (BSN) I did not think I had the skills to advance up the leadership. I observed that what was needed were mentors, a good network and luck. I began late in the game to actively find a mentor and Network up but never was successful. I’ve instead committed to being the best sales person I can be, which has been lucrative but I do feel as if I’ve missed something. What I have taught all my kids (boys and girls) is the importance of being aware of the benefit to building their professional network and to be attentive to identifying and then asking someone to be their mentor. My experience is that unless you connect with one in an MBA program, it is not easy to find someone who wants to be or has even thought about being a mentor.

    1. Great feedback Beth – I’d recommend you check out #girlsclub with Lauren Bailey for mentoring opportunities.

    1. Thanks Lisa! I’ll look into that after I read your most recent book that I just purchased 😉

  2. I so resonated with this post as I too had that imposter syndrome, ‘just lucky’ feeling, not feeling worthy and feeling fat at 50 lbs less than I am today. Thank you for pointing out that we all share these commons fears, yet we are all highly successful professionals despite our fears and despite the discrimination that goes on. So forget about those fears and let’s rule the world OUR WAY!

  3. Great feedback Beth – I’d recommend you check out #girlsclub with Lauren Bailey for mentoring opportunities.

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