#WorkTrends: Advice for the Next Generation at Work

Karyn Schoenbart

When NPD Group CEO Karyn Schoenbart’s daughter Danielle was 6 years old, she and a friend asked if they could have a sleepover. Instead of saying “yes” or “no,” Schoenbart asked them to give a presentation on why they should have a sleepover.

When your mom is a CEO, sometimes things run a little bit differently. So it’s no wonder that when Danielle entered the advertising industry, she often found herself advising co-workers on how to navigate office politics. She christened her education an MBA — Mom.B.A., that is.

Now Karyn Schoenbart has collected that wisdom in her best-selling book “Mom.B.A.: Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next.” Our conversation was enormously enlightening, with insights that any professional can use.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

The Importance of Networking

The first bit of advice Schoenbart says she offers young workers is to be sure that they are networking during their early career. However, workers also need to remember that the worth of your Rolodex — to use an older generation’s term — isn’t based on its size; it’s based on the quality of the contacts that you make. “If you can make a few authentic connections, those can serve you well,” she says.

Of course, putting theory into practice is an another matter entirely. A lot of people dislike networking events, believing them to be exercises in small talk and empty promises. But Schoenbart says that’s the wrong way to approach such events. “It doesn’t have to be small talk,” she says. “It could be thoughtful talk.”

To ensure thoughtful chit-chat, prepare for the event like it’s a job interview. Try to research who will attend. Prepare interesting questions you can ask. They don’t have to be complicated — just asking someone what they’re working on breaks a lot more ice than you’d expect.

Finally, make sure your follow-up is even more thoughtful. “One of my pet peeves is when people follow up on LinkedIn with the generic ‘Let’s connect,’ ” Schoenbart says. Take the time to personalize your message — and never be afraid to ask what you can do for someone. “You never know,” she says. “Sometimes it won’t pay back, but many times it will.”

Rethink the Labels for ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Bosses

We’ve all seen “Office Space” and had bosses who are ineffective and frustrating.

But Schoenbart wonders if our definitions aren’t a bit skewed. “We don’t always realize who’s a good boss and who’s a bad boss,” she says. She cites her first boss as a classic “good boss.” “My boss was incredibly nurturing,” she says, but notes that as she grew in the position his approach actually began to feel stifling. “I ended up having to leave the company because I felt I couldn’t grow.”

At Schoenbart’s second job, her boss was much more emotionally distant. He “could barely give me the time of day,” she says. But the experience ultimately provided a valuable learning experience because it forced her to learn to stand up for herself, become self-motivated and evaluate the quality of her work without the presence of feedback. “Looking back,” she asks, “who was the better boss?”

She says her experience under that second boss provided a foundational lesson that she passed on to her daughter and to the readers of her book: Grow and absorb the lessons you learn working underneath your bosses — all of them. The only way you will grow and prepare yourself for leadership positions is to get out of your comfort zone.

You Never Outgrow Impostor Syndrome

You know that feeling where you think you’re underqualified for whatever it is you’re doing? It’s called impostor syndrome. Even someone as successful as Schoenbart feels it!

The sad reality is that even as we get older, impostor syndrome is one thing that doesn’t fade. Thankfully, Schoenbart has a few suggestions to prove to ourselves that we really do belong.

First, resist the urge to compare yourself to others. “You’re unique,” Schoenbart says.

Second, remember that uniqueness when you think about yourself. Most people are very aware of their weaknesses, but it’s also important to focus on your strengths. “What you’re really good at is also going to be most likely what you love,” she says. “If you can be even better at [them], you can be the best at it then, and that can help propel your career.”

Finally, start a fan file. Whenever you do great work on a project or receive a compliment from a boss or client, put it in the file. Not only will it help cheer you up when you’re feeling down, but it can help you work your way up the ladder. “If there’s an opportunity or a promotion … you can pull out your file and use that to help build your case,” Schoenbart says.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

How Impostor Syndrome Hampers Your Success

Why do we resist accepting our accomplishments? Ive meet too many successful people who suffer from impostor syndrome. These are individuals who (despite the evidence) remain convinced they are frauds, believing they do not deserve their success. Whitney Cummings is one such individual.  

Whitney Cummings is a prominent comedian. She’s had her own prime time network show, appears on the wildly popular Comedy Central Roasts, is co-creator of the CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls, and sells out every stand up gig she books. Yet in a recent interview, she stated:

“I have Career Dysmorphia. I think I’m a complete failure. I see myself as an open mic-er who is a phoney and I don’t see myself as a success at all. I argue with a lot of people about that.”

Whitney is not alone. In a Huffington Post article by imposter syndrome expert Valerie Young, she mentions a number of successful people who, as Mike Myers put it, still expect the “no-talent police” to come and arrest them. Such high profile performers as Tina Fey, Don Cheadle, Kate Winslet, Jody Foster, and producer Chuck Lorre have all spoken openly about their inner fraud feelings.

Like most self-described imposters, Whitney does not deny the significance of her accomplishments. She simply de-values her role in achieving them by chalking it up to chance and feeling as if she’s tricking others into thinking she’s better than she is. To explain this mentality, a study by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes found that where many people “own success as attributable to a quality inherent in themselves, imposters project the cause of success outward to an external cause (luck) or to a temporary internal quality (effort) that they do not equate with inherent ability.”

If you consider yourself to be an imposter, there’s good news – you can do something about it. Here are a few ideas:

  • Stop acting as if you’re afraid of success. You have attacked your goals and achieved something to be proud of. People who are afraid to succeed don’t do this. So if anything, you are already a success and are afraid to accept it.
  • Accept that you have a role in your success. As mentioned, some feel like a fraud because they are unable to internalize success. You can either act as if you’ve been “given” an opportunity or you can look back at all the effort you’ve exerted to get where you are today.
  • Take others off their pedestal. Some imposters have an unrealistic image of what it means to be a success. They idolize their heroes instead of seeing them as the humans they really are. Peal back the façade and you’ll quickly realize that nobody knows what they are doing. Confidence may serve to hide insecurities, but we are all working with a hopeful ignorance of the future.
  • Get a support system. Find people you respect who are willing to listen to your self-doubts and can help you come to grips with your success.
  • Admit you’re a fake. This is actually a therapy technique where you role-play the opposite of “I’m not competent.” The idea is to act out being competent so you can unveil a part of your self-image that lurks beneath the self-doubt. You can then work through your fears and guilt and move toward a more realistic view of your abilities.
  • Admit you’re really a fake. If all else fails, accept that you’re a fraud and use this insecurity to push yourself to work even harder. Maybe being an actual imposter is the fuel you need to fuel future efforts.

It’s a shame Whitney Cummings, Mike Myers, and the rest of us can’t appreciate what we’ve achieved. Fortunately, there’s no “no-talent police” to arrest you for finally being found out. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in a state of career dysmorphia.

You work too hard to find yourself delusionally rejecting your accomplishments. The sooner you can accept this, the sooner you can put your efforts into earning more wins.

Photo Credit: Ngọc Hà via Compfight cc