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Senior executive with a senior-level inferiority complex

I once met a bank executive who, after telling me most of her life story, confessed her biggest secret.

She’d never gone to college. She had a high school diploma – nothing more.

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Now I have met plenty of people with PhDs who I would never list among the world’s most highly functioning people, so I never base a person’s ability to contribute to this world on their educational track record. One of the best editors I ever had as a journalist never went to college. One of the most short-sighted and nasty individuals I ever met was a Harvard professor.

But there was that bank executive who had an office high atop a very nice office building, and a very impressive title that put here near the top of her bank’s hierarchy.

“I’ve always felt like a failure because I don’t have the education,” she said.

She told me she’d been invited to speak to business students at a local university, but she declined because she was intimidated. She figured they knew more about business than she did, considering that they were college students.

Incredulous, I asked her what the hell she was talking about.

“I’ve never even been to college, and they are juniors and seniors! I have nothing to offer them.”

“How did you find the confidence to get as far as you have?” I asked.

“I just worked hard and kept getting promoted. I think they needed a woman…”

So sometimes your career gains speed and momentum despite everything you think or do to sabotage it. Does her story illustrate that I am wrong about thoughts manifesting success, because obviously, the bank exec’s self-talk shouldn’t have manifested much of anything. Or do we need to go deeper?

I could tell she was sincere when she confessed her insecurities to me, but I knew two things. First, something was driving her success other than her company’s need for a female in a high place. She was not a stupid woman — that was evident — so talent and ability counted plenty. But, what would have happened if she’d totally rewritten that negative story of inferiority that she kept playing inside her head? If she could have gotten beyond that negativity, I am absolutely convinced she could have achieved even more.

There is a lesson in this for all of us. All of us have insecurities. We need to put them in their place.

1 Comment
  1. Fawn,

    As women, we all face some level of insecurities! Whether it’s in a working environment or with family members.

    The best advice is to continue playing the role that only you can perform. I believe this person like all of us should look within to see what we can offer others rather than questioning “WHY Me, Who Will Find Out, etc.” Hopefully, this would provide a clue as to ones true purpose.

    Given her insecurities, I wonder if her peers and subordinates felt she is competent. I don’t think so, because somewhere along the way she would have been exposed. And…. if one feels that college will define then – I say; why not take that leap? It’s never too late to learn 🙂

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