I Look Like an Imposter: An Open Letter Confessing My Secret Fears as an Online Entrepreneur
Dear Friends and Readers,
Do you ever want to write something terribly important to you, but no matter how many different ways you think about it, when you sit down to put words to the screen…you can’t seem to make it sound like the mighty words living inside your brain?
That’s where I am right now.
I suppose the only thing to do in these situations is to blurt it out and hope it doesn’t come out sounding too ridiculous. Too rough around the edges. Too whatever.
(But you’ll just have to forgive me if it does. ;))
So, for the lack of a better idea — and, apparently, better composition skills — that’s what I’m going to do now.
My confession to you is this: being an entrepreneur is scary (so. freaking. terrifying. is what I’m really trying to say here) and I don’t have it all together.
Not by a long shot.
In admitting this, I’m painfully aware of how surprising this will seem to most of you. Frequently when I try to talk about it with others online, the immediate (and understandable) response is, “Oh, not you. You can’t relate to this! I don’t believe that you’re scared/that you struggle/that any of this stuff is difficult for you.”
I can’t cover up the fact that this bothers me, and what’s worse, I know that it’s all my fault.
I’ve purposefully strived to build a pro, influential brand with Olyvia.co, but in the process I’ve hidden so many of my vulnerabilities. I’ve refrained from letting you know the real person behind the so-called “internet personality.” I’ve denied myself the primary thing I’ve wanted wayyy deep down in my bones, which is simply this: to be relatable.
To be able to walk beside other women with a friendly smile and say,
“Quiet, uncertain, mistake-prone me found a way to do this and so I fiercely believe that you can, too. Truth be told, I believe that you can do it even better than me. Would you let me help you?”
That all changes today. I’m going to speak candidly about my raw insecurities in a moment, but before I do, I’m going indulge you in a story about my past. It will all make sense in the end, and if it doesn’t, you can throw digital tomatoes at me (or something).
I WASN’T BORN OR BRED FOR THIS
You know those tales you read on other people’s About Pages where they say they’re a ‘natural’ entrepreneur because at age 4 they were making serious moola selling lemonade from their driveway?
Yeah, that story.
Well, that’s not me.
I’ve never had an entrepreneurial bone in my body. I grew up wanting to be a pediatrician because I went goo-goo over babies, and when I couldn’t get above a D in chemistry during my freshman year of college, I fell back on the one thing I knew I was great at: writing.
In my life I was going to be a journalist. In particular, a journalist who specialized in layout + design. Later, when I became enamored with politics for a short time (much to the chagrin of my favorite Journalism professor), I was going to work in the Office of the Press Secretary at the White House.
Running my own business was an ambition far beyond my plans of days spent in studious solitude, scripting careful and weighty words while sitting in rooms scented with old leather, dust, and sun-soaked stacks of paper.
But, life doesn’t often go as planned. Especially when one gives up their youthful dreams for other people’s “logical” ideas.
So instead I got married…and scrambled for any job that could pay the bills.
There begins my journey of acquiring a crazy compilation of jobs that I couldn’t make up if I tried. Like:
- Nannying for infant triplets (2004),
- Performing customer service and, later, insurance billing for a national orthotics + prosthetics company (2005),
- And ironing rental table linens (2006).
At least, that’s what I got paid to do.
What isn’t on paper are the myriad of blogs I kept in my free time; the small spaces that kept me connected to my true loves of words and design.
To name a few:
My mommy + recipe+ craft hybrid blog (decked out in flowers and pastel pink — oh it was legit, guys).
My weird, spur-of-the-moment blog that only ever saw three posts and was promoted once to a crowd of five on Twitter, but somehow managed to have one article re-published in a major niche mag that was distributed to 100,000+ people. (Don’t ask. I dunno either.)
Then there was all the freelance work for non-profits and my small biz owner friends. Which I obviously understood as literally needing to be free since I never charged a dime.
- Web graphics.
- Social media graphics.
- Social media setup.
- Facebook ads.
- Advice. …Lots and lots of advice.
I might have stayed on this trajectory forever, but in late 2013 something happened that turned everything on its head.
I STARTED MY BUSINESS AT THE LOWEST POINT IN MY LIFE
On a sunny October day when I was 32 years old, I left my destructive marriage of almost a decade and became the full-time parent of our three sweet kiddos, ages six and under.
At this point I had been an “official” stay-at-home-mom for seven years — in other words, I had precisely $0 in income plus a stale resume that could do little more than laud my skills as a poopy diaper changer — and I had NO CLUE how we were going to survive.
For several harrowing weeks I traveled to and from cumbersome public assistance offices, hoping for that thread of help that could keep all four of us in our house and out of my parents’ guest bedroom.
Eventually, after 587 trees had to die to provide the necessary forms, I was granted food stamps and a health care plan on Medicaid.
This was a momentous day. (One I’ll never forget. I can feel the relief even now. If you’ve never been in that spot, it’s almost impossible to understand.)
However, I still only possessed a small sum of money to live on from the divorce settlement — and unbelievable stress plagued my brain on a minute-by-minute basis.
Naturally, it seemed like the perfect time to start a business.
So, Olyvia.co was born.
Even though at first it wasn’t even going to be called Olyvia…
And my branding WAS going to look like this…
And it took me 6 months to get the website live…
And when I did “launch,” I had 0 blog posts up…
(Okay, this is getting embarrassing. But by all means, let’s continue!)
And I didn’t have a “work with me” page for another 6 months…
Plus my first blog post images looked like this…
I had no editorial plan…
And it took me 30+ hours to write one blog post.
Wild is the nicest way I can put all of…that.
The truth? I was a mess.
For 17+ hours a day all I did was work from my little couch (usually perched on top of The Blob of clean laundry) and try to keep my kids entertained + fed as well as I could with a laptop glued to my lap.
I had no plans. Just dreams that I wanted really, really bad.
Lurch forward to today and it may look like I “made it.” My blog took off and readership continues to climb every month. My primary social media accounts (Pinterest + Twitter) have nearly 30,000 followers combined. I’ve launched two e-books on online customer service for small biz owners + entrepreneurs and made thousands of dollars. I have a subscription + community launching soon, some workshops + bootcamps in the works, and I’m building my first big e-course.
But in all reality, I’m still a mess. I seriously am.
So let’s just get it over with now, okay? I shall show you #alltheways I’m (still) flying by the seat of my pants, (still) clueless as to what I’m doing, and (still) frightened to the core.
I MAY RUN MY OWN BUSINESS, BUT I’M SCARED TO DEATH
1. I’m scared that I look like an imposter.
I don’t have an MBA.
Heck, I can’t even boast that I sold that lemonade when I was 4 years old.
I’m self-taught in the vast majority of things I do, and I know what that looks like to “certain folk.”
In my heart I fiercely disagree with that mindset (hello: Steve Jobs), but there’s still a part of me that whispers, “What right do I have to be here? A thousand other people could do it better and have 15 years experience as a corporate exec to prove it.”
2. I’m scared that I look like just another greedy internet personality.
There are a lot of sincere, upstanding online entrepreneurs out there.
…There are also quite a few who feel + sound nothing but fake, icky, and money-hungry.
I always wonder when I send out emails, hit ‘publish’ on a blog post, or launch a product whether people can really tell I’m being sincere.
Can they understand my quirky sense of humor? Can they tell I’m just a quiet geek with a passionate heart?
Or do I sound phony? Avaricious? Icky?
3. I’m scared that I’m too introverted.
Every report card in every year of Elementary school I received a “-” for Participation. Without fail.
In middle school I was the kid who would fake serious illness on the day of my oral report. Even it if it meant making red dots all over my arms with a dull pencil, then showing them to the teacher with a look of feigned horror. (Yes, I did that. Yes, it worked…multiple times.)
My AP English teacher in my senior year of high school noted that I was losing points for being “too reticent” in class discussions.
If one thing is certain, it’s that I’m NOT an extrovert.
I find my voice in writing. It’s what I love. It’s how I best show the world who I am…what I know.
Yet as I participate in the online space, it’s not hard to miss the expectations for “successful entrepreneurs.”
- Podcast interviews.
- Live workshops.
- Google Hangouts.
- Live calls.
Can I succeed at higher levels when I am perfectly content to remain words on a screen — or in a book? Can I push myself beyond my shy nature for the sake of business? I’m not sure. It worries me.
4. I’m scared that I’m not ‘one of the cool kids.’
I think this is true: no matter how many followers, clients, or customers you have, you can still feel alone.
Like you’re the awkward, obscure player sitting on the sidelines while all the cute, popular kids are out there getting the big plays.
So-and-so is teaming up with so-and-so to do _______. That person immediately gets dozens of comments on their new blog posts. This person is always being praised by the masses on Twitter. Those three people fill up their courses within 10 minutes after launch.
It’s silliness. I know that. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still feel that doubt and insignificance even now.
5. I’m scared that I’m going to disappoint my fans + customers.
There’s this crazy thing about business called customer satisfaction, and I’ll be darned if it doesn’t scare the living daylights out of me.
Especially since, oh, you know, THAT’S WHAT MY ENTIRE BRAND IS ALL ABOUT.
The bar is sooo high, guys.
And I don’t want to fail.
I don’t want to let people down.
I don’t want to provide anything subpar.
People trust me. It’s not something I can afford to take in stride, so it weighs on my mind. Heavily.
6. I’m scared that I won’t be able to pay my bills.
Being an entrepreneur is pretty great for all the obvious reasons: more freedom, more flexibility, more opportunity, more creativity.
However, until you get far enough along with your diversified income streams, there’s one big drawback: the monthly income is nowhere near reliable.
One month can be outstanding, while the next almost all you see is $7.02 from Amazon affiliate links.
While I’ve been able to make it fairly comfortably for the last 1.5 years, I’m past the days of being able to survive on ramen and a 55 degree house to get me through a tough period. I have three growing kids to feed, clothe, keep healthy, and educate no matter what.
“What if…” is a constant anxious thought when it comes to my finances. An unexpected hard time could put us in a terrible spot, and I simply cannot let that happen.
7. I’m scared that I’ll never figure out how to be good at single motherhood AND entrepreneurship.
Before I became a single mom and entered this world of business, my kitchen floors received a thorough mopping an average of 1x per week.
(Unless I was pregnant, mind you. Then I didn’t TOUCH my floors until 39.5 weeks.)
The rugs were vacuumed every couple of days.
Clothes lived in dressers. Folded.
My entire downstairs could (usually ;)) get to guest-tidy with 10-20 minutes of devoted attention.
Nice weeknight meals with plenty of healthy sides were served at the dinner table.
I made weekly meal plans. Like, in advance and stuff.
The kids had a leisurely bath every single evening.
And numerous bedtime stories.
And long cuddles.
I was a mostly patient mom.
I rarely used the TV as a babysitter.
We did things on random afternoons like take walks to the park. Bake cookies. Make cushion forts.
Now? None of the above exists anymore.
…I wish it did. I wish I could figure out how to get it back. I don’t know if I can.
8. I’m scared that I’m going to get tired.
Even though it was never my lifelong ambition to be a business owner, I’ve received tremendous enjoyment building Olyvia.co into what it’s become.
Through all these fears, through my own failings, through it ALL…I’ve found great reward in the experience.
Running my own business has empowered me more than anything else I’ve done aside from mothering my children. It’s kept me intrigued, on my toes, and feeling alive.
I’ll tell you this, though.
It requires a fierce 24/7 energy, too.
And that’s not always fabulous.
Sure, I can “step away” for a morning here or an afternoon there. I can take a weekend to do family things if I want to. (And I do.) I don’t have to directly answer to anybody, which is liberating.
But you can never fully turn the business OFF.
Unlike most regular 9-5 gigs, when you’re “off work” as an entrepreneur your brain is still going a million miles a second thinking about:
- all the things you should be doing with the biz
- all the things you want to do with the biz
- all the things you could do with the biz
- all the things you have to do for the biz
I’ll tell you straight up: it drains me.
Or in the words of my beloved Bilbo Baggins, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
Can I keep it up? It’s an honest question I grapple with.
I don’t know.
Sometimes I just want to spend my days sitting in a room scented with old leather, dust, and sun-soaked stacks of paper, tending to words in quiet solitude.
Sometimes I just want nothing more pressing to do than sit back and read my children bedtime stories.
And sometimes, friends…well, sometimes I just want clean floors.
NOW MY STORY IS AT ITS END
I’m grateful that you took the time to read this crazy, vulnerable,
little long letter to you.
I wasn’t sure at first if I should go ahead and publish it. But I think it will encourage somebody out there, so I’m going to close my eyes reeeeal tight and #justdoit.
Thank you for listening, and for always being the least scary thing about this business,