How Shonda Rhimes Got Me to Let Go of My Imposter Syndrome


And also, balance my business books

by Chelsea Hanepen, Studio Coordinator

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Shonda Rhimes on stage

As APW’s newest hire, I joined the team earlier this year fresh off a grueling corporate year. The corporate world was my personal Hell; I was watching the clock until it was time to go home and generally going crazy. And because I needed to have something I cared about outside of my nine to five (for my own sanity), I started my own business, Dirty Hands Floral. Which means that outside of APW, I create arrangements and bouquets and anything you can make with lush greenery and flowers. While floral design is a true passion of mine, I’m constantly struggling with where to start in terms of running a business. In fact, I feel like I’ve “started” so many times, that the issue for me is how to keep that momentum going.

I mean, full stop. I’m terrible at the business aspect of my business. I just want to create (everything else comes second to that for me). It’s not that I don’t know how to do things; it’s just that I always feel like I’m pretending to know what I’m doing (imposter syndrome? More on this later). So when APW was invited to attend the QuickBooks Connect event at the San Jose Convention Center (with Tyra Banks, Nate Berkus, and Shonda Rhimes on the speaking roster, OMG), I was excited to get to represent the team. Even if that meant I had to deal with numbers. I know Meg uses QuickBooks to balance APW’s budget, and I have been looking for ways to improve my own business acumen. But what I didn’t know was that QuickBooks has a new product just for self-employed people, that helps you with all the un-fun parts of running a business, like keeping your finances organized by capturing receipts, automatically tracking mileage, categorizing your business expenses, and helping you find tax deductions. So since numbers and I don’t naturally click, I welcome anything and everything that will ease my relationship and anxiety toward that. Because at the end of the day, numbers equal money, in or out of my pocket. And I want to get a better grasp on that.

iphone docked at the apple store

QuickBooks has always intimidated me, because numbers plus accounting really does not bring my blood pressure down. But when I got to the event, I met people just like me—people with the goal to make their small businesses thrive. Going to this event made me realize that if I take a second to do the research instead of putting off dealing with numbers, I would find out that there are tools to make handling my budget a lot easier. And once I deal with my budget, I will have more time to create the things I love.

All I had on my mind before attending this event was that the whole conference would only be about QuickBooks. I guess I imagined that we’d all sit down and do accounting together, or something equally fascinating and terrifying. What I wasn’t expecting was how inspired I’d be by the event itself. Although, being inspired isn’t too hard when you get to see Tyra, Shonda, and Nate Berkus speak.

Tyra banks on stage in a suit

I used to think of Imposter Syndrome as faking it until you make it. I used that phrase all the time before attending this event. So, what made me look at things differently? SHONDA FREAKING RHIMES. In my own mind, I always thought it was luck or fate that led me to where I am instead of me acknowledging the hard work and effort I put in to get me there. But Shonda reminded me and the rest of that audience that if you’re in the room, you’re there to do the work that everyone else in the room is there to do.

As women, it’s easy to feel like we aren’t capable of running a business as well as a man… because, well, our whole culture is set up to tell us just that. Not only do men tend to be the recipients of business training and encouragement (and funding), they’re also told to walk into every situation with confidence and ask whatever questions they might have. Far from having imposter syndrome, they have whatever the opposite of that is… “I naturally own the world” syndrome?

But at QuickBooks Connect, I realized that Shonda was right. I didn’t end up in that room by dumb luck. I worked damn hard to build my skills and my resume. I fought hard for my position at APW (how many follow up emails over several months is too many, would you say?). And I stepped up (and into dawn rush hour traffic), when the opportunity to go see Shonda, Tyra, and Nate presented itself. And all that means it’s time to stop second-guessing myself and the work I put out into the world. I’m where I am right now because I’m supposed to be here. And I will no longer use the phrase “imposter syndrome,” because I believe I’m meant to be here.

convention center hallway

But back to those numbers. I also realized that they need to stop scaring me and that tools like QuickBooks are here to help me build my business, not give me a panic attack. And if I have the talent and hustle to do all the other things it takes to run my business, I can for sure count the money going out… and better yet, the money coming in.

Have you ever gotten in your own way in your career? What are your tips for running a small business without running yourself into the ground?

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This post was sponsored by QuickBooks and QuickBooks Connect, a transformational event that inspires and educates small businesses owners and self-employed folks alike to fuel their own business success. And now with QuickBooks self-employed, managing your own business is easier than ever. QuickBooks self-employed has powerful tools that make it easy for you to separate your business expenses from your personal expenses, automate your mileage tracking, send invoices, and maximize your tax deductions. It’s basically like having a small business assistant in your pocket (for as low as $5 a month). Click here to sign up for a free 30-day trial with QuickBooks.

Chelsea Hanepen

Chelsea Hanepen is a biracial floral designer and all around creative from the San Francisco Bay Area. When Chelsea isn’t at APW or playing with flowers, she spends her time wandering Northern California looking for the best camping spots (with the best wild flowers and swimming holes) and tasting all the food and craft beer that the area has to offer.

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  • Ashweck

    I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood and family of origin lately and was talking to a friend about how I could have probably been a much better swimmer if my parents had allowed me to swim yearround. She said how unfair it was that athletic excellence is often the product of financial output/what your parents can afford and I thought about that and decided she was wrong in this case.

    My brothers played sports yearround and they played expensive sports, like hockey. My mother always told me there wasn’t time to drive me all over or money to sign up for a swim team and I took her at her word. As an adult looking back, I realize there wasn’t money or time because all of their resources went to my brothers. My oldest brother, in particular, was supposed to be the great hope of the family and so my father would drive him and his twin to hockey every day at 4:30 in the morning, take nights off work to go to games, etc.

    It wasn’t just sports — my brothers were given expensive guitars and drum sets along with the after-school lessons. When I asked to learn the piano, my mother said it was too expensive and signed me up for in-class violin lessons with a violen rented from the school music program. (Then wouldn’t let me practice because, as a ten year old just starting out, I was terrrrrible.)

    Then there was the whole private high school scholarship issue. I was accepted, they wanted me badly enough to give me a substantial scholarship and promise me a spot on the swim team, but I wasn’t alloqed to go because I would have to be driven every day and because my brothers might go to college. (Spoiler: they did not.) And the time I introduced my family to my professor, the college president, and Ira Glass. My professor and the president were saying how talented I was and my father said “This is my son, he was in the navy!”

    All of this is to say that sometimes, if you look back on your life, it’s really REALLY easy to see why you sit in therapy every week saying “But I don’t deserve it as much as [man] does. [Man] works so much harder than I do.” It’s a thing I have been really struggling with as good things happen in my career and my life. At my wedding, I had ten colleagues and a superior who all approached my mother and told her I was incredibly talented and blah blah blah. Her response was to ask “But don’t you want to meet her brothers?” (They were not invited because they are cruel and have real substance problems.) It’s obviously not always so blatant, but sometimes the only person who cannot see the biases working against you is… well… you. I am still trying to find a way to feel like I belong at this pretty spectacular table where I’ve been given a seat, that the work I’m doing is worth the notice it has received. I’m not quite there yet but I’m getting closer and articles like this are helpful because I realize that it’s not something fundamentally broken in me, or that I know something about my own uselessness that no one else knows that makes me feel this way. It’s the music lessons I didn’t get, the high school I was denied, and the fact that those same opportunities were given and squandered by the boys I lived next to.

    A quote from my youngest brother, to put things in perspective: “You don’t get how hard it is to be a white man. You’re a woman so you had to work hard to prove you were my equal. But everyone just expected me to succeed and never told me it was going to take work. It’s not fair.” (This, as he failed out of college for the second time in a year.)

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  • Her Lindsayship

    So I love mostly everything Shonda Rhimes has ever said, but this part struck me as off: “She doesn’t believe in “imposter syndrome.” She said if you’re in the room, you belong there.”

    The thing is, impostor syndrome is something some of us have to fight really hard against, and it’s the opposite of helpful to say that you just don’t believe in it. Maybe Shonda hasn’t struggled with it, or maybe she wishes she hadn’t and that’s why she would say this at a talk? But for those of us who are struggling with it, believing in it is an important part of fighting it. My husband introduced me to the term back when I was absolutely freaking out about how worthless my bachelor’s thesis was and how it seemed like literally everyone else in my program got it and I was just floundering – and I can’t even describe how good it felt to learn there was a name for what was happening to me. Because you can’t just stop feeling it and be awesome instead, and if you could I don’t think we’d need a name for it?

    • That part bothered me as well. In my experience, imposter syndrome isn’t that you don’t belong in the room, it’s that you think you don’t when you really do. And having a name to give it can help to remind yourself (or at least myself!) that you do belong in the room and it’s just this thing telling you otherwise. But also it is extremely helpful to have a name for it because when you get talking and realize that so many of the other brilliant people you know who clearly deserve to be there (because it’s sometimes easier to see how brilliant other people are when you don’t see all their failed experiments) also feel the exact same way.

    • Eenie

      “Because you can’t just stop feeling it and be awesome instead, and if you could I don’t think we’d need a name for it?” <- This.

    • Hey! I appreciate the reply. I think that maybe the nuance of what Chelsea was saying was lost here. I think Shonda meant that while imposter syndrome is REAL, obviously, the feelings driving imposter syndrome aren’t factual. But we’ve updated the text to be more clear.

    • Cleo

      The way I take that phrasing is not that she doesn’t think impostor syndrome exists, it’s that she doesn’t think you should give credence to those thoughts that say you don’t belong in the room, or perhaps that you shouldn’t give them power.

      Maybe poor phrasing, but I appreciate the sentiment. Our thoughts are powerful things and the simple reminder that we belong in whatever room we find ourselves in is a great mantra – for me – to keep impostor syndrome thoughts at bay.

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