Category Archives: Ventures
Recently, DECSA staff hosted a round-table discussion on impostor syndrome, sharing candid experiences, fears, nagging doubts, and coping mechanisms. Impostor syndrome may not be a clinical condition—it is typically described as a behaviour pattern or temporary state of being—but it has real consequences if left unchecked.
Impostor syndrome is a complicated condition that has many subtypes and variations. In its simplest form, it is characterized by an inability to acknowledge the role you play in your own accomplishments. Sufferers may attribute their achievements to good fortune, special connections, financial advantages, or even outright fraud, despite solid evidence of hard work and prodigious skill. Women and minorities are particularly susceptible, so we weren’t at all surprised to learn that several of our clients, most of whom represent at least one minority identity, exhibited behaviours associated with impostor syndrome.
If you’ve ever felt as though all your talents and skills are based on luck, trickery, or inflation of your success by others, you’ve likely experienced impostor syndrome. (If you’re not sure, you can take this quick quiz to find out.) Since these symptoms can interfere with a happy and productive lifestyle, you may want to explore some possible solutions.
The discussion on impostor syndrome was so compelling that we decided to prepare a general post based on insight from our clients and staff, as well as supplementary research used to enrich our perspectives. We hope these three suggestions will help you own your success without questioning your right to have achieved it.
1. Flip the Script
People dealing with impostor syndrome often treat mistakes as a sign of weakness. Clients and staff alike confessed punishing themselves for being underprepared, or not knowing everything about their chosen field, or failing to consistently meet their own high standards. But what would happen, we wondered, if we simply flipped the script on all these missteps? What if we transformed them into opportunities?
Imagine if we expected failure, and accepted it as part of the human experience. The employment sphere is filled with risks and challenges, so failing is inevitable. Why not embrace it as a teachable moment, instead of letting it define us?
Let’s take this one step further: What if we treated not knowing all there is to know as an asset? Being open and receptive means you’re more likely to try new experiences, take constructive criticism well, and improve existing skills. If we assume that every person and every experience has something to teach us, we’ll never miss valuable lessons. Everyone is a work-in-progress, no matter how advanced they are, so why not normalize this permanent state of flux and growth?
If we can encourage ourselves to prepare for failure and expect surprises, impostor syndrome will surely lose some of its power.
2. Seek Constructive Feedback
One of the topics that came up repeatedly throughout our round-table discussion was the issue of external feedback. Whether we’re talking about unqualified praise, unconstructive criticism, or biased opinions presented as concrete fact, we can point to the disastrous effects vague or inaccurate information can have on a person’s self-concept. If we were praised our whole lives for being “smart,” for example, but we eventually find a particular task difficult, we might start believing we’re not intelligent at all, rather than understanding that hard work is not a sign of intellectual deficit. Receiving lavish, nonspecific praise, or vague, ruthless criticism can be hugely damaging in later life, often leading to self-doubt and fragility when faced with failure or struggle. One person opened up about being the kind of student who found secondary school practically effortless. Accustomed as she was to everything coming naturally to her, she floundered when she began university, discovering it was much harder than anything she’d yet tried. Once she was no longer the shining star she’d once been, she misinterpreted a need to work harder as a mark of her own fundamental weakness.
To combat this, it’s best to surround ourselves with people we trust to provide unbiased, constructive feedback. We don’t want to accept unconditional, vague feedback like “You’re so brilliant!” or “You’re just not up to snuff.” Instead, we should seek out specific, thoughtful feedback like “You have excellent public speaking skills,” or “The way you handled that meeting suggests your group communication might need some tweaking.” Specific, constructive information helps us identify our strengths and weaknesses in a healthy and useful way.
Mentors, supervisors, colleagues, and peers can provide the best blend of compassion and honesty, so that we always know where we truly stand, and never have to wonder whether we’re genuinely good at what we do. Tying praise and criticism to specific actions helps us understand ourselves better, making our minds less hospitable to impostor syndrome. If people you respect believe you deserve your success, it’s tough to contradict them.
3. Create a “Reassurance List”
One of impostor syndrome’s most insidious symptoms is the tendency for us to doubt or dismiss our previous accomplishments. Even the most inexperienced of us has something to be proud of, but self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours can eclipse the power of that pride, making us believe we have nothing to celebrate. While it’s important to stay in a growth mindset, ever aware of how we can improve, we also have to let go of unattainable perfectionism, and recognize what we have already achieved.
During our discussion, clients and staff brainstormed practical ways to keep tangible accomplishments close at hand. Here are a few of the ideas we came up with:
• Reference letters represent positive feedback written by people we respect, and can serve as ongoing reminders of our best traits.
• An updated resume or CV shows our job experience, preventing us from doubting where we’ve been and what we accomplished along the way.
• Written encouragement from friends and mentors is worth a hundred cheerleaders. Don’t be afraid to solicit this from people you trust. They’ll be happy to help you fight your impostor syndrome demons.
• A project list, kept up to date, is a constant indication of what we’ve worked on and what we might achieve in future. This item is particularly special because we get to decide, on an individual basis, how we might measure success.
We hope this article has given you some insight into why you feel like an impostor, and what you can do to stay on top of those feelings. If you have any other suggestions about how to manage impostor syndrome, feel free to leave them in the comments. We’d love to hear them!
Almost everyone dreams, however briefly, of being an entrepreneur. The independence, the passion, the flexibility—these are all attractive prospects, especially after a long, gruelling day at a conventional job. Who among us hasn’t imagined what it would be like to be our own boss?
No matter how exciting entrepreneurship may seem, it isn’t for everyone. It takes a special person to conceive a viable idea, make it grow into a successful enterprise, and nurture it through inevitable ups and downs. Some lack the zeal, confidence, and work ethic; others, the money and time. If starting a small business isn’t suited to your personality, you’re in for a long, hard road.
If you’re on the fence, here is a starting point. This assessment won’t give you a definitive answer, but if you answer “no” to one or more of these questions, entrepreneurship probably isn’t for you.
- Do you enjoy challenges? There’s nothing easy about establishing your own business, so you’ll need to relish a challenge and enjoy new experiences, no matter how anxiety-inducing they are.
- Are you competitive? Whether your business is unique or an innovative approach to an existing product or service, be prepared to face competition.
- How well do you handle risk-taking? If you’re risk-averse, you’ll find the entrepreneurial lifestyle stressful, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to sustain it for long. Even highly-successful business owners will have to make calculated risks at some point in their careers. On the other hand, if you’re “comfortable with being uncomfortable,” you’ll be right at home!
- What’s your approach when spending money? You have to spend money to make money, but unhealthy spending habits are hard to break, and can do serious harm to your business.
- Can you handle long-term commitment? Growing your business means you’ll be pouring your resources and time into the same project, day in and day out. It won’t always be fun, interesting, or successful, so you’ll need to know that you can weather the tough times—and there will be tough times.
- Do big decisions scare you? Decisiveness is one of the qualities entrepreneurs must possess if they hope to succeed. Running a business means you’ll be faced with all sorts of decisions, and many of them will involve huge expenditures and frightening risks. If you believe you can handle these decisions under crushing pressure, you’re likely to be an excellent entrepreneur.
- How do you respond to stress? Burnout is common for new business owners, since they work long hours with minimal support (or none at all). Coping with stress and exhaustion in a healthy, efficient way is key.
- Is persistence in your nature? Throughout their journeys, many entrepreneurs contemplate giving up. A strong work ethic and zealous passion aren’t always enough. While it’s important to practice self-care and avoid unnecessary stress, entrepreneurship means refusing to fold under significant strain.
While these questions can serve as a springboard, remember that there’s no replacement for research and hands-on experience. Even if your personality matches that of the ideal entrepreneur, you still need to discover whether your idea is viable and, if it is, whether you actually want to pursue it. Examining your chosen field, starting your business on a very small scale, and interacting with other entrepreneurs are additional ways to test the waters. You can also get out and participate in entrepreneurship workshops or programs, such as Ventures, DECSA’s program for entrepreneurs with disabilities. After all, studying entrepreneurship on paper is nothing like the real thing.
When Lawrence received the diagnosis for the ADHD he had had his entire life, he was in a very dark place. He was so depressed, in fact, that he did not know where to turn, and wasn’t sure how he’d continue to deal with his “scattered mind.” Unsure of which direction to take, he stumbled upon DECSA and joined the Ventures program.
The Ventures program suited his entrepreneurial spirit, and DECSA was vital in his recovery. In addition to his mental health struggles, he was plagued by physical issues, adding another barrier to his success. He confided in our staff, allowing them to help him understand the changes occurring in his life. The program helped him hone his existing skills and understand his disability more clearly. It was at DECSA that Lawrence realized ADHD didn’t have to be a barrier—and that it could even be an asset.
“I started understanding myself and what I could do in this world,” he said, “and realized that DECSA was a place where I felt safe.”
After he left the program, Lawrence searched for a way to use his entrepreneurial spirit and newfound confidence. Some friends of his, also entrepreneurs, invited him to help reinvent a company called Combined Insurance. The company has been around since 1922, and under the leadership of Lawrence and his team, it has made a stunning comeback.
Lawrence describes Combined Insurance as a company dedicated to helping people “prepare for, work through, and recover from life trauma.” Combined Insurance focuses on filling in the gaps of existing medical insurance, supplementing health plans and insuring those who would otherwise struggle to be covered at all. The aim, Lawrence says, is to sit clients down, figure out which difficulties they’re facing, and help them understand the benefits they already have. From there, it’s just a matter of providing the extra assistance needed to walk the client through their recovery, whatever it might look like.
Lawrence explains that his own trauma and recovery gave him an edge: he is able to understand what clients are going through more intimately, and can demonstrate to them that he’s been through trauma of his own. This places him in a unique position to help them recover from their own experiences.
“I want [clients] to know that I’ve been in dark spots too, that it’s okay, and that we can move forward together.”
For Lawrence, it’s all about community. Being around people who have suffered through dark times reminds him of how far he has come, and allows him to fulfill his life’s purpose. Even though he no longer works with us, Lawrence remains strongly attached to DECSA and the community we serve.
“I’m a big fan of DECSA. I could not have found my mission and purpose in life without them. DECSA is a place I can call home.”
Emotions ran wild at DECSA last Thursday! Ventures program clients wrapped up their six-week long curriculum, undertaking a gratifying ceremony in which many were left in wistful tears of jovial congratulations and farewells. The best part? Audience members were gifted the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness splendid entrepreneurial pitches provided by none other than the blossoming businessmen and women who took on the program. For those who missed the chance to see the presentations first-hand, here is an in-depth account of the event—documenting photographs, quotes, business ideas, and raw reactions from the attendees!
What is the Ventures Program?
DECSA’s Ventures program serves people who are eighteen and older, live in Edmonton or surrounding areas, have a visible or invisible disability, and have a viable business idea they want to make happen. Those who take part are provided with the knowledge and skills necessary to implement their own small-time businesses.
The program is managed and facilitated by Sherree, along with her talented and hardworking team.
All the Help
The ceremony began with a shout-out to two very special volunteers who were integral to the program’s success:
Mona first found DECSA at a volunteer fair. She said the only agency that stood out to her was none other than DECSA! Thanks to our very own and incredibly articulate Aimee, who was able to rattle off a five-second pitch for DECSA, Mona knew immediately that the organization was right for her! “DECSA would be nothing without people like Aimee,” she said. Mona helped out the Ventures program every day and was essential to this year’s success.
Denis is a graphic designer; he taught the science of branding and logo design to the class. He thanked his mom and dad. He “wouldn’t be here without ‘em!”
Pitches from Our Entrepreneurs
These are some of the graduating students of our June 2016 class.
Kimberley was first up, and featured a very unique presentation using assistive technology to demonstrate some of the services she will be providing in her business. She’s planning on providing life & career counselling services to blind customers. Her compatriots admire her humour most; when helping Kimberley find her lighter Sherree asked for its colour. “How would I know what colour it is? — I’m blind!” Kimberley joked.
Janet was next up. Her business provides hand and machine-sewn traditional Aboriginal clothing. She attributes her greatest inspiration to her grandmother; after her grandmother’s passing, Janet was reminded of her by a blue butterfly on her windowsill. “Let them go, let them be free,” she reminisced.
Brandon took on the notoriously awkward “elevator pitch.” After reciting a 30-second pitch to Sherree, Brandon gave us a tour of his website. Brandon offers graphic design services to artists and businesses, and promises to keep the industry and goals of his clients in mind when designing their logos.
Dustin believes that safer, alternative analgesics should be available for everyone. His business plan is to provide cost-efficient and donation-driven medical marijuana services to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Dayna is a passionate artist who desires to provide low-cost digital and printed artwork to private buyers and businesses. She is currently working to establish her company, but wishes to soon be able to help others with disabilities achieve their goals.
Congratulations to our Graduates!
Developing a start-up can be tough, but with the skills learned in the Ventures program these clients are better prepared for the challenging journeys that lie ahead. Good luck to all our graduates! Stay persistent, and remember to apply the skills you’ve learned here!