Career / May 25, 2021
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I’m going to share something very personal with you today, SMPS Boston friends.
I’ve had a pretty non-standard career path as they go: if you asked my younger self where I saw myself at this point in my life, it definitely wouldn’t be this! I moved to Boston from Dallas, Texas in 2001 to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), studying Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (EECS). What a huge change that move was! Hundreds of miles from my family and friends, I plunged into a sea of some of the smartest people you’ll ever meet.
It’s often said that getting an education at MIT is like getting a drink from a firehose. I can tell you it’s an apt metaphor! I’d been a top student my whole life up to then, and suddenly I was, relatively speaking, nothing special – to say it was a big adjustment would be an understatement!
I got about three years into my degree when I came to the world-shattering realization that… I just didn’t want to go into EECS as a career. Despite all the amazing things I was learning and incredible people I was meeting… it wasn’t right for me. I left MIT and one of my school friends helped me get a job as a marketing assistant for an architecture and engineering firm.
My friends. I fell in love.
AEC marketing was perfect for me! You see, I have a passion for storytelling that pervades my whole life. In my free time, I love to read and write and play games with friends, it’s all about stories. And the best marketing, really, is storytelling! What’s more, marketing itself is this beautiful balance of left-brain and right-brain skills; and to top it all off, it’s always changing and evolving! I started attending SMPS events and making friends among the industry, and as I evolved through my career, I loved it more and more every day.
But here’s what I never told people: just about every day, I felt like I was faking it. A huge fraud. In other words, imposter syndrome.
I’ll happily crib off Wikipedia to help explain what I mean: imposter syndrome is “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts [their] accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.” (There are countless wonderful articles & thought pieces about impostor syndrome – get googling if you think this might be you!)
But back to me: here I was, with no degree, no formal education in marketing. Somehow, I was winning awards for my marketing work – even one SMPS National one in 2018! – but I still couldn’t get over the feeling that somehow, all I was doing was tricking people.
A colleague was kind enough once to tell me, “Steph, even if you’d gotten a degree in marketing, you wouldn’t be using anything you learned then! Everything’s changed in the last ten years – the last five years! – and it’s going to keep changing.” And that’s so true – and what a boost it was to hear that! It helped me get temporarily out of my self-doubts enough to see that okay, I wasn’t a fraud, but there were definitely some holes in my knowledge. I’d rarely had any mentorship in my career; almost everything I knew was self-taught. It was time to fill in those holes and become the best marketer I could be.
It was time to get my CPSM.
I knew it was going to be hard. My industry friends who’d gone for the exam had shared their stories with me of their own struggles. And furthermore, I hadn’t had to study, or take tests, or anything like that in fifteen years! All I can say is, thank goodness for the CPSM study groups. (There’s one every year, starting in the fall and wrapping up in late spring/early summer!) The CPSM Committee had some great test-taking tips and having the regular study check-ins and meet-ups kept me accountable with my studying, even when work deadlines overwhelmed my life.
And so, after months of hard work, it was time. We had our final prep session on a Wednesday; I’d blocked out my whole weekend for studying, then took the exam on the following Monday. And it was HARD; even with nearly fifteen years of industry experience, there was a LOT to remember. But I was fresh from studying, I’d gone through all my Quizlet flash cards, my brain was full to the bursting; I’d gotten a good night’s sleep; I felt good about how I’d done.
Unfortunately, that feeling of confidence slowly eroded as I waited for my results. I second-guessed myself, I overthought every answer, and I stewed. And without studying filling up my weeknights and weekends, I had plenty of time to worry!
Finally, just under two weeks later, on a Friday afternoon, my exam results arrived. I took the envelope upstairs to my home office. I sat down and took a deep breath. I gave my cat a few pets for confidence. I opened the envelope.
I had to read it a few times for it to sink in: I had passed! I was a CPSM! Here, on paper, all official, was irrefutable proof that I knew what I was doing! I had absorbed and internalized all that knowledge, all those best practices, all those industry recommendations on how to be the best marketer I could be
My impostor syndrome wasn’t going down without a fight, though. It reared up with a “well, you know you just test well.” I countered with “Sure, but in the past few months, I’ve also used this knowledge in my day to day work and gotten better results! I took us through a rebrand, I improved our presentation format, I proposed an internal marketing/staff development initiative, and I have a really strong idea of how I want to tackle our next client outreach campaign! I know this stuff, I can do this stuff, and I’m already doing this stuff!”
Just studying for the exam had made me a better marketer. I had stronger and deeper knowledge; I had best practices to reference; and most important (for me), I had confidence in myself for the first time in years.
I fibbed only a little when I told you I had conquered my impostor syndrome. It’s still there, lurking under the surface, and it might always be. But now that I have that CPSM after my name, I have a reminder every day – with every email I send, with every business card I trade – that I’ve got this.
Steph received her CPSM in May and is the Marketing Manager at Margulies Perruzzi in Boston. Steph applied for and received one of the scholarships offered for SMPS members taking the CPSM exam. For more information on SMPS Boston’s CPSM program, study groups, or scholarships please contact Karyn Tirabassi, CPSM, at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://smpsboston.org/.