My Imposter Self and Me

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It was December 30th, and the honours list was announced on the news. I’d been given a tip off that I may have been included in the 2024 list, so as soon as the news was announced, I went to check the full list and see if my name was there. Nothing. I was gutted, but reasoned that I was not worthy enough to deserve such a title.

But then a strange thing happened. I started getting messages through congratulating me on my OBE. Had I told people who I didn’t remember telling? If so, this was going to be awkward. But no, more messages came through. What were they seeing that I wasn’t? I re-checked the list and realised I was looking at 2023 list. See? Not the ‘super-brain’ that some people perceive and clearly not worthy if I can’t even check the right year.

I went to the 2024 list and there, under the OBE section was my full name. An OBE for services to sustainability, ethical business growth and exports.

Suddenly I felt really uncomfortable. As more congratulations came in, far from celebrating, I sank further and further into the sofa, not knowing how to respond.

My husband asked what was wrong and I just mumbled about feeling ‘so uncomfortable’ and that people would think I’m a fraud, just like my parents. My husband, ever the practical one said, “ Well just give it back then, if it’s going to make you miserable”.

That got me thinking! Why do we, as women, not want to own our achievements? The more I talked to other women about this, the more I realised that women generally don’t want to own our achievements – that it makes us feel uncomfortable to our very core. Squirmy, even.

Women really do have the unique skills of juggling multiple tasks; looking after children, family, the house, friends, work,and it has been proven time and time again that female-led businesses are actually more profitable. So not only do we have greater “soft” skills, but we are also able to turn that into profit.

Chatting to my colleagues about the situation, I asked the men in our team outright if they ever felt imposter syndrome and it was an overwhelming yes, but they just don’t talk about their emotions in the same way. So we ALL have it (unless we are a sociopath/psychopath or just extremely confident).

This has left me questioning what sort of message we are sending to younger generations. If we can’t recognise that we are more than capable, the younger generations will be mirroring our behaviour and with the compound effect of social media, their confidence will be even more eroded.

So, I am now going to “own” my achievements.

I am a multi award winning entrepreneur (including the Everywoman Natwest Entrepreneur of the Year 2020), the most successful female entrepreneur to have gained investment from Dragons Den to date, and now the proud owner of an OBE. Phew, that wasn’t so hard!

My journey here has been that of a typical entrepreneur (yes, I fit all the classic psychometric definitions of an entrepreneur), where there have been unbelievable highs and equal lows in both my personal life and in business.

My life began with a shaky start, being the result of an extra-marital affair, and ending up in a children’s home for the first few years, before my real father agreed to marry my mother and took on my two half sisters as well. What should have been a happy ending was fraught with difficulties as the three parents (step father, mother and real father) all had their own demons and subsequent mental health difficulties. This led to a house of domestic abuse, both physical and emotional, with the added difficulties of my parents believing they were entrepreneurs. The only problem was that neither parent could focus on one thing and as a result every single business was a flop, leaving a trail of debt. The solution? To move house and start again. By the age of 18 I had lived in 10 different houses and umpteen schools, the shortest period being one school for 6 weeks.Needless to say, my education suffered, but despite being a rebel teenager way older than my actual years, I scraped enough O Levels and A levels to get to university.

I thought I wanted to be an Accountant, but after a week of being on the Graduate Management Training Program at John Lewis, working in accounting, I realised I’d made a terrible mistake. On the grounds that I had no attention span and was unable to sit still for more than 30 seconds without talking to anyone or thing that would listen (including plants, desks, computers), sitting down all day crunching numbers could not have played less to my strengths.

Part of being a successful entrepreneur is being able to understand your own strengths and weaknesses, and whilst this can be incredibly painful and also ego crushing, it is essential in order to ensure you surround yourself with the best people to compliment your weaknesses.

The problem was, I was a slow learner and still thought I could do a “normal” office job. So I moved into treasury. That didn’t end well either.

Fortunately someone at a software company saw something in 23 year old me and put me in tech support. I got to solve problems all day and was in my element. For a few months. The familiar boredom then set in, so I moved into training tech. Much more me. For a few months. The tech company management were forward thinking though and moved me into demonstrating tech systems (ERP) and then they paid me to travel all over the place internationally, to talk to people about systems. I loved it.

Until I couldn’t do it any more due to long term health issues that I won’t bore you with. After losing everything and hitting rock bottom, I figured I had nothing further to lose so may as well try my own company, selling boxes. I found a business partner who was out looking for a box in a gift shop, and the next thing I knew, we were heading to Dragons Den, with no trading history, nothing patentable and no experience of running a business. A recipe for success surely!

Surprisingly, after being absolutely slated in the den, being branded pathetic and on a crusade, two dragons felt sorry enough for me that they decided to invest. Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis took 20% each for a £30k investment each.

That was 2008 and since then the company (Tiny Box Company) has grown from strength to strength, but with an equal number of disasters, including the first warehouse catching fire, the website being badly hacked, a flood that ruined a huge amount of stock and 3 bouts of cancer that meant I had to step away from the helm.

But we’ve survived all this and are now back on the up (hopefully, fingers crossed)