It can be challenging to find your worth in your job, especially when you are just starting. Having that level of self-awareness to accept and realize your value in the work that you put in tends to come very late for others. As such, we are often caught in between that gap of not feeling enough when we actually are and more. Guest for this episode, Wendy Thomas, tells us to get past the imposter syndrome and be comfortable in your own skin. Having spent years in the financial data and technology industries and later on becoming the founder of Wendy Thomas Coaching, Wendy shows her breakthroughs in a male-dominated industry and inspires us to know that we are capable of anything as long as we realize our full potential. Diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 2018 that fueled her coaching company, Wendy is also passionate about finding the work-life balance and especially helping working moms achieve that. Don’t miss out on this great discussion that is never short of inspiration and empowerment.
Comfortable In Your Own Skin In Life And At Work With Wendy Thomas
I have the beautiful, Wendy Thomas, with me. Wendy spent many years in the financial data and technology industries with companies such as Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, and as head of the FactSet office in Canada. Wendy was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 2018, which fueled and gave her the courage and perspective to follow her long-time entrepreneurial dream of establishing her own coaching company, which she is now the head. She’s the Founder of Wendy Thomas Coaching, which helps individuals and teams realize their full potential through the power of mindset transformation. You’re going to feel that from her in this interview. Wendy is a very passionate mother of two young boys and cares deeply about helping people create a healthy work-life balance. Wendy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and Marketing from Duke University. All that to say, she’s one smart cookie.
I have a few comments to make about this interview. I don’t want to forget to highlight some of the gold nuggets. This was an interesting interview for me. I was listening back and we talk about some of the common but uncommon things. That’s what I want to highlight for you. We dig in with imposter syndrome and one of the things that I was thinking about is your challenge and my challenge with imposter syndrome, but taking it a layer deeper to what I call subject matter experts syndrome. I’m going to talk more about that after the interview. We talked about working moms and her energy around this work-life balance is grounded. I want you to know her approach because it does go back to her mindset. I was thinking about this. In each segment of the interview and the different topics that we cover, I see the through-line as being comfortable in your own skin. That’s what I’m taking away from Wendy in this interview and how she’s positioning and putting her perspective and insights out there. It’s being comfortable in your own skin. Without further delay, here is Wendy Thomas.
You mentioned imposter syndrome and I thought that was interesting. I haven’t uncovered anybody calling that out quite yet, but we all feel it as women certainly, in developing our careers in corporate but even as entrepreneurs. Talk about that a little bit more.
The first time I felt it in my career was when I started at a financial services firm in New York. I did not come from a finance background. I was International Relations major, Marketing minor. I started working at Bloomberg in New York and I was surrounded by people in finance. I thought, “I’m not good enough.” I wasn’t a Finance major in college, but I never stopped to think about the fact that the company had recruited me because they saw the potential in me to be successful at their firm. They believed in me. When I got there, I felt intimidated because a lot of the people that I was around were Finance majors. I realized that you learn everything on the job.
They put me through the most incredible training. I was put out to the industry where I met many incredible people. I learned the industry while I was working in the job through training and through being exposed to industry players. That is how I came up to speed. When you first start in something that you’re unfamiliar with, you go to that place of feeling that you’re not worthy and that you’re lucky to be there. When you have the maturity later in life and have the tools to examine why you’ve been successful, you start to realize that there was a reason why they chose me to be there. I was a good fit. There’s no mistake in terms of landing at certain places in your career.
That’s such great advice because you took me back to some of those first interviews I was having when I was fresh out of college. I felt like a deer in headlights. They would ask me questions and I had no clue.
I came from a university at the time when everyone seemed to know what they wanted to do. They wanted to go into banking or consulting. The reality is nobody knew in college exactly what it meant to be a banker or a consultant. These were jobs that they wanted. No one knew what you were going to be exposed to. It was depending on the project that you put on when you got to that job. It is intimidating when you are interviewing for jobs in college because you don’t know what’s on the other side. You’ve never been there before. All you know is your safe haven of college and before that is high school or it’s your first foray into the big bad wide working world.
What’s important to call out is you said something that overtime you start to realize when you look back that you were a value, you did belong there, but there’s a big gap in between that. Did you have another example of a time as you were growing your career where you felt you didn’t belong there?
The last firm that I ran in Canada, when I first joined the firm, it was intimidating because I didn’t grow up in the organization. This was a firm that you typically grew up in and you rose the ranks to take on a leadership position from having worked at the firm for fifteen years. Here I was coming in from a different firm as an outsider and feeling, “I’m lucky. Maybe I don’t belong here. I’m coming in from the outside.” It was up to me to get past that and to prove to people that I do belong and I bring a lot of value from outside of the firm and from the industry. It was believing in myself and knowing that it was up to me to fit in because nobody else was going to do that for me. It highlighted the fact that we’re in charge of our own decisions and our own destiny. You can’t blame firms or people or whatnot for any way that you feel. If you’re feeling uncomfortable and if you’re feeling an imposter, it’s important to be in touch with your feelings, know what that particular feeling is and to be able to address and overcome it.
That develops with time. What can people do who are sitting there thinking, “I don’t want to wait twenty years to get to that level of self-awareness?”
Don’t doubt yourself. Go with it and go with the flow. Put yourself into challenging situations. If you feel uncomfortable and you feel challenged, know that to feel uncomfortable is a way of growing. It’s tough at the time. You look back and realize how much you grew through putting yourself in that situation. If you’re not uncomfortable and you’re not feeling challenged, then it’s not a job where you’re growing. You’ve always got to feel challenged in order to grow to the next level. If you’re not feeling nervous, challenged, excited and all those different types of emotions, you’re sitting at the status quo spot. You’re not growing yourself.
Have you ever found yourself in that position?
I’ve probably found myself in positions in the past having not realized it and coming into the same position and thinking like, “This is normal. This is how work is going to be.” You’re in a comfortable situation. It feels good and it’s great. It’s also important to acknowledge that it is good to feel comfortable in the situation, but not for too long. How long do you want to feel that level of comfort? You’re thinking, “I’ve had the same job for however long now. What’s the next step? Where do I want to go and how am I going to challenge myself to gets to that next level? Who do I need to align myself with internally to take on that new role that I want?” It could also be a situation of you not knowing where you want to go or maybe not having the desire and drive to get to that next level. It’s important to always have something that you’re working towards. If you don’t have that thing that you are working towards, that’s where that feeling of complacency often can come into being. You’re feeling too comfortable and that something is easy.
That’s when high performers leave as well. They can’t see a path or they don’t see a path that they want. Finance would be a lot of male people. That would be very male-dominated. Let’s talk about that. That’s interesting. I was in finance for a while too. One of the things we were saying was that I hear a lot of people saying, “I come from a male-dominated industry.” There are some legacy industries where you go into it and it’s male-dominated. Some of these companies have been around for 100 years or more. Now it’s not that. It’s the long-term legacy that’s in place. These systems, these hierarchies, these ways of doing things. Did you see that as well? That’s what I experienced.
Working in the financial industry, it certainly is male-dominated and you’re aware of that. At the same time, it’s a matter of being able to fit in and see yourself as a person, not as a woman but who you are. It’s to not feel that people are looking at you any differently, to feel that you’ve earned your spot at the table, and to not feel that you’re not adequate to be there. I’ve been in situations where I covered some of the trading floors for my old firm. I walk around the trading floor and meeting a lot of different people on the floor. It was very much male-dominated. I wasn’t concerned with what people thought about me. I had confidence in myself to be at that moment at that time and place because I grew up in pre-financial industry. It’s the only industry that I’ve worked in. It’s the only industry I know in terms of my corporate career. I don’t know any different. I always saw men and women alike. I didn’t think there was any difference.
I’m watching you, so I get the pleasure of that as well. For the individual reading this, what I’m seeing from Wendy is own your personal responsibility in these positions. In this scenario, we’re talking about the financial industry and being around mostly men. She’s saying, “I have a role in this. I have a personal responsibility. I need to focus on myself and maintain my confidence and know that I belong there.” That’s an internal piece of work. It has nothing to do with what’s going on around you.
That’s what I study now. It’s the power of the mind.
You’re so matter of fact like, “Come on, just do it.”
Do it and believe in yourself. Don’t let what other people think of you have that much of an impact. It’s up to us in terms of making our own decisions. We can very easily be swayed to think about what other people thought of us or to get too emotionally involved with the wrong types of thoughts. To know that you have a choice to feel a certain way is up to you.
I’m right there with you. That’s how we know each other. Was there a time in your life that you remember you didn’t feel this confident, you didn’t feel in control of your thoughts, or you didn’t consciously make a choice?
I worked in the financial services industry for many years unconsciously because I got a job right out of the university for an amazing firm in New York. I had worked there for many years. I felt very privileged to have worked there. I had an amazing career. When I left that firm, I was in New York, I moved to Toronto. I took a couple of months off to be with my older son. We moved from New York to Toronto. At that stage, I got a call from this company’s biggest competitor and I thought, “That’s great. That’s amazing. I have another job at this firm. I’m in the same industry,” but I never thought too much about it. I thought, “I’m so lucky to have given another job in this industry.”
I was not in control in terms of my thoughts as much. I was being a plaything to what other people wanted of me. I’m like, “Of course, this firm wanted to hire me because I’d come from their biggest competitor in New York. I was a natural fit to take on this new role, but I’d never used my mind to think about what is it that I’m good at? What have I been good at in many years in my job? What if I took those skills and applied them to another type of industry? I felt I was always so lucky to have been recruited from one place to another. I studied myself and thought, “It’s my ability to connect to people and inspire people to be their best self. That’s my true quality and that’s what I’m good at.” I’d never done that before.
That is powerful. I want to create some more space for that because how many people are reading this and they’re going, “That’s exactly what I’ve been doing.” You get the cog on the wheel. You think about the next job you want. You think about what the next job is available to you.
I always felt that I was so lucky to have gotten these jobs. At the same time, I’m an asset here and I’ve done well over the years. I’d never taken on that approach in terms of thinking, “I need to pat myself on the back.” Women often take that approach in terms of not giving themselves full credit for what they’re doing.
You said your zone of genius is helping people to connect with their best self. When you look back, when do you first see those traits or strengths showing up?
I saw that when I ran an American company in Canada. I headed out of the office and I realized that in order for me to grow the business, I had to use my core skillset. My core skillset was connecting to everybody internally to make myself known and to use my ability to connect to people to encourage them to work with me. When they were on my team, I was able to use my energy, my experience in the market, and my ability to connect to people to be their best selves. They could use that energy, that passion, and that determination that I’ve instilled in them to drive revenue on the front lines. I thought, “This is clear that people are coming to work with me.” They feel excited and inspired to be working on my team.
What happens when people are coming into the office with this type of mentality is that they’re giving off that same energy to clients. They pick up the phone, they’re calling, they’re engaged and they’re happy. When you’re in that happy space, happy things happen around you. If you’re coming into the office and say, “It’s Tuesday,” or “I’ve got a case of the Monday blues.” That energy permeates around you. You imagine the impact that someone’s going to have when they pick up the phone who has the blues. A client on the other side of the phone is not going to be excited to take a meeting with them or let alone do business with them. They’re not going to feel their excitement or commitment or energy or anything.
It stems with the mind that you’re bringing into the office and that energy can translate into results that you’re having in the office. That’s when I started to realize it’s me that has this ability to connect to people. I’m coming into the office regardless of what’s happening in my day. I’ve got two young kids at home and I always felt I’d had a day by the time I’d come into the office. There are many things that you have to do in terms of getting everybody up, fed breakfast, out the door, drop off, etc. You come into the office and you feel you’ve already had a day. I sat down behind my desk and said, “Back in the office.”
People would have felt off that energy and they wouldn’t have felt excited. Whatever was happening in my life, I would always come in and be excited to be there and be like, “You have an amazing opportunity and I’m your leader and I’m happy to be here.” That got people excited and inspired. Along with the serious health diagnosis, that triggered me to realize that that was the impact I was having on people. What if I could take that ability to inspire people? I went out of the corporate world and start my own business because that would be me tapping into what I’m good at.
The strategy to grow a business of any size or sort is to have a good attitude and connect with people. At the end of the day, aren’t we all in the human condition and want to connect and be happy?
People want to be happy. People want to feel valued. They want to be given accolades. They want to feel fulfilled. People want to have a sense of purpose. Feeling rewarded and valued is a huge part of human productivity.
As you’re telling the story, I’m thinking in my head, “The business owner I worked for right out of college, when he would scream and throw things down the hallway, he wasn’t creating a good environment for us.”
You’re acting out of fear. You’re certainly not putting your best foot forward when things are being thrown at you. That’s exactly it. That’s demonstrating the point of somebody being able to lead you that would inspire you to be your best self. Because when you are in your best self, you’re going to be delivering the best results. Ruling by fear is not going to be bringing out the best in someone.
I didn’t even make it a year there. I was looking for another job right away.
That was good that you picked that up. If you didn’t, there was something seriously wrong.
You’re coming in day after day, leading your team with a positive attitude. What would you say to someone that dragged their feet into your office? They got a bad attitude. All this negative stuff happened. What does Wendy say?
As time went on, people were not coming into the office like that. When I first got there, I would be pulling people aside and saying, “What is it? What is wrong? Leave whatever you have at home because if you’re here in this office, I want you to bring your best self to the office. I want you to put everything else aside but while you’re here, we are part of a team and we need you. You have a lot of value to bring and I want you to feel happy. I want you to feel fulfilled. You tell me what I can do to empower you.” As a leader, you want to be able to empower your employees. You want to be able to facilitate things to make things easier for them.
You don’t want to be the roadblock. You don’t want to be that micromanager. You don’t want to be that person that people fear to come into the office. My situation was leveling up with someone and say, “I know that could be happening in your personal life. Whatever is happening, try to compartmentalize it because while you’re in the office, I don’t want you to let go of the incredible opportunity that we have here for you to be part of this great team.” It’s a bunch of batteries. Everyone feeds off each other’s energy. If you’ve got that negative energy in the office, people are very quick to see that.
You could have ten happy people coming in the door and two Negative Nellies and you’re screwed.
As they say, “A bad apple can spoil the bunch.” You’ve got somebody whispering negative thoughts, not excited, or does not feel that engaged. They’re not even part of the team. That brings the question, if you don’t see yourself here, if you’re not passionate and excited about this opportunity, then are you excited to be here? Is this the way you want to work? It’s this the way you want to leave your mark? Is this way you want to make an impact? If it’s not, then you need to think about things.
You mentioned compartmentalizing when you’ve got a million things going on before you get here as a busy mom for yourself. Your employees probably had that too. I have a group of ladies around my area that says work-life balance is BS. What’s your take on this? Let’s talk about trying to be that working mom. That’s the topic of the day. Everybody wants to know the secret sauce or they want to know the one tip or trick. I’d love to know your take on this, having led people in and self-leading too.
It’s a matter of discipline. Technology allows us flexibility but then it can also handicap us in many ways. If your firm is flexible in terms of allowing you to work from home if you need to, or if you’re able to leave the office and pick up your kids from school, or if you have something to be at for your kids, you’re able to do that. Technology is amazing because you can easily log in to your office networks for VPN at night and catch up and do what you had to do in that time that you missed. That’s the positive side of technology. The flip side is that you’re always on and you can always be reached.
That’s where the discipline comes into play because you can easily have your phone on you all the time and your workday is never going to stop. It’s a matter of being mindful to put your phone aside if you’re going to spend an hour of time or two hours of time for your kids. If you say, “I’m not reachable between the hours of 7:00 and 9:00,” for example. You put your phone away and you’re present for your kids. Nothing that comes your way at that time is going to be 100% urgent. If it is urgent, I tell people to call me. If there’s a phone call coming from someone, it’s a lot different than an email. If you don’t have that discipline to put your phone away, you’re always going to get sucked into whatever is happening at that time.
The same thing goes for vacations as well. It’s a matter of being able to be disciplined in terms of distancing yourself from your phone and giving yourself that mental break that you deserve. It’s also a matter of empowering other people and trusting people through delegation. The best thing that you can do is give the person right under you your job when you take on your next role because you’ve done an excellent job of training that person to be ready for that next role. Training somebody that can take on your job that you trust while you’re on vacation is essential and knowing that the job is going to get done while you’re gone. It’s a sign of a good manager because they are mentoring the people right behind them.
Versus taking it all on themselves, which is what women are notorious of doing.
It’s certainly not easy. I can tell you that. It’s a serious discipline. I’m big on waking up and writing out a gratitude list because that sets me in the right vibration for the day. I write out ten things that I’m grateful for every single day and I work out every single day before the kids wake up. My way of getting ahead of my kids, get the house organized, and have some time for myself is to wake up an hour earlier before everybody else. That way, I can get my mind in the right headspace. By the time they’re ready to wake up. I have a lot of my own personal time accounted for.
I don’t feel resentful to anyone for not having had the time to work out. That being said, as a working mom, it’s a matter of trusting other people, trusting other people with your kids because you can’t be at every activity. There’s no way. You can be at some, but you can’t be at all activities. You have to be okay with that mentally. You also have to empower other people to pick up your kids or to be around for your kids. Choosing the right childcare is essential because as a working mom, you can’t do everything and you have to be okay with that.
There’s so much grounded-ness, discipline and self-responsibility along with your confidence. I want the readers to get that. That’s what they’re learning from you. I’ll ask on their behalf, they’re going to be curious of how you landed this way. How do I get more of what Wendy’s doing? She sounds amazing. She sounds confident. She sounds grounded. She’s got it figured out. Is she secretly a hot mess?
I don’t think anyone has it figured out. I’m okay with letting go. I’m okay with delegating in the office and building relationships to trust people. It’s to be open and honest and say, “I’m sorry I have to leave early. I’ve got to pick up my kid” or “I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do that.” I’m not trying to hide that. On the flip side, It’s as well saying sorry to my kids. I’m not able to be at every activity. It’s not beating myself up over either side. It’s hard as a working mom to be 100% perfect in the office and outside of the office. Feel confident and happy with whatever you’re doing and acknowledge and praise yourself for the things that you are doing well. That’s why I write the gratitude list every day because I’m grateful for the small things.
It’s easy to get caught up in life’s bigger picture, the things that you have to do and the things that you haven’t done. By writing out a gratitude list every day and being thankful for the small things, it makes you happy. It makes you realize that we only have a certain amount of time on this Earth and you need to make every day impactful and treat it like your last. I learned that quickly through a breast cancer diagnosis that I had. You don’t know when your time is going to come. As hard is it is to say, no one’s invincible. I thought I was invincible for the longest time. I always thought I’ve got a lot of time left. At 40, life is just beginning, but I was completely dumbfounded and stopped in my tracks when I found out I had breast cancer. I thought I had the wrong diagnosis and I was so lucky because I listened to my intuition and I followed up on a deep feeling that something wasn’t right.
Through following my intuition and finding breast cancer early, I was essentially able to get ahead of the monster. By doing that, it gave me the perspective that I was seeking. It allowed me to think about my life and study myself and what I’ve been good at. It made me realize that I have so much to be thankful for. When you’re going in and out of a cancer hospital all the time, you think, “I’m so lucky to have my health.” They say health is wealth. It is because when I found out about my situation, nothing else mattered, work-life balance, corporate, home-life. All I wanted was my health. I wanted to be around my family. I wanted to be here for another 40 years. I realized how fleeting and how precious life is and how easy it is to get consumed with what the rest of the world want for us and how we can so easily become a plaything to the outside world.
I’ve been in that trap before. Succumbing to what other people want for you versus owning what you want for yourself, big, small or otherwise.
You’re always stressed about what your boss wants for you. A year later, the boss doesn’t even think about you. You’re stressed because you’re trying to please that person and you’ve got results to deliver. You’re not able to compartmentalize and think a year from now, “Is this going to matter?” No one’s dying on the operating table right now. I’m doing my absolute best and that’s what I always been saying, “Am I doing the absolute best that I possibly can in the situation? Is there anything else I can do to help move the needle?” If there isn’t, I need to stop beating myself up over it because stressing about something that’s out of your control is not going to help the situation.
Do you want to share a couple of small items on your gratitude list?
Usually on my gratitude list is conversations that happened from the previous day. My gratitude list in the morning when I wake up would be my awesome meeting with you. I’m grateful that I was able to meet and then to connect with you and meet many other people through you. There are many meetings that I have and I wouldn’t have thought to write them down on my gratitude list before. It’s important to be thankful for all these different things that happened. After this, I’m going to pick up my son and there was a bake sale at his school. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that I can get to the bake sale. I’m always grateful for my health, my family, for my boys and the little things that happen with my boys as well.
I’m grateful for them and life passes me by. I’d never stopped to pay tribute for what I was grateful for. Also, the accomplishments that I’ve done as a person. I always felt I was on this treadmill. If I’d taken the time to reflect back, it’s nice when you get at the end of the year to write yourself a letter and talk about what a great year you’ve had. Even if you don’t think it’s great, it will be great when you start to write down the things that you’ve accomplished and how much you’ve grown and the people that you’ve met. If you haven’t grown for that year, if you feel you’re in the same place, you’ve been hanging around the same people doing the same things. Maybe that’s the letter that you want to take and think, “This needs to change this time next year. I need to expand my horizons. If I’m not stretching, I’m not growing.” You need to challenge yourself every year, no matter how small or big. It’s important to put yourself out there.
Those are very wise words, Wendy Thomas. Thank you so much for being here.
You’re welcome. It’s an honor to be here. I’m happy to connect with you.
My dear lady, I am wondering what was the biggest a-ha for you? What is the key takeaway? For me, I already laid it out there. I didn’t hold back. The through-line in talking with Wendy when you think about each of those areas is truly being comfortable in your own skin. That’s the energy that I’ve gotten from her. One of the things I wanted to take one layer deeper is this idea of imposter syndrome because this comes up time and time again. It’s a theme that each woman leader that I speak with brings to light. I’ve been thinking about this and it’s not about being like, “Am I good enough?” What I’ve seen happening for myself and for you is what I like to call subject matter experts syndrome, which means that you are a rock star. You know your topic in and out.
What happens is when something or an opportunity in your career, an advancement, moving to a new company, stepping out on your own like Wendy did into her own coaching practice, you want to gravitate and fall back into that subject matter expert syndrome. If it’s not in that zone of genius, that one silo that you’ve been living in day in and day out, you feel completely out of your comfort zone. It tends to fall away that it’s not possible for you or you can’t do that. It makes total sense if you think about our society and the way that we’re raised. We’re raised to become subject matter experts. Were you good at math or handwriting? Were you better in literature or more of the creative arts? We then get siloed into that.
What I love about Wendy is she is a subject matter expert. What she talked about is sinking into her true core skillset. What type of value beyond her subject matter expertise? The value as Wendy, as a human being, core zone of genius stuff that couldn’t be taught that was created for her over time. Her true value, bringing that to the table, that skillset to helping to build a business, for example, is where she talked about it beyond the subject matter expertise. I hope this is making sense. I haven’t talked about this in quite some time, but I felt compelled. It jumped out to me in this interview. The reason I wanted to put it out there is to try to begin to peel back and differentiate that so that you can see for yourself where you might be holding yourself back because of that subject matter expert syndrome. Tell me what you think. Share your comments and reach out. I’d love to hear from you. Until we gather again, we’ll talk to you soon.
About Wendy Thomas
Wendy Thomas spent the last 18 years in the financial data and technology industry with companies, such as Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters and most recently as head of the FactSet office in Canada. Wendy is the Founder of Wendy Thomas Coaching, which helps individuals and teams realize their full potential through the power of mindset transformation. Wendy was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer last year, which gave her the courage and perspective to follow her long-time entrepreneurial dream of establishing her own coaching company. Wendy is a passionate mom of two young boys and cares deeply about helping people create a healthy work-life balance. Wendy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and Marketing from Duke University.