“If we only hire the best, why did we hire you?” he asked straight up. I had to break eye contact. The stare was intense. I needed a moment to gather my thoughts, my defense. We were in a packed hip Asian restaurant that boasted a colorful bar and a whimsical menu in the Canadian part of the Pacific Northwest, two days into our research trip. My first research trip.
He was fairly new to the company himself and had just described his entire work history. My story did not match his expectations; it did not fit with what he had been told about who “we” were. I could anchor my story to a person — the person who had first approached me and suggested that I consider a career change, the person who was, in fact, his boss two levels up, but often that strategy made it sound like favoritism. I “knew” someone and that was why I got the job! I always thought of it the other way, the recommender “knew” me. That person had sat side-by-side with me and we had battled dragons together. After he left, I continued to prove on my own my capacity for overcoming difficulties and just how deep and wide it was.
Coming into a new place without the “normal” qualifications was a leap of faith on both sides. I trusted I could learn and adapt and that they would give me the space to develop, but no one else seemed to know. I felt like I had been oversold, as if I were a commodity. It was the worst kind of “imposter syndrome,” because it felt completely true. I would say it is “hardly” true now. I have enough experience and proven success to counter any barbs thrown my way. I’ve also seen all of the ways that my prior 20 years of work, in all kinds of other areas, inform my current work — my ability to dive into new subjects as an outsider, my creativity with patterns and connections, my sensitivity to existing biases, my love of words and conversations, my ideas about rigor and work ethic, and my advocacy for the person. These things are all core to who I am, regardless of the job or title.
It only took two and half years, but I think I have my reply — not the stumbling answer that I gave at the moment as I tried to justify my existence. “If we only hire the best, why did we hire you?” “Because I aspire to be the best and I’ve already proven that I’m more than capable. I’ve got this.” In the real timeline though, the damage was already done. I was second-guessed, challenged, and, at times, set aside. It was just another dragon to slay.