Being the head of a company isn’t a walk in the park. Brian Tate, Oats Overnight’s founder and CEO, knows that as well as anyone. Doubt. Worry. Unease. What-ifs. Brian felt these emotions to an unusual degree during his first years running Oats Overnight, but it wasn’t until recently that he was able to identify their source: impostor syndrome.
Given Brian’s history of success, you might find that admission surprising. Just consider that he was able to use winnings from his professional poker career to bootstrap a successful company. How could someone who on the surface seems so successful also wrestle with self-doubt?
In reality, successful people are not exempt from experiencing impostor syndrome and may even feel it more poignantly. It certainly made its way into Brian’s mind. But through meaningful conversations and deep self-reflection, he was able to uncover its roots within himself and begin effectively countering it.
Because Brian’s journey to overcome impostor syndrome has been so arduous, we asked him to share what he’s learned to help others.
Climbing The Mountain
Brian played poker professionally for 12 years before starting Oats Overnight, and he’s been able to apply lessons he learned during that time to the business world with great results. But such a hard transition also created pitfalls he couldn’t have foreseen.
Brian describes climbing the ranks of professional poker as analogous to climbing a mountain composed of seemingly endless and increasingly difficult switchbacks. The switchbacks keep the summit out of view so that you never know how far you still have to go. After spending over a decade reaching the summit—which he did—Brian decided it was time to move on to a new mountain: entrepreneurship.
Brian projected the difficulty of his previous climb onto the new mountain before him. The sensation of starting over was intimidating, “I came into it knowing there was a mountain ahead of me. I had no idea what those switchbacks entailed,” he says. “I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. All I knew was that I had a lot to learn and that I was miles behind the next person.”
Because of this, Brian felt unable to enjoy his successes; each one felt like one more stretch up a mountain whose summit he couldn’t see. “I didn’t have those ‘feel good’ moments. Winning signals didn’t register as, ‘Okay, we’re doing great.’ The fact that I didn’t know what the switchbacks looked like over the next 3,000 feet? That meant I didn’t belong here yet.”
Interestingly, one of the five ways that impostor syndrome manifests itself is as an idea of oneself as “The Expert.” The Expert expects to know everything about a subject and feels racked with uncertainty—and very much like an outsider—when they don’t. Dealing with this frame of mind was difficult enough on its own, but it wasn’t the only demon Brian’s poker years had left with him.
Reaching The Summit
Along the way, Brian played poker with many brilliant people. But at the summit stood one last competitor, a person Brian describes as “a total savant, a mathematical genius, a person with the rarest combination of talents and work ethic.” As Brian came to know this player personally, it dawned on him just how immensely difficult it would be to surpass him—if it was possible at all.
When Brian embarked on his climb up the mountain of entrepreneurship, he envisioned such a challenger waiting at the top: the perfect CEO, one who works relentlessly and has every aspect of their life dialed in. “Basically like an Elon Musk of sorts, with no personal problems,” he says, laughing. How could he hope to become this CEO? He would have to be perfect; he would have to work even harder.
As it turns out, “The Perfectionist” is another of the five types of impostor syndrome. Even a minor flaw in The Perfectionist’s routine equates to failure, to the degree that simple relaxation causes anxiety. Brian discovered through counseling that this form of impostor syndrome had taken root because he was constantly comparing himself to the image of the perfect competitor that had crystallized in his mind.
“The anxiety was coming from a discrepancy between what I was doing and where I thought I should be,” he says. “It could be 8:00 PM. I would finish all my emails and just try to relax. But as soon as I sat down, I’d think: ‘I could be doing something right now to help the business. If we fail, it’s going to be because of this time that I’m sitting watching TV.’ These things were getting to me and causing anxiety.”
Overcoming Impostor Syndrome Through Community and Conversation
“Community. Embracing deep conversation. Getting past the small talk.” These are ultimately what helped Brian recognize and overcome impostor syndrome. “Nobody in the business world talks to each other about how difficult it actually is. But the deeper the conversations you have with people, the more you realize you’re not alone.”
Brian’s discovery that many others around him shared his experience gave him confidence. He continued to pull on this thread in conversations with others: “What I realized is that everyone is trying to figure it out. Nobody knows what they’re doing. The people who think they do are usually worse off because they’re not open.”
Keeping this in mind helps Brian counter “The Expert” in him. As for “The Perfectionist,” Brian has this to say: “It’s a lot healthier to think about everybody. Not this one imagined, ideal person.” Ultimately, his conversations with others led him to focus less on an idealized person who doesn’t exist, and more on helping others around him who do.
United in Our Journey
At Oats Overnight, we’re always asking, “How can we do things better?” This desire for excellence has helped us create a new, superior way to do breakfast, and we’re pretty pleased with that. At the same time, we’d be lying if we said that as a young company we rarely struggle with impostor syndrome. If you also wrestle with this, we invite you to join our community of support and encouragement. We’d also love to help you fuel your growth with a nutrient-dense, delicious breakfast each morning.
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