Jim Sheppard




United States





By Jim Sheppard

On Imposter Syndrome

Meeting new people during Launch Week of our MBA program usually comes with a verbal recollection of LinkedIn profiles. Mine goes something like this:

I already had two careers. I started my first career as a mostly self-employed algorithmic commodity trader. After 6 years I decided that I wanted to be a part of a team in a growing technology company, and I started my second career by joining the Braintree/PayPal family which allowed me to work with some of the largest names in the tech world and took me from Chicago to San Francisco.

I usually continue the rhetoric of my LinkedIn profile by how I went back to Chicago to chase another adventure at a startup, and then I bring it back to present day where I am in pursuit of an MBA at Oxford with the goal of working for a global leader in tech upon graduation.

I must have given this monologue at least 300 times during launch week.

I also listened to 300 diverse and captivating stories of my colleagues’ journey to Oxford

It’s no surprise that I am surrounded by such interesting and impressive people – we are a large group of very talented, driven, outgoing people from all corners of the world, and everyone has an interesting story. This is largely why I chose Oxford, and I have a sense that it is why I ask “why did they choose me?”

I have been warned that imposter syndrome is real, but I mostly brushed it off and assumed it wouldn’t happen to me. After coming across classmates trying to tackle homelessness, farming inequalities in growing economies, impact investing in education and healthcare…it is very hard to not feel guilty for wanting to go back to the States to pursue working for a tech giant.

Launch week did have some notable reassurances for those of us not explicitly pursuing impact careers.

We started off with a discussion by a truly inspiring panel of leaders including Gillian Benjamin (founder of MakeTomorrow). Gillian’s passion for sustainability and a low-carbon future was completely laid out on the stage – and it made me realise that neither of my careers had that sort of passion for a greater good. As I was sitting there feeling terrible for not devoting my future to having a direct impact on fighting climate change, Gillian offered a term for those on an alternative path – intrapreneur. Someone who works on big ideas within a larger company. It was not necessarily a new concept to me, but it was a timely reminder that I can have an impact wherever it is I end up.

A few days later, we heard from our Board Chair and prior Unilever CEO, Paul Polman. I have been a part of CEO discussions previously, but Paul was particularly compelling. Paul is the perfect example of being able to successfully lead and grow a giant business while still being socially and environmentally impactful. He reminded us that the world needs all sorts of leaders and job functions and one does not necessarily need to devote themselves to a non-profit organisation to make an impact.

Even with speakers assuring us it is OK to go the route of working in tech, members of the school encouraging me follow that path, and classmates telling me that my history is indeed impressive, it is still very easy to feel inadequate. After all, I gave that same story 300 times already and rehearsed it 1000 times – of course it feels boring and common.

I am sure I will need to remind myself that I belong throughout the course of the year, and I am sure there are other members of my cohort that are in a similar state of mind. We have all been very supportive to each other, but we should make it a point to be kind to ourselves. Yes, everyone that is here belongs here.

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