Imposter Syndrome: Mike Cannon-Brookes at TEDxSydney (Transcript)

Fast-forward to the last award of the night, and our shock turned into everybody’s shock when we won the Australian Entrepreneur of the Year against all of the other categories.

Now, so shocked was everybody else, in fact, that the announcer, the CEO of Ernst & Young, opened the envelope, and the first words out of his mouth were, “Oh my God.” And then he reset himself and announced that we had won.

So we knew we were in way too deep. And from there, the water got a lot deeper, because we jetted off to Monte Carlo to represent Australia in the World Entrepreneur of the Year against 40 other different countries.

Now, in another rented suit, I was at one of the dinners and sitting next to a lovely man called Belmiro de Azevedo, who was the winner from Portugal. Total champion.

At 65, he had been running his business for 40 years. He had 30,000 employees. Don’t forget, at the time, we had 70. And he had four billion euro in turnover. And after a couple of wines, I remember admitting to him that I felt that we did not deserve to be there, that we were well out of our depth, and at some time, someone was going to figure this out and send us home to Australia.

And he, I remember, just paused and looked at me and said that he felt exactly the same way and that he suspected all the winners were feeling that way, and that despite not knowing Scott or I or really anything about technology, he said that we were obviously doing something right and should probably just keep going.

Now, this was a pretty big light bulb moment for me for two reasons.

One, I realized that other people felt this as well. And two, I realized it doesn’t go away with any form of success. I had assumed that successful people didn’t feel like frauds, and I now know that the opposite is more likely to be true.

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And this isn’t just a feeling that I have at work. It happens in my personal life, too.

In the early days, I was flying back and forth to San Francisco every week for Atlassian, and I racked up a lot of frequent flyer points and got access to the Qantas business lounge. Now, if there’s ever a place that I don’t belong… It doesn’t help when I walk in and they generally look at me in shorts and jeans, or jeans and a T-shirt, and say, “Can I help you, son? Are you lost?”

But anyway, sometimes life happens in the Qantas lounge when you’d least expect it. One morning, over a decade ago, I was sitting there on my regularly weekly commute, and a beautiful woman from way out of my league walked into the Qantas lounge and continued walking straight up to me in a case of mistaken identity. She thought I was someone else, so in this case, I actually was an impostor.

But rather than freeze as I would have historically done or chivalrously maybe informed her of her error, I just tried to keep the conversation going.

And classic Australian bullshit became some sort of forward movement and a phone number. And I took that girl to the awards ceremony a couple of months later. And more than a decade later, I’m incredibly happy that she is now my wife, and we have four amazing children together.

But you’d think that when I wake up every morning, I wouldn’t roll over and look at her and think, “She’s going to say, ‘Who are you, and who gave you that side of the bed?’ ‘Get out of here.'” But she doesn’t. And I think she sometimes feels the same way.

And apparently, that’s one of the reasons that we’ll likely have a successful marriage. You see, in researching this talk, I learned that one of the attributes of the most successful relationships is when both partners feel out of their league. They feel that their partner is out of their league. They feel like impostors.

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And if they don’t freeze, and they’re thankful, and they work harder and they stretch to be the best partner they can, it’s likely to be a very successful relationship. So if you have this feeling, don’t freeze. Try to keep the conversation going, even if she thinks that you’re somebody that you’re not.

Now, feeling like, or people thinking I’m someone I’m not actually happens quite frequently. A great example from my more recent past, a few months ago, I was up late at night with one of my kids. And I saw something on Twitter about Tesla saying that they could solve South Australia’s rolling series of power crises with one of their large industrial batteries.

Without thinking, I fired off a bunch of tweets, challenging them and saying were they really serious about this. And in doing so, I managed to kick a very small rock off a very big hill that turned into an avalanche that I found myself tumbling in the middle of.

Because you see, a few hours later, Elon tweeted me back and said that they were deadly serious, that within a hundred days of contract signing, they could install a 100-megawatt-hour facility, which is a giant battery of a world-class size, one of the biggest ever made on the planet. And that’s when all hell really broke loose.

Within 24 hours, I had every major media outlet texting and emailing and trying to get in contact with me to get opinion as some sort of expert in energy.

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