Squeaky Wheel for Life

I was always the kid with my hand raised in class.

Yes, I’m an overachiever.

No, I don’t like standing still.

But that’s not all.

Let’s take a closer look at this impostor syndrome-filled squeaky wheel’s humble beginnings, shall we?

My mom taught me how to read and write when I was 4 years old. When I began first grade, I was bored out of my mind and my school told me they would consider letting me skip to 2nd grade if I passed a test. My mom and I studied for a week. Reading, writing, arithmetic. I was ready for anything they would throw my way. The day came and you know what the test was?

They asked me to read a sentence. Write another one. And there were maybe two arithmetic questions. Needlessly to say, I passed, but now I was the youngest in my class by 2 years, which meant that there were a lot of frustrated and scared tears when I fell behind in class. My teacher was seriously tough but in the best way. I owe an immense debt of gratitude to her for pushing me and teaching me that hard work would pay off. 

My constant desire to prove my worth and belonging in that 2nd-grade classroom is where it all began.

When we moved to the US, I was placed into an ESOL class and since we moved in the middle of the school year in fifth grade, I already felt a million light-years behind everyone - this time in a brand-new country. I placed out of ESOL within 2 weeks and proceeded to overcompensate by getting perfect scores on my spelling tests. 

And so, on and so forth. 

As you can guess, I was bullied - often. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Yes, I do love to learn, and I do like to engage with my teachers and classmates, but there was something deeper in my need to be the squeaky wheel. I constantly felt the need to prove that I belonged in that space. 

This feeling evolved from the classroom to the workplace as soon as I turned 16-years-old.

There are two fundamental reasons why I began creating friction at a young age:

  • Simply doing the bare minimum was never enough for me. My first job was as a cashier at KMart, but as soon as I got comfortable in my responsibilities, standing still was no longer an option. The older cashiers who had a rhythm didn't like that I was actually speedy. There was a customer at the service desk and no one around to help? I was free? I would walk over and at the very least engage the customer while I paged a coworker or manager. I stood out because I went above and beyond, which is how I moved to the customer service desk within 6 months. 

  • I helped not just to help, but to learn. I asked questions about how everything worked. I shadowed our loss prevention officer. I asked our HR person questions. I wanted not only to be a useful part of the team, but it's always helped me to see the big picture and understand where everything fits. 

Gosh, it’s a mystery that I somehow evolved into a strategist.

As a young, ambitious, sometimes "too energetic" squeaky wheel, I always stood out. At times, I've jumped into situations where I didn't have a complete grasp but fully embraced the "fake it till I make it" mentality because I knew that was the only opportunity I would have to learn. 

This mentality has served me well over the course of my career in digital marketing, but after 15 years of experience, I am noticing that I am still aggressively raising my hand to simply prove that I belong here

I referred to this briefly in The Nostalgia Conundrum, and I've talked about how being the squeaky wheel has paid off in my career.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I have three modes:

  • Squeaky wheel to learn, to contribute, and to keep moving forward

  • Squeaky wheel causing a little too much friction to overcompensate for impostor syndrome

  • A squeaky wheel on fire and burning bridges, destroying credibility.

If it happens very infrequently and doesn't appear too obvious externally, the second scenario is usually manageable but when it begins to spiral out of control, that's when I tend to get into trouble.

As I face the most exhilarating challenge of my career, I am fully aware that if I'm not careful, I will most definitely catch on fire. 

Yet, I will always be that girl raising her hand, asking questions, and volunteering to help whenever possible.

How does impostor syndrome manifest itself in your daily life and career?

How do you manage?

Enthusiastically yours,

Berrak