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How To Tackle Imposter Syndrome With NFL Player Kelvin Beachum

Our chief philanthropy officer Ebony Beckwith chats with Beachum on the inaugural episode of her #BossTalks series, aimed at career-oriented professionals on LinkedIn.

Kelvin Beachum and Ebony Beckwith
Kelvin Beachum and Ebony Beckwith talk about imposter syndrome.

“Imposter syndrome is that little voice inside that creeps in and makes you question your own ability,” said Ebony Beckwith, Salesforce’s chief philanthropy officer in a recent conversation with NFL player Kelvin Beachum. Imposter syndrome is the feeling you don’t belong in a certain professional scenario, no matter how much experience you have in your field. If you are discounting your worth at work, chances are imposter syndrome is at play. 

Even someone like Beckwith — who manages a $400M+ portfolio as CEO of the Salesforce Foundation and sits on numerous boards, including the Warrior’s Foundation and Hamilton Families — experiences imposter syndrome from time to time. That’s why Beckwith tackles this subject in the premiere of her new career advice series on LinkedIn, #BossTalks, created to inspire professional growth.

This first episode shows Beckwith in conversation with Kelvin Beachum, Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle, professional speaker, and entrepreneur. Beachum also mentors youth, runs an annual football camp in Texas, and has led programs to increase minority access to careers within science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). They discuss:

  • It’s not about the thought, but what you do with it
  • How to tackle imposter syndrome with preparedness 
  • Be who you are. Whatever that is, be you
  • Beachum’s journey from fixing cars to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list
  • How to raise a mini-boss
  • How to determine your superpower

Let’s jump in, shall we? Scroll down to see the video and transcript in full, or breeze through the highlights: 

It’s not the thought, but what you do with it

Beckwith said imposter syndrome for her pops up unconsciously from time to time, whether through self doubt, stress, trying to feel perfect, or feeling like she’s failing. It’s when you recognize those thoughts you can do something about it, she adds. Beachum says the negative self-talk can affect your self esteem and it’s important to knock it aside — for yourself and your teammates if you see it emerge in them. “For me, it’s going back to the fundamentals and coming back to a foundation,” Beachum said. “Then starting to prep myself for those next phases, whether it’s mentally, psychologically, or whatever it may be, to get me back to where I know I can do this.”

Tackle imposter syndrome with preparedness

Both Beckwith and Beachum agree that if you put in the hard work and the long hours, imposter syndrome has no place in your life. “If you know you’re prepared, you put in the time, you put in the work, you put in the research and the diligence,” Beachum said, “you can walk in with your chest up, your head up, proud, and know you can go in there and slay like you need to.”

Be who you are — whatever that is, be you

As people who have both dealt with imposter syndrome and have achieved greatness in their work, Beckwith and Beachum use their experience to guide younger people. They believe in imparting their wisdom to help others succeed and steer clear of that creeping negative voice. “One of the biggest things I tell my mentees is be who you are, whatever that is, be you,” Beachum shares. “Be confidently you. Be comfortable in your own skin. I don’t think we talk about that particular topic enough.” It’s something so many of us can relate to and need to hear — and listen to.

From fixing cars to pitching CEOs

Beachum earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Southern Methodist University, where he also graduated top of his class. He got drafted to play in the NFL and was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in sports. As an entrepreneur, he now gets meetings with CEOs and billionaires and, naturally, that nasty little voice tries to tell him he isn’t welcome in their company. Then he reminds himself that while he grew up fixing cars and feeding cattle in Texas, he does belong there. Why? He earned it.

How to raise a mini boss

The 31-year-old football player has three young children with his wife, Jessica, who is preparing for medical school. Beachum says he was raised by a strong mother alongside strong sisters (his younger sister was a Texas state basketball champion) and wants to impart that same strength onto his daughters and son. Even before his first daughter’s birth, he would talk to her in the womb and tell her she was a genius. His advice to other parents who want to push too hard? “We have to allow these young people to be kids,” he said. “Allow them to mature, and take risks, and experience life. But, at the same time, find a way to provide affirmations every day.” He says it’s about investing time in your kids, especially young girls, and communicating with them. He even asked his oldest daughter once if he was being too hard on her and said, “What can daddy do better?”

Determine your superpower

Beckwith asks all her guests about their superpower after sharing hers: the ability to take big risks. For Beachum, it’s all about paying it forward. “I get so much joy out of opening doors for people,” he admits. “I take pride in it. I enjoy it. I look forward to it. That’s what’s allowed me to get to where I am today, and where I know I’m going to be going in the future.”

Want to read the full interview — including viewer questions at the end? Here it is:

Ebony Beckwith:
Hello, everyone. And welcome to the very first episode of Boss Talks. This is a new series presented by Salesforce featuring candid career conversations with people I admire and trust to keep it real. Today, we’re talking about imposter syndrome. This is a topic I get asked about all the time, and it’s likely because everyone, I don’t care who you are, has experienced imposter syndrome at one point or another.

Imposter syndrome is that little voice inside that creeps in telling you that you can’t do something and makes you question your own ability. This is something that can still pop up for me from time to time, and sometimes it just creeps in unconsciously. It can show up in a lot of different ways whether it’s feelings of self-doubt, or that feel of failure, even perfectionism, or stress.

But what really matters isn’t the thought itself, but what you do with it, and that’s where we’re going to focus the conversation today. To help me out with that, I’ve invited my friend, investor, and NFL athlete, Kelvin Beachum, to share his experience and tips for turning negative self-talk into a powerful source of motivation. Kelvin, welcome to Boss Talks. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Kelvin Beachum:
Thanks so much for having me.

Ebony Beckwith:
I know I already spilled the beans a bit, but I want our audience to get a chance to know you a little bit better. Will you tell everyone a bit about your background and what are you up to today?

Kelvin Beachum:
So, originally from Mexia, Texas, about an hour and a half south of Dallas. Had the ability to go on a full ride scholarship to go and play football at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, then was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2012 draft. Played there four years. Played a year in Jacksonville. Played three years in New York. Just finished a year in Arizona, and just signed a two-year extension, so the journey continues. And excited to dive into this conversation that we have today.

Ebony Beckwith:
Excellent. Well, I’m sure there were a few surprise reactions when people learned that you were going to be talking about the topic of imposter syndrome because it’s a common misconception that only women can experience imposter syndrome, but quite the contrary. Can you talk about your experience with imposter syndrome, and how it’s shown up for you both as an athlete, and now, as you endeavor in some of your other roles?

Kelvin Beachum:
I think it’s a huge topic, and I think it’s a topic and a conversation that every rookie, or even newcomer to a team has. Just this feeling of should I be here? Do I belong? When I got to Pittsburgh as a rookie, they were about a year and a half removed from the Super Bowl of 2010. I had nothing but starters and guys who had played 60-plus games, Super Bowl champions that were in front of me that I was competing with, there was a lot of self-doubt. Could I actually do this? Well, when I went to Jacksonville, when I went to New York, am I built to go and be the leader that they thrust forward in this particular regard?

Ebony Beckwith:
One of the things I find really detrimental about imposter syndrome is that negative self-talk. It really can haul me back from engaging and doing that next right thing. It’s that voice in between my ears that causes me to hesitate and to hold back. Do you agree with that, or what do you think is the most detrimental part of imposter syndrome?

Kelvin Beachum:
I just think it’s just negative talk and almost this lack of self-esteem. We just allow these small instances to kind of creep in and be able to kind of change our psyche with it. And it’s for us as individuals, as professionals, as colleagues to find a way to not only be able to turn that around internally, but if we see it in somebody else, being able to just give them a little push to help them get over the hump if they need to as well.

Ebony Beckwith:
What do you do to shut down that voice, to quiet that voice that tells you that you can’t do something?

Kelvin Beachum:
I go back to the foundation, and for me, the foundation is faith, that’s where everything starts for me. I go back to what does my faith say? My faith says that I’m more than a conqueror. That’s where it starts, and then it kind of bubbles up from there. And again, I go back to what can I control? What can I control in this particular situation? I can control my effort, the work that I put in, and the preparation that’s needed. And I hate to make it seem so simple, but for me, I need to go back to those fundamentals. Us, on the football field, when we’re not playing well, we go back to the fundamentals. If the coach doesn’t like how practice is going, he’ll start the practice over for us to go back to the fundamentals, so for me, it’s going back to those fundamentals and coming back to that foundation, and then starting from there and kind of starting over and starting to prep myself for those next phases, whether it’s mentally, whether it’s psychologically, whatever I need to do, or whatever it may be, to get me back to the point where I know I can do this. I know that I’ve been wrong. And I know that I can contribute in this particular room that I’m in and in this particular instance that I’m in at the moment.

Ebony Beckwith:
I really love that you talked about the fundamentals, the foundations because I really feel like those experiences really shape and mold you. I recently shared on LinkedIn something I heard from Mindy Kaling, which was really reminding myself of all the hard work that I’ve had to do to get to wherever I am, kind of what you talked about. And when I think about every event I’ve showed up to earlier, every meeting I’ve done my research on, it really becomes impossible for imposter syndrome to make me doubt myself because I’ve actually done the work. So, what have you learned from your own experiences, and how have those experiences shaped the man you’ve become?

Kelvin Beachum:
Yeah, it’s when I’m able to walk in a room and I know that I did it right, and I know that I did all the legwork, all the preparation, all the diligence, all the research. Sometimes more than my counterparts, and sometimes more than the folks that are in that room, so I know that I’ve done that. But there are also instances, you know, right now, I’m going to give you a perfect example, I went golfing with some folks that are well more accomplished than I am and have been golfing for a lot longer. Imposter Syndrome crept in during that moment. Should I be doing this? Should I be out here playing with these high-quality individuals? But, have I prepared? I only started three months. I’ve only been playing for three months. I’ve only been practicing for three months. I’m a big person about bank accounts, I haven’t put any social deposits into that game to warrant me saying that I’m prepared, but if there are instances where you know that you’re prepared, you put in the time, you put in the work, you put in the research and the diligence, you can walk in with your chest up, your head up, proud, and know that you can go in there and slay like you need to.

Kelvin Beachum:
I got daughters, so I want them to slay because they’re preparing. My daughters do these spelling tests, we work on them all week. I expect her when she comes home on Friday, she’s slayed that spelling test because she’s came in and went in there with confidence and prepared all week for it.

Ebony Beckwith:
You and I, I just want to switch the topic a little bit. You and I, I know we both share a passion for mentoring. For me, it’s my way of paying forward what I’ve been so generously given by so many people, and I know you do the same for so many young people. Can you talk to us about what you’re teaching them about imposter syndrome now that they can take with them into adulthood?

Kelvin Beachum:
Yeah. One of the biggest things that I tell my mentees is be who you are, whatever that is, be you. Be you. Be confidently you. Be comfortable in your own skin. And I don’t think we talk about just that particular topic enough. Be comfortable in the skin that God has given you, and the mold, and the person that you are right now. And the thing is, is in this society, we’re pushing all different types of ways, social media is kind of changing the way people, especially young people, see themselves. Be who you are and that will take you anywhere you want to go. Be authentic. Be genuine, and be who you are is what I continue to impart on my mentees.

Ebony Beckwith:
Do your mentors, the people who mentor you, do you talk to them about imposter syndrome, and what to do to get over that?

Kelvin Beachum:
I talk to them about it a lot because for me, especially as a ballplayer, going into the business world, going into boardrooms, spending time with general partners, founders of firms, founders of companies, talk to CEOs, other billionaires, this is not a world that I came from. I came from working on cars and feeding cattle. It’s a lot different when you go into a boardroom. And I talk about that quite a bit. How should I be thinking about this? What should I be asking? How do I prepare myself to go into this particular situation? And that’s the conversation that I’ve had with a number of my mentors, both males, and females about how should I be thinking about this particular concept of imposter syndrome as I’m going into this new arena. Playing football and being in a boardroom, yes, there are similarities, but they’re two different things, and I want to make sure that I’m prepared as best I can on how to be able to transition into some of those things. And, yes, my mentors, we talk about that, I would say, at some point in every conversation that I have with my mentors.

Ebony Beckwith:
That’s right. One of the things that I really appreciate about you is that I can definitely see your passion and commitment to lifelong learning and self-improvement, and then just paying that forward to the next generation, so really, just well done on that. Okay, we have to pause and talk about these two beautiful daughters. I also know that you grew up surrounded by very strong women, and I’m curious what is your advice for parents who are building mini-bosses at home? This is something we chatted about in our breakout room, so I would love for you to share about building mini bosses? And then what did you take away from growing up around all these really strong women?

Kelvin Beachum:
Yeah. Early on, and then people have their own concept, on how you speak to the child in the womb, I used to call my daughter and rub my wife’s belly and say, ” You’re a genius,” before she even came out. When she came out she was a genius. And then I really, me and my wife have both been adamant about trying to surround her with as much positive reinforcement and affirmation as possible. There’s art that’s in her room. She loves the violin, so we actually got her a painting of a young black girl that’s playing the violin that’s in her room. We surrounded her with books by black authors. We expose her to as many just positive reinforcements as possible. And especially to be a young black dad and being able to impart that on her.

And then I would say what I got from both my mum and my sisters, they were … In the football world, we call people that are really good, we call them dogs. They was masters. They was freaks. My sisters, they were some bad mamma jammas. On the basketball court, running track, in the classroom, playing volleyball. They had it all. I’m jealous of my younger sister. My younger sister won the state basketball championship in Texas. I never got that close. But I had some amazing women that I got to grow up with, now that are women that I got to grow up with and had a very, very strong mum who instilled these simple principles in us. So, to see my mother, see my sisters, see my wife, my wife is actually in the room right now finishing the proposed bachelor program getting ready to head into med school. I got mini-bosses and bosses all around me, so I have no choice but to act right.

Ebony Beckwith:
And that’s right. Exact right. What advice do you have for parents who are building these mini bosses?

Kelvin Beachum:
I think for one, I think in this society that we’re living in right now, we’re going through this microwave type of thing, we want them to be mini-bosses from day one. I think first and foremost, we have to allow these young people to be kids. Allow them to grow up. Allow them to mature, and to take risks, and experience life. But at the same time, find a way to provide affirmations every day. I walk with my daughter. Just the simplest thing is going and riding a bike with her on a daily basis. We’re finding that individual time where you can spend, a time to really invest in that child. Especially these young girls right now, and taking the time to invest in them, taking the time to walk with them, to talk with them, to understand. I mean this time I asked my daughter, “Hey, is daddy being too hard on you?” She’s my oldest, so I was the oldest, my dad was and mother were super hard on me. I talk to her, especially my oldest consistently “Hey, is daddy being a little too hard on you? What can daddy do better?” So, I think it’s really taking that approach to really find a way to invest and be able to communicate. And I know this sounds simple, but really taking the time to invest, communicate, and just impart the knowledge that you have. And I’m still growing. I’m 31. I’m still growing as a father, so there are still things that I’m learning.

Ebony Beckwith:
Final question. And I’m asking this to everyone, and it’s really about what their superpower is? One of mine is risk-taking. I’m always pushing myself and those around me to go big. So, Kelvin, what is your superpower?

Kelvin Beachum:
My superpower? It’s such a hard question.

Ebony Beckwith:
It is.

Kelvin Beachum:
But I feel that my superpower, I get so much joy out of opening doors for people. I take pride in it. I enjoy it. I look forward to it. I try to find ways to do it, whether they told me to do it or they didn’t tell me to do it, that’s what’s allowed me to get to where I am today, and where I know I’m going to be going in the future, but it’s the willingness, and the openness, and the eagerness to just open doors for other folks.

Ebony Beckwith:
That is a wonderful superpower and way to pay it forward. Well, Kelvin, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your experience. I know there are so many people tuning in who are going to benefit from this, including myself, so again, thank you so much for being here today.

Kelvin Beachum:
Anytime. Thanks so much for having me.

Ebony Beckwith:
Wow. What Kelvin said about imposter syndrome was so spot-on and I’m sure we can all relate. In fact, I know you can relate because many of you sent in questions, so let’s hear what you have to say.

Nicole:
Hey, Ebony, I hate to admit this, but I have struggled with imposter syndrome throughout my entire career. When I first started I thought that it was something that was there because naturally I was new and I still had a lot to learn and more experience to gain, but I’ve noticed that as my career has progressed, it’s still there. While it’s not quite as strong as it used to be, it’s still something that I struggle with. And so, my question for you is, is this something that you think that we just naturally, it’s just a part of our career journey? Or do you think at some point, once you get more confidence, that it’ll just naturally go away? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ebony Beckwith:
Well, first of all, hi, Nicole, and thank you so much for your question. First, I want to remind you that you are not alone. Everyone has experience of imposter syndrome at some point in their life, and while I can’t promise you that it completely disappears one day, there are ways to quiet it so it becomes less distracting. I truly believe that the reason you’re still experiencing imposter syndrome despite growing in your career is due to just that. That growth and your willingness to take big risks. And there’s always a little bit of fear that comes in when you try new things. So, let’s try reframing it as a good thing.

Ebony Beckwith:
I’ll also add that something that really works for me is reminding myself that I’m in my role for a reason. I have a right to be in the room. I have done the work, and people want to hear my point of view, and that really helps me shut down that imposter syndrome.

Bosé:
Hi, Ebony. Thank you for taking our questions today. I wanted to ask about when you are on a team and you’re in a team meeting and you get those butterflies in your stomach because you’re getting super excited about the topic, but then you have a lot of questions. Sometimes they’re questions that you feel you’re probably the only one that has those questions and they might feel a little bit silly, but you need to ask that question in order for you to do your best work. How do you get over that fear of sounding silly and asking something that everybody else likely knows in the room, and just be a boss, like you are?

Ebony Beckwith:
Well, hey, Bosé, thank you for the question. And honestly, my advice is just to ask the question. Here’s what I find. Just because everyone in the room is nodding their heads quietly or not raising their hands, doesn’t mean that they actually understand what’s going on. Even when people are familiar with the subject matter, it’s never a bad thing to dive deeper or to hear the question from a different perspective. So, to get over your butterfly feeling, I suggest maybe writing your question down, so that when you get called on, you feel really prepared, confident and grounded in your response.

Ebony Beckwith:
Thank you so much for sending in your questions, and please keep them coming. We’ll take a few each episode, so be sure to add your questions in the comments on our LinkedIn page, or send me a Tweet, @ebonybeckwith using #bosstalks. I really hoped you all enjoyed today’s conversation. To continue building valuable skills for your career, head over to Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online learning platform that helps anyone skill up for in-demand jobs in the Salesforce ecosystem. With that, I’m Ebony Beckwith. Thank you for tuning into Boss Talks. See you all next time.


Ari Bendersky is a Chicago-based lifestyle journalist who has contributed to a number of leading publications including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal magazine, Men's Journal, RollingStone.com and many more. He has written for brands as wide-ranging as Ace Hardware to Grassroots Cannabis and is a lead contributor to the Salesforce 360 Blog. He is also the co-host of the Overserved podcast, featuring long-form conversations with food and beverage personalities.

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