“How I Was Able To Thrive Despite First Experiencing Impostor Syndrome” With Elena Doukas of Garrett Leight California Optical
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Get organized: I think common result of imposter syndrome is either procrastination or anxiety. If I find myself freezing up or on the opposite end approaching a project sporadically, I try to get myself organized. I think a huge stereotype is that creative people are unorganized, where I think a lot creatives actually thrive in an organized environment, and they just need to find the best structure for them.
As a part of our series about how very accomplished leaders were able to succeed despite experiencing Imposter Syndrome, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elena Doukas.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I’m the Chief Designer at Garrett Leight California Optical and I’m coming up on my 10 year anniversary with the company. I started in apparel design, and after interviewing for a sales position in Garrett’s first optical store on Abbot Kinney, I fell in love with eyewear and knew I wanted to design it. At the time, Garrett had not yet started his own eyewear brand, and he trained me to be an optician in his store. He told me he wanted to start his own collection, and he brought me on as a design assistant. We worked odd hours, between the working in the retail store and working on the collection, and within the year, were making our first hires and expanding to a studio space in Venice. Today the Garrett Leight collection is sold in over 50 countries around the world and we have 5 brick and mortar stores.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
After Garrett announced he was launching his own brand, we were traveling to the factories and setting out to sell the collection to the top eyewear accounts around the world. We divided up territories and our goal was to visit stores right before a big eyewear trade show in hopes to be the first to show them something new for the season. The first trip we took we split up across Europe for 3–4 weeks and saw 6 different countries. There was a point during the trip where I would get to 4 cities in one day, catching trains or driving myself. This was before there was an affordable or fast cell phone data plan, and I think I had printed out Google maps!
In hindsight, I was showing up on the doorsteps of the top eyewear accounts in the world, many of who did not speak English, and I think a bit of my naive nature kept my anxiety at bay during that time. I knew the collection was something special, but I had no idea what our brand would grow into. It was also an invaluable experience for me as a designer, to see the reaction to the collection first hand. By the end, I really knew what frames were good and what needed to be improved.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Garrett Leight California Optical is an independent eyewear company, and if you’re not familiar with the eyewear industry, you may not realize that two or three large corporations own the majority of it. Like any industry, when you’re going up against corporate giants you have to find a way to cut through the noise and stand apart.
Ten years ago when we started the company, it was always a mission to bring an authentic brand experience through curated content to our customers. Over the last decade with the explosion of digital interactions, our industry has gone through a lot of changes, but people still want a human experience. And by making that a priority for the brand, we’re able to connect with our end consumer and educate them on everything that goes into our product. Garrett himself has a very specific perspective, and when you’re introduced to the brand, I think that personality comes through. People want to know that real people are behind the brand and the product, and it has made them eager to join the conversation. Early on during one of our long sales trips, a waiter in Paris that was serving us at a restaurant complimented our glasses and said he had the same pair. He proudly pulled out a pair of Garrett Leight sunglasses. I have a few stories similar to this where I’ll be on an airplane and someone will see a Garrett Leight logo on something I have and take a look at their own glasses and connect the dots that I work for the company. Unlike apparel, eyewear is an accessory people wear every day, on their face, so it carries a different weight in their lives. It becomes a part of their personality. Garrett started a cult following early on, and when people talk to you about their appreciation for the product, you can really feel their excitement.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Without question, Garrett took a chance on me in the very beginning and was willing to teach me the ways of the optical industry. His father Larry Leight, joined our company a few years ago and he’s a walking eyewear encyclopedia. I have been very lucky to work with both of them, and they both have inspired me and pushed me in different ways.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome. How would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?
Imposter Syndrome is the feeling of not being good enough, or in a role you’re not prepared for. It’s the feeling when your repeated insecurities creep into your head and cause stress, anxiety and self doubt.
What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?
When imposter syndrome sets in, I think all your energy goes towards fixating on your insecurities. The focus is taken away from what you should be working on and you’re unable to do your best work.
How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?
I think everyone is different in the side effects of imposter syndrome. Some people I think freeze up and lack leadership and confidence, and others try to overcompensate and can become defensive as a front to their insecurities.
We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?
My education was in fashion design, and although there are many parallels from apparel design to product design, I’ve always had regret that I didn’t take product design courses. When I started building out the design team at Garrett Leight, I was nervous that candidates with way more product design skills would not respect me as a boss, or that I wouldn’t know what were the magic ingredients were needed to build a strong team. Designing frames was something I was grasping quickly, but managing a team was something I had never done.
On the flip side, when we were first starting out as a company, there were only a few of us, and I had horrible work life balance. I would stay at the office late, and lost touch with a few friends and had trouble giving my friend base the time they deserved. I also had no time to network or interact with any type of peer group, which made me feel like an imposter when I started interacting in fashion circles. It was like an imposter pendulum; on one side I felt not technical enough, and on the other side not connected enough. I was in my late 20s introducing myself as a design director of an eyewear company with no previous eyewear experience, and bracing myself for questions about how I got the job. I knew I got this opportunity from a combination of hard work and luck, but would constantly question if I was truly the most qualified person for the job.
Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?
As the company grew, I wasn’t always able to have a clear vision of how I wanted to personally grow, and I realized I needed to make some changes and give more balance to my life. I think the most confusing part for me was the evolution of my job. When I was hired, the company needed me to do a lot of roles (design, development, production, and sales), and as we grew it needed me to be an expert at one thing. It was difficult for me to adapt, because no one had a magic ball telling me exactly how I had to change. However, I got some good advice from one of my mentors to really understand what my best strengths were, and had a real constructive conversation on the things I wasn’t good at. There was no how-to guide on building and managing a team, and giving direction. This was a place of unknown for me. And the irony is, that the advice I was given is that no one is ever blessed with knowing exactly how to do everything. It’s the journey of figuring it out that helps you learn how and continue perfecting.
In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Get organized: I think common result of imposter syndrome is either procrastination or anxiety. If I find myself freezing up or on the opposite end approaching a project sporadically, I try to get myself organized. I think a huge stereotype is that creative people are unorganized, where I think a lot creatives actually thrive in an organized environment, and they just need to find the best structure for them. Try to schedule out time for yourself when you’re at your best to tackle your most overwhelming issues. For me it’s early mornings, before I’ve checked my phone or email so I have zero distractions. Bullet journaling, which is a daily free form journal, is something I actively do to keep myself organized, and really has helped me not push things to the side. If you google Bullet Journal, don’t compare your journal to the thousands of journal images showing perfect penmanship, art doodles and different colored pens. As much as I envy some of these peoples art skills, it’s absolutely insane to think you should spend that much time working on making your bullet journal perfect. The whole point is to free mind up so you can focus on more important things.
- Rinse and Repeat (But with intent): Growing up I played competitive soccer and I had a coach who started every practice saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” It wasn’t until after I graduated college that I realized the intent of this saying wasn’t to become a perfectionist, but it was to be present in every moment you are working on your goal. Now in my job, I’ve also learned to embrace doing multiple iterations of a design and work on them in the full extent. Even when I think it’s finished, I’ll try doing several more. It’s in the process of exploring all the possibilities that you find something new and original, even if the first version ends up being the one you go with.
- Mentor: I’m very grateful to have several mentors in my life, and can’t stress enough how important I think it is to have a soundboard. My brother in law is in a line of work where he’s frequently meeting with investors, and he shared with me that in almost every investor meeting a commonly asked question is, “Who are you talking to?”, meaning who’s in your circle giving you advice, and are they smarter than you? Quite frankly, you’re probably not the smartest person on any one subject, and there’s a bit of relief in admitting it and finding guidance from someone who is. I learned from Garrett not to design in a bubble, and he actively pushes me to get feedback from others outside of the office on designs.
- Peer relationships: Having close friends that can call you on your bullshit is equally as important as having a peer group within your industry. I now have several friends who are in fashion and eyewear, and a lot of our relationships are built around a support system we give to each other.
- Wellness program: Work life balance is a must for me. Find an activity or routine that allows you to turn your brain off and give back to yourself. Yoga has been my way of turning off, and is a practice in itself of learning to shut down a wandering mind. I’ve learned that the reaction of letting your mind wander to negative thoughts is actually possible to shut down, but it takes practice.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think emotional intelligence development is so important to us as people — as individuals, as a community, and as a society. Learning the art of self awareness and communication has been helped me grow both in my personal life and in my career. It’s an ongoing process with a commitment to self improvement — learning, accepting, evolving, practicing.
Workwise, I’ve been lucky enough to have learned this from great managers and mentors along the way. I’m still learning of existing programs operated both in-house and externally that support better work environments for a more emotional skilled workplace, but I would love to be a part of a movement that made these more readily available to young professionals. Teaching people how to operate and communicate in a more emotional skilled workplace promotes resilience and self esteem all around and quite frankly, I think could help a lot with the issue at hand here, Imposture Syndrome.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
It might be all this talk about emotional intelligence, but I would even take a private coffee with Esther Perel! I think she is brilliant, and I love the discussions I have with friends and coworkers from her books and podcasts.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me on instagram @elena_glco or LinkedIn
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
“How I Was Able To Thrive Despite First Experiencing Impostor Syndrome” With Elena Doukas of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.