Chasing Competence: A Journey to Silencing My Inner Hater

Building myself an imperfect, meaningful career

I'm motivated to make the kid version of myself feel a sense of pride in the adult that I'd become and the impact I'd leave on the world. There's always been a nagging voice in my head questioning whether I'm making the right decisions and if I'm going about my life and career path correctly to be the best. It's as if I've been in an unspoken competition with everyone else to be better. If others work hard, I have to work harder. I partially blame social media, partially society, and partially myself for giving into it. Yet, as I work to build out a meaningful career, I've decided I'm opting out. I don't aspire to be in the C-suite, part of the who's who, or to be the perfect executive anymore. 

Being competent is enough for me. Aiming for a greater level of competency daily is the best and healthiest motivation I can give myself. I don't have the answers to everything, but I have started to develop tools and ways to remind myself of my greatness that might help others in their journey to define themselves. 

Embrace the process, not perfection.

In 2017, when I looked to make the transition from architectural design to marketing, I thought I would finally be entering into my perfect job and living out a childhood dream to work in this industry. Instead, I was met with a brutal interview process, where companies wrote me off due to a lack of advertising experience or ghosted me completely. I kept interviewing and reaching out to my network for help, to no avail. Every email and call left me wondering, what am I doing wrong—why am I not perfect enough? 

The competitive nature in me thought that if I changed my name to sound more masculine (goodbye Kaeyla, hello Caleb), increased my monthly LinkedIn inmail count and attended more events and meetings that I could push my way through to prove that I was the perfect candidate. The truth is that it wasn't my time. I wasn't doing anything wrong. It was part of my process and the sooner I understood that, the better off I'd be. 

It's natural to question yourself.

I'm an overthinker, to be frank. One statement can send me spiraling into a series of what ifs in an attempt to prepare myself for all possible outcomes. Conversations that hadn't happened yet were already taking place in my mind. Overthinking added more stress to my daily workload and was just another instance of me striving for perfection. 

It's common and normal to question your abilities. Some of the world's greatest minds have stories of where they didn't feel competent enough to complete a task before proceeding to innovate and change the world. There's nothing wrong with questioning or even doubting yourself from time to time as long as you're able to remind yourself that the voice isn't rooted in fact. It's an opinion. 

If you've seen the Real Housewives of Atlanta, there's a scene where the housewives are at dinner and multiple attendees echo "Who said that?" in response to a statement made by one. My therapist taught me to use this questioning mechanism as a grounding technique to challenge my thoughts and it can be yours too, if you need it. 

At some point you have to ask yourself, "Who said that?" and silence your inner hater.

While it's quite natural to question your abilities, if you stop aiming for perfection pushed on us by society, I've found that voice might get a little nicer, more encouraging and you might even reach new goals, just without that drill sergeant yelling in your ear.

Don't quantify your qualifications. 

While working on your own thoughts and pushing through negativity individually can get you far, it doesn't hurt to have some allies along the way. For example, I'm in a Facebook group for Black women in advertising called Toni (after Toni Morrison). This group offers a place to be transparent and open about what you're experiencing. It's also where one member posted about the current position I'm in. 

When I saw it, I didn't think that I was qualified for it. I sent a DM to the poster to gauge how much I truly needed to know in order to apply. You know… How many boxes do you have to check off to actually "qualify" for a job. We've all thought it before. She encouraged me to apply without even seeing my resume. Surely, I could believe in myself if she did?  

I say this to say, don't quantify your qualifications. Too often, I've disqualified myself and taken my name out of the running before anyone else could tell me no. What I'd tell the younger version of me "Baby Kaeyla" and to anyone that needs a little encouragement is that little steps help you take big leaps. Just try.

Confidence in competence.

A year later, I'm still in the role (yay employment!). The first five months were harsh because I'm used to being able to figure out a role in that time span. Each day has presented something new. 

My word of the year, and possibly forever, is competence. It came to me when I was at a music festival photographing the event. On the second day of the festival, I felt a wave of release and relief overwhelm me as I felt confidence in the work I was creating and the assignment I was completing. I've worked hard over the years for this feeling of competence and my work reflects that. I don't have to know everything but I'm able to competently complete the tasks at hand and that's how I've started to approach my role in advertising.

I don't have to have all the answers as I navigate my career, but I'm learning that it's OK to lean on others and ask for help because competence will eventually follow and that's all I truly desire. So far, striving for competence this past year is working out pretty well. I've grown tremendously in my day job as a marketing and culture manager at an award-winning ad agency, photographed a music festival (on their in-house media team) and even photographed an event for a global car brand.  

There's still work to be done, but I'll do it at my pace and on my terms. 

P.S.: If you're looking to get into advertising and marketing reach out to me! I'm happy to help motivate you and encourage you to reach your potential.

Profile picture for user Kaeyla Willis
Kaeyla Willis
Kaeyla Willis is marketing manager at Berlin Cameron.

Advertise With Us

Featured Clio Award Winner



The best in creativity delivered to your inbox every morning.