Lisa Young: Embracing motherhood, her passion and battling imposter syndrome
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In honor of Women's History Month, we present to you the stories of three women who are dedicated to making work a better place and inspiring us by fully embracing their true selves.
When Lisa was pregnant with her second child, a lot of people advised her to step back as an entrepreneur and focus on her role as a mother. And even though it was a tough decision to make back then, she chose not to back down. Today, almost two years later, she knows, without an inkling of doubt, that it was one of the best decisions she could have made for herself.
“I always knew the greatest gift I could give my children was a happy and healthy mother. And for me, that meant I had to have my cup full, follow my passion and have a sense of purpose in life outside of being a mum. To have been able to hold on to that despite all odds has been one of the biggest personal wins for me”, shares Lisa Young, a mother of two, an HR influencer and Founder of Exceed HR.
Finding personal fulfilment in work and life
Lisa didn’t start out her career dreaming of being an HR professional. Instead, as a young adult in college, she dreamt of getting into television and films. After doing her Screen and Media Studies, she moved away from home to the big city and joined a company in a Sales role.
“I wasn’t bad at it. I enjoyed the job but I felt something was lacking – maybe a sense of purpose.” She also recalls being appreciated for her people management skills. “Colleagues would walk up to me and ask me how I hired my team members or how my team was so engaged with low turnover.”
But Lisa never considered a career move until an upsetting workplace experience. “This experience was the moment when I finally realized that I want to be able to influence how employees are treated in the workplace. I didn’t want anyone to have the experience that I did”.
So she went back to school to get a Postgraduate degree in HR. “When I returned to the corporate world, I had to take an eye-watering pay cut and start in an entry level HR Coordinator role. But I found confidence in the fact that it was a short-term pain that I had to bear for long-term gain.”
With every passing year in HR, Lisa knew she was in the right place. She got to witness firsthand how critical HR is to the success of any business, and was able to make a difference to the employees and the business with her work.
In 2018, the stars aligned and Lisa landed her dream job as an HR Business Partner in the film and television industry, a full circle moment meaning she could do a job she loved in an industry she always desired to be in.
“And then in 2019, I became pregnant with my first child. I was so adamant at that time, I kept telling myself that as soon as I push this child out and my parental leave was over, I’ll be back at work, climbing the corporate ladder.”
But life had other plans for Lisa. Her paid parental leave ended in February 2020, and although she had 6 months before she was due to return to work, the world needs no introduction to what happened at that time. “The pandemic had just started and my employer asked me to return to work in any capacity possible. The pandemic was the time when HR was thrust into the limelight. There was so much we had to get done - from restructures, pay reduction, employee health management to remote workforce engagement. I also had friends and family who were business owners looking for HR support too. I was literally forced out of my parental leave by the pandemic.”
This turns out to be the next turning point in Lisa’s life. The moment she held her child in her hand, she was enveloped in so much love and affection that she didn’t want to leave her baby’s side. “I started wondering how I could continue doing what I loved while also being present as a parent. How could I create something more flexible for myself without having to do a 9-to-5 and spending two hours in traffic?”
That thought led to the birth of Exceed HR in February 2020.
And Lisa’s mission was clear: to continue doing what she loved while being an active and present parent.
Becoming an HR influencer & facing imposter syndrome head on
“Of course, I stumbled upon a bunch of obstacles when I started out. I knew the ins and outs of HR but nothing about running a business. I made several mistakes and learned as I went.”
For pretty much all of the last three years, Lisa remembers being out of her comfort zone. “But one particular and most significant one has to be my decision to become the face of my brand.”
Until October 2022 (which is a good 2.5 years after she started out), Lisa vehemently stuck to the brand name Exceed HR. She never once mentioned her own name anywhere. “It was always ‘Exceed HR presents…’ or ‘we’. It wasn’t until a business coach pointed it out to her that she realized the absurdity of it all.
“The coach asked me what my product was. The moment she asked me the question, it dawned on me. I was selling my knowledge, my expertise. I was the product, but I was afraid to put myself out there!”
So Lisa went ahead and booked a professional photoshoot. She got some photographs ready to use online. She typed out social posts and saved them. But she just couldn’t hit the publish button. “I knew what I had to do - I had to put myself out there. But that realization alone didn’t make me immune to fear of failure, of not being enough”. She fretted over how her ex-colleagues and others would react. Would they think that she was saying stupid stuff? Would they question her credibility?
It was then that she knew she couldn’t ever succeed with this mindset. “I was standing in my own way! And I had to do something about it. So for 3-4 months, I spent taking free courses, listening to podcasts and even doing things that I’d otherwise think are cliché, like affirmations.”
And then one day, she pressed the ‘publish’ button. “I wrote something that was quite vulnerable and exposed. And I wrote it in my style - emojis and all. After posting it, I had to literally ask my husband to take the laptop away from me, lest I end up refreshing and looking at people’s responses.”
Lisa received over 300000+ views and a hundred reposts. “And no one said terrible things or called me useless as I had imagined in my mind. This was a huge confidence booster for me. And there began my journey of being the face of my brand. I put up another post and then another one and then another one. There’s been no turning back ever since.”
Does that mean Lisa was cured of imposter syndrome?
“I’m confident about posting now but it gets overwhelming when someone challenges me in the comments. I absolutely encourage people to share views that are different from mine because it is also a learning opportunity for me. Yet, the moment I see those messages, my first instinct is to think: ‘how silly of me to have said that. Should I just delete the post?’ But over time, I have learned to stay with these feelings.”
So, What’s Next?
Lisa hopes to support HR professionals with the challenges of being in HR. She recently launched a membership program that gives HR professionals access to training, courses, checklists, downloadables, and so much more. A community forum within the program lets HR professionals share their day-to-day challenges and learn from one another.
“In the last three years of entrepreneurship, I have realized my best learnings have come from outside my comfort zone. And I’m fully embracing being comfortable with discomfort. There’s one technique I’ve picked up to deal with feelings of imposter syndrome - facts versus feelings.”
“Whenever I’m overcome by a dreadful thought, I take a pause and ask myself: Is this a fact or a feeling? If it is a fact, like I am feeling like an imposter because I don’t know something, I then think about how I can upskill myself. But if it is a feeling, then I remind myself that there is no fact to validate this feeling. For instance, if I feel like a fraud posting something on LinkedIn, I ask myself if there is any proof of it? On the contrary, I realize all the messages, likes and comments are, in fact, proof that I’m doing a good job.”