Who are you to do this?

Does the sentence ‘Who are you to do this?’ go straight to setting off every imposter syndrome feeling you have? I will admit that the first time I heard this in my career I cried in the toilets mid way through the site visit I was doing (and 15 years on I struggle to recommend the conference centre due to the strength of the bad memories).

I’m curious about this question right now because over the past few weeks I have been asked it almost ten times and all of a sudden the meaning of the question is changing for me.

During industry events when talking about my business vision and the actions I am taking I have experienced friends, peers, competitors and strangers all ask questions which can be boiled down to ‘Who are you to do this?’.

I wonder if I am supposed to answer this question with a list of my credentials (and I am now at a point in my career where I have some impressive credentials). That doesn’t seem to make sense to me though - maybe because I could always get more credentials (MBA in sustainability, policy or advocacy?). Maybe the answer to this question is to point to the person who gave me authority to be ‘doing this’? As an entrepreneur I don’t have a boss but I do have mentors and I after hearing this question twice in one day I asked my mentor to ‘give me permission’ to be taking action that made business sense and would make a difference in the world. He said ‘I give you permission’ and just hearing that made a difference to my imposter syndrome!

As an entrepreneur with a social vision I don’t have a big boss to bark orders at me but I do have a conscience to understand I am part of the human race and should take any action I can to ensure the world works for everyone. The regular protests by millions of young people around the world is the reminder I turn to when I hear the question ‘Who are you to do this?’.

Who cares what my credentials or authority is if what I am doing is going to have a positive impact on the world and maybe my actions are going to become an excuse for others to go beyond their imposter syndrome and take action beyond their job role, social standing or expectations from others.