My Old Friend: Kendra Kelly

  • Season 3, Episode 8
  • March 7, 2023
  • 33 minute listen

My Old Friend: Kendra Kelly

I just second-guessed everything to the point where it truly became inefficient. It was just so hard to do my job.


What is imposter syndrome? How can leaders recognize it in their team members and help alleviate the factors that contribute to it? And what tools can individuals use to reframe these concerns as a motivation or a strength?

Episode Description

Kendra Kelly wryly refers to it as “her old friend.”

She’s an accomplished junior executive with years of marketing experience. She served as a field organizer for the Obama presidential campaign. She led WashU Olin’s graduate student body as its president and was elected its graduation speaker.

Yet a year after joining L'Oréal, where she serves as chief of staff for the president of the luxury division, she’s only just beginning to understand how to deal with her old friend—an unwelcome visitor otherwise known as “imposter syndrome.”

In a recent piece in the Harvard Business Review, authors Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey write of the phenomenon as “a workplace-induced trauma” induced by the repeated confrontation of systemic racism and bias. They argue that addressing imposter syndrome should be less about “fixing women at work” and more about fixing the places where women work.

And yet, a year after earning her MBA, in the wake of her mother’s passing, in the shadow of the isolation of learning and working remotely during the pandemic, the challenges posed by her “old friend” persist. She found herself occasionally gripped by self-doubt in her company’s fast-paced work culture—while she must step back, slow down and meticulously break down business problems.

“Your brain is not your friend,” Kelly said. “I was not myself. It was starting to weigh on me. And I realized this was not OK.”

How did Kelly come to realize her old friend was knocking on the door? How did it affect her at work? How did she come to confront it? And how is she learning to deal with it? And what, more broadly, should workplaces do to banish this “old friend” from their hallways, offices and conference rooms?

Kelly’s story is emblematic of the oft-stated importance of bringing one’s whole self into the workplace—knowing what it means and knowing how that principle can contribute to the organization and support the individual. In Kelly’s case, for example, she came to learn her meticulous approach to work was a valued skill—different, but necessary. “I have found it to be a skill,” she said, “to take the thing we've all been swirling around and name it.”

More than that, she’s learning how to cope with her old friend. “This is not something I need to get over,” she said, “but learn to live with and thrive with.”

Related Links


This podcast is a production of Washington University in St. Louis’s Olin Business School. Contributors include:

  • Katie Wools, Cathy Myrick, Judy Milanovits and Lesley Liesman, creative assistance
  • Jill Young Miller, fact checking and creative assistance
  • Hayden Molinarolo, original music and sound design
  • Mike Martin Media, editing
  • Sophia Passantino, social media
  • Lexie O'Brien and Erik Buschardt, website support
  • Paula Crews, creative vision and strategic support

Special thanks to Ray Irving and his team at WashU Olin’s Center for Digital Education, including our audio engineer, Austin Alred.

Additional information

Please subscribe on your favorite podcasting app to be notified when each new episode of On Principle is available.