Owning Your Authentic Self: A Discussion Celebrating International Women’s Day

5 min readMar 9, 2020
Left to Right: Stephanie Santiago (Aritzia), Ellen Robertson (Bailey Nelson), Ariel Swan (Jaybird Studio), Sarah Scott (Thinkingbox)

At Thinkingbox, we pride ourselves on our diverse team and strong female leaders. In the spirit of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, each for equal, we wanted to create an inclusive space for members of our community to come together, connect and have an open dialogue surrounding equality and authenticity. Sarah Kaj, Creative Digital Strategist at Thinkingbox, shares her thoughts and experience from our speaker series.

As part of Thinkingbox’s Speaker Series, Vancouver’s Managing Director Sarah Scott led an engaging and honest discussion with three inspiring and successful panelists about the strength and value of authenticity and how to manage the pest that is imposter syndrome. Our esteemed panel included Stephanie Santiago (Senior Director of Marketing at Aritzia), Ellen Robertson (Head of Retail for Bailey Nelson) and Ariel Swan (Co-Founder of Jaybird Studio). Each speaker provided such unique and valuable insights into their professional journeys. The conversation could have easily gone on for hours, and although we had to wrap it up eventually, the room was buzzing with chatter long after it ended.

How do you know if you’re being authentic?

Senior leadership, business ownership, family and social expectations all come with their own set of demands. While women seem to be the masters of multitasking, wearing so many hats can make authenticity a challenge. Who we really are gets lost in who we are expected to be, who we need to be and what we need to do to excel.

We asked our panelists about what authenticity means to them and what they’ve done to embrace it.

Authenticity is to be unapologetically you and learning to lean into your strengths.

Stephanie Santiago set the tone for the evening by dropping this nugget of wisdom onto the packed room. It seems so simple, but resonates immediately as true. Shying away from who you naturally are by apologizing and making yourself small is a clear sign that you are not living in the light of your authentic truth. We don’t always realize how often we say sorry for being ourselves, thinking differently or asking questions. If you’re someone who apologizes frequently for being nothing other than who you are, consider this: if no one thought differently we wouldn’t have Apple computers, if no one did things in their own style we wouldn’t have the diverse world of content and branding out in the world today.The world needs you to be you. Find what lights you up, what you’re naturally good at and what brings you the most joy. Lean into those skills to help build your confidence so you can eventually ditch the sorries and add your input, knowing that it is both valuable and valid.

Being uncomfortable allows you to push your boundaries.

Ellen Robertson tackles the quest for authenticity through the lens of breaking out of comfort zones to find out who you are and what you’re capable of. And it’s true, if you always play it safe you’ll never truly know what you’re made of. If you hide from conflict, you’ll never learn your style of resolution. This applies to all hard conversations (like asking for a raise or a promotion), rising to a challenge or doing something new for the first time. If it makes you a little uncomfortable, do it. The results will reveal who you truly are and help you understand who you want to be.

I lived my life worrying about what people thought of me and realized that that was the root of my unhappiness.

Ariel of Jaybird Studio has been on her own unique journey of self discovery, with a majority of it involving letting go of what other people think. For good reason; if you’re too concerned with what people think, you won’t be able to grow into yourself. Don’t stunt your growth with the opinions of spectators. Stop comparing your life to theirs or fighting to meet expectations you didn’t set for yourself. Let go of it all and you’ll make more room for yourself.

What do we do about Imposter Syndrome?

Chances are, most of the people reading this have experienced imposter syndrome at some point, with or without realizing. Imposter syndrome feels like intense self doubt, including questioning if you deserve your achievements and a general sense of low self esteem. But don’t worry, you are far from alone. Many successful women feel this way, including Michelle Obama. So what do you do about it? We asked our panelists and this is what they had to say:

You get a promotion and you think “am I just getting this because I’ve been here for so long?”

The classic doubting of achievements. Even women with admirable careers, like Stephanie Santiago, admit to questioning whether or not they’re receiving something based on pure merit or because of favourable politics. These questions can turn into self sabotage if you don’t accept that you are deserving. No one will suddenly wake up and realize you’re a huge fraud; that’s all in your head. Stephanie says she tries to empower her teams so they don’t feel this way by “trying to build confidence and encouraging fumbling around for growth and development.”

Left to Right: Stephanie Santiago (Aritzia), Ellen Robertson (Bailey Nelson), Ariel Swan (Jaybird Studio)

You’re constantly thinking “am I good enough?” The more you say “yes” and keep doing it, the easier it gets.

Ellen uses self talk and courage to conquer her inner saboteur. She doesn’t let her questions and doubt go unanswered, she answers them and shuts them down. The more you reaffirm your self worth, accomplishments and value, the more self confident and secure you become. Imagine if we treated all our doubts this way. We would have many more confident and powerful people in the world who refuse to shy away from their ambitions. Keep saying yes, because you are absolutely good enough.

I’ve lived my life for the last four years saying yes to everything that makes me afraid.

While Ellen effectively shuts down her imposter voice with self affirmation, Ariel challenges her inner skeptic by doing what she fears most. Co-founding and opening Jaybird Studio was something she didn’t think she could do. The more afraid of it she became, the more determined she was to make it happen. If we can use our fear to fuel our determination instead of succumbing to it, we can accomplish more than we would ever think possible. Maybe that’s why we feel like imposters; we don’t know what we’re capable of until we take action and realize our disbelief of our true potential. Trust us, it’s in there and you hold all the power to set it free.

By the end of the night, the room felt uplifted and inspired. It was refreshing to see successful and established women express the same fears and sentiments, despite thinking that we’re the only ones who feel this way. Their advice was genuine, grounded and relatable, which made every attendee walk away feeling more in control of their own life and ready to lean into their true selves.




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