I’m standing on the sidewalk in Manhattan, taking a breather from my first million-dollar shoot, and let’s just say, things are not going well. 

To put it bluntly, it’s a disaster, overseen by a renowned director for a major client. Now, it’s true that this particular production seemed doomed before I ever took the reins. From the budget to the timeline, the project was strained. I’m on the phone venting to a non-industry friend about the situation, seemingly at a loss for what to do next, and worrying for the umpteenth time that a real producer would have the right experience to know immediately what miracle move would save it all.

That’s when my friend said four words that would literally change my life: “Hillary, you’re the producer.”

It seems so obvious now, but for me, this clicked in a way that it never had before. Standing on that busy street, I realised that I was the solution. I knew what needed to happen. Because I was the producer. This transformative moment saw me metaphorically stop "faking it" and begin "making it."

There’s no quick fix to imposter syndrome.

That mind-shift helped me acknowledge that, while there were many factors I couldn’t change about this particular production, there were plenty of elements that I could control. I focused on empowering every person on the team, and for the final six hours of the shoot, really prioritised maintaining a positive vibe on set. By highlighting our triumphs and minimising the shortfalls, we were able to wrap feeling accomplished, and the campaign even proved successful.

Surprisingly, a couple of days later, I received a call from my executive producer and he offered me a three-month job with his most valuable client. He reached out because of the feedback he’d gotten from this last job, the one I was sure was a career-ender. The agency producer had called to say how impressed they were by how the difficult job was handled, and that the agency and client had a positive experience – a miraculous feat, all things considered.

This feedback further validated my new approach and cognitive leap. I didn’t have to pretend or hope that I had all the answers, or follow a predetermined path. I could trust myself, based on years of hands-on experience and well-honed intuition. I understood that for me “supposed to” paralyses and hampers. It assumes you are there to fulfil the purpose of someone else’s design.

I didn’t have to pretend or hope that I had all the answers.

I learned a lot on that shoot, and on other shoots like it. I’ve been in the ad industry for 23 years, starting as a PA driving trucks around New York City to now running two successful production companies as managing director - Magnetic Field, founded by The Russo Brothers and Justin Lin, and The Directors Bureau, founded by Roman Coppola.

Self-doubt is the enemy of creativity, yet it’s experienced universally - both by accomplished industry veterans and young professionals. “If only I were smarter, had more experience, worked harder, slept less…”

For me, taking action is the ultimate remedy for imposter syndrome, and overcoming it is a conscious, ongoing process. Whether you’re just starting your career or you’ve been at it for decades, following these three principles builds a foundation for action.

Listening broadens your point of view. Authentic listening is a contribution to collaboration because it is also listening for the contribution of others. Listening and asking questions will help you and the project move forward.

Intention is woven into the tapestry of your work. It’s not about you. Focus on delivering what you said you’d deliver, not on the noise, whether coming from your own head or external critics. If your efforts aren’t in service of the goal of the project, refocus.

Engaging with those around you is key to the realisation of what you’re making. Focus on doing the absolute best you can with what you have. It’s easier to fall back on excuses, but it doesn’t serve the purpose of why you’re there.

There’s no quick fix to imposter syndrome. Some of the most successful and confident-seeming people in our game have confided in me that they still occasionally suffer from it. I don’t always immediately realise I’m experiencing it either, but when I do, I get through it faster by activating my antidote. Now I’m quicker at recognising an opportunity and seizing it. I stay committed and proactive, knowing when I need another point of view in a situation, and also where I can provide that to others.

Put the attention back on completing the task at hand.

Ultimately, it’s not about you. It’s about delivering on what you said you’d deliver, and recognising when you’re off course. If your goal is to personally succeed, you’ve already lost the plot. The team or the idea won’t stand up to that kind of competition. So, put the attention back on completing the task at hand. That said, you are not the machine; you are a unique POV shaped by the challenges you have faced. Embracing your experience and point of view is vital to moving forward.

While imposter syndrome can be paralysing, especially early in your career, these feelings of doubt can be managed with the right strategy. 

By consistently practising active listening, demonstrating sincerity, and fostering collaboration, you can more easily identify and seize opportunities while genuinely enjoying what you do and the community around you.