Shanna McAlarnen of Incentive: “It’s normal to have Imposter Syndrome”

It’s normal to have Imposter Syndrome. Everyone feels like they’re a fraud and that they don’t know what they’re doing. In the beginning, I was only telling “some” people about my career change, and I didn’t feel confident enough to own it fully and yell it from the rooftops. I thought I had no business […]

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It’s normal to have Imposter Syndrome. Everyone feels like they’re a fraud and that they don’t know what they’re doing. In the beginning, I was only telling “some” people about my career change, and I didn’t feel confident enough to own it fully and yell it from the rooftops. I thought I had no business making this change and that someone was going to call me out on it. Now I understand that Imposter Syndrome comes with stepping into new territory and doesn’t mean that you’re alone or where you’re not meant to be.


Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shanna McAlarnen.

Certified Life Coach, Shanna McAlarnen, helps millennials reinvent themselves by moving from the predictable path to confidently living life their own way. She’s the founder of Incentive, a coaching company that provides coaching, education, and empowerment for young adults from all walks of life. Shanna brings her professional tools, zest for life, and lessons learned to inspire young adults to be their authentic selves in a world where conformity is too easily accepted.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Absolutely! I was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I grew up living in a house with my mom, dad, and my older brother. My dad was Roman Catholic and my mom was Protestant, and when I was in 2nd grade, my mom converted to Catholicism and moved my brother and I from public school to Catholic school. My move to Catholic school, which I attended from 3rd grade until college was a major catalyst for my quest for a new chapter in life. In many ways, I was a “late bloomer.” I didn’t feel like I fit into a religious way of life and it was hard to me to fully understand myself and what it meant to feel different. As a teenager, I didn’t have the tools to express myself fully, which lead me to be curious about a world I hadn’t experienced yet and to develop the understanding that it was up to me to seek out the diverse experiences I wanted to have. Although seeing life from that perspective was inspiring, it was also extremely challenging. I learned many of my life lessons from being a curious and explorative young adult. Ultimately, my experience learning tough life lessons and being forced by my surroundings to figure out my true internal compass drove my desire to empower young adults and start Incentive. Although times are different than they were in the 80s and 90s and the next generation is proving to be more self-aware, the process of getting to know yourself has remained constant. If I can use what I’ve learned to inspire young adults to be who they are no matter their background, then I’ve contributed to the world in the best way that I personally can.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Not all storms come to disrupt your life; some come to clear your path.” Thinking through the rough patches in my young years, (from working in toxic workplace cultures to hard break ups and everything in between) I often felt like life was happening “to me.” Looking back, I wouldn’t change those hard times because they enabled the evolution of the person I’ve worked hard to become.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Inner strength, reliability, and optimism.

I come from a two-parent household that provided me with a good deal of love and support. While I am extremely grateful for that privilege, I also had to find myself in a community of conformity, which felt restricting. Years of learning about myself, growing on purpose, and rising above challenges helped me to view dark times as opportunities to find the light. I think these qualities have worked together in every phase of my life — I’ve been the person friends go to when they need support and the colleague sensitive projects have been delegated to. As a business owner, I show up for my clients the way I want people to show up for me and help them find the positive no matter what they’re facing.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

Before my Second Chapter, I was an Animal Nurse for 12 years. I worked with animals since I was 17 (although I was always trying to secretly adopt stray animals as a child) and attended college to be an animal nurse. Up until several years ago, it was the only thing I’ve ever felt passionate about. I had a well-rounded career and I worked in a variety of clinical specialties, including general practice, emergency services, and biomedical research.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

Essentially, I left my job as a senior animal nurse and went back to school to become a Certified Life Coach. I worked my day job, went to school at night, and practice coached on the weekends for almost a year before I decided to go all in and start Incentive.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

In my last nursing job, I carved out a role where I taught new employees, students and interns. I became dedicated to creating a positive and inclusive learning environment and made a point to build relationships based on open communication and connecting with my trainees on a deeper level as opposed to the standard work-related conversations. After a while, I noticed that my passion for clinical work was waning and that I much preferred speaking with my trainees and colleagues about their lives and aspirations. The running joke is that I started to have a line out of my office of colleagues and students who just wanted to talk. I think as that “line” grew, I knew I had something special I wasn’t putting to use and made the decision to change that.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

The ironic thing is that I actually hired a Life Coach to help me discover what was next for me in my career as I was coming to better understand my strengths. This life coach ended up becoming my mentor who taught me about coaching as a career path (which I discovered I was doing for years without realizing it). I honestly had a lot of barriers as I was transitioning. I had only one career in my life — animals were all I knew and initially I didn’t know my identity without them. I worked with my coach and spent time every single day getting to know myself again as a person, outside of who I was a nurse or who I had been years prior. Developing a new relationship with myself helped me to acknowledge my natural strengths and start to apply them with confidence in a different way.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

I’ve had a full circle experience, and I’m grateful to say that I’ve become a partner of Empowering Veterinary Teams (EVT), where I can give back to the animal industry that shaped me for so many years. EVT’s mission is to instruct, inspire, and impact the veterinary industry to come together and strengthen workplace culture and patient outcomes. More broadly, EVT seeks to change industry standards around Well-Being. I’m also hoping to launch a new and improved service before the end of 2021 that will help more young adults navigate their life path with certainty and confidence, which is something I wish I had earlier in life.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Yes! I’m very fortunate to have several friends and mentors who have helped me, but one person who stands out is one of my best friends Adam who connected me to my very first Life Coach. I always feel like I owe him the credit, because if he didn’t see something in me and be the friend I needed during my time of change, I probably wouldn’t have found a coach on my own and I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

In the time between hiring my first life coach and starting my coach training program, I had to find a new apartment and my coach challenged me to explore options I wouldn’t normally consider. In taking on this challenge, I ended up moving in with a roommate (who was a stranger at the time) who has now become one of my best friends and biggest business supporters. I love this story because it showcases what was possible in making decisions outside my comfort zone and it led me to a life-long friend who has been integral to the evolution of my life and business. Anyone who has ever had a roommate knows that co-living can be a headache, but I really believe it worked out the way it did because of my personal growth and the newfound desire and energy I put into my moving project.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

Yes! All the time. I don’t think this is something you work through once and never face again. I believe if you are on a path of growth, questioning yourself will come up often by default. What works for me is to surround myself with positive people who encourage me on the daily, and to have a coach who will prompt me to remember my goals and return to the person I know myself to be. I also spend my mornings connecting to myself and consuming inspirational content to set myself up for the day in order to pre-empt any limiting belief that may surface.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

I didn’t! This may be one of the biggest things I learned. I didn’t really know what it meant to have a support system. I was a nurse, so I was used to taking care of others first and always doing things on my own. So much of my success was in recognizing that I needed support and I took the time to build relationships with the people and structures that I wanted in my life to help me grow as a person and business owner.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that? I’d say leaving a 12-year career and starting a business in an entirely new industry was way outside of my comfort zone! I knew that if I kept my day job and only coached in my free time, I would remain comfortable and not take the chance I knew I needed to take. Ultimately, my strategy was just ripping the band-aid off and diving into my career transition before I had time to talk myself out of it! I don’t recommend that for everyone, but I think it makes for an interesting fun fact about me.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why?

1. It’s normal to have Imposter Syndrome. Everyone feels like they’re a fraud and that they don’t know what they’re doing. In the beginning, I was only telling “some” people about my career change, and I didn’t feel confident enough to own it fully and yell it from the rooftops. I thought I had no business making this change and that someone was going to call me out on it. Now I understand that Imposter Syndrome comes with stepping into new territory and doesn’t mean that you’re alone or where you’re not meant to be.

2. Ask for help from people who want to support you early and before you really need it. It’s way easier to know who to ask for help when you map it out ahead of time, rather than scrambling to find support when you’re in desperate need. By building a resource list ahead of time, you’ll stay ahead of the game, feel more supported, and be able to show up even when times get tough.

3. Surround yourself with a community of people who are doing what you want to do (in real life and on social media). I’ve found that the best way to learn is from people who have been in the game longer than you and who act as a resource as you continue to learn and experiment. You’ll find that when you want to learn about something, there will be someone in your network who can provide counsel or recommendations on books or courses. This approach has not only helped me with my business, but has enabled me to become a more well-rounded leader in my field and in the world at large.

4. You aren’t expected to know everything. When you try to be an expert in every field, you end up not excelling in any area and can burn out much more quickly. Use your strengths to the best of your ability and seek guidance and resources on areas in which you’re less familiar. As an added bonus, this approach will allow you to build some really great relationships.

5. Being an entrepreneur and CEO aren’t the same thing. Entrepreneurs have ideas and CEOs make decisions. If you’re full of ideas without decisions, your business isn’t going to thrive. It’s necessary to be clear about these roles in order to develop a strategy for including both within your organization.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

It would be a “You Are Not Your Parents” Movement. So many adults and young adults take on the identity of the people who provide an example in their lives early on, especially the expectations and judgement of their parents. Many emotional blocks accompany these expectations and judgements, often subconsciously. As a former young adult who didn’t want to live within the expectations of my parents, I would want to spearhead a movement that would encourage individuals to be radically themselves and let go of needing approval. I genuinely think familial and generational change would create a lot more happiness, liberation, and personal success.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

Elaine Welteroth. I discovered her a few years ago and have been inspired by her ever since. Elaine has had such an incredible career path, from being the youngest Editor in Chief at Teen Vogue to writing a book to now trailblazing her career on TV and being a voice for the younger generation. I also just love her energy, the fun she’s always having, and her fashion. I would love to hang out with her! ☺

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can get to know my work at https://www.incentivecoaching.com and follow me on IG @in.cen.tive

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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