I had thought that experience made you feel like you belong, but I now think it’s the opposite. The more rooms you’re in, the more talented people you meet, the bigger the world gets, the feeling gets deeper. But with that, you learn how to better manage it and remember why your unique story deserves to get told.
As a part of our series about how very accomplished leaders can succeed despite experiencing imposter syndrome, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mona Munayyer Gonzalez, Managing Director, New York at independent, bicoastal creative agency Pereira O’Dell.
Mona seeks to create an environment that inspires people to build the ad agency they always wished existed. Her nearly 15 years of brand management expertise began in global creative networks and sharpened in boutique innovation and brand content-led shops. This blend of agency experience led to a deep knowledge of brand-building and passion for leading teams who believe creative storytelling is the way to do it. Prior to Pereira O’Dell, Mona oversaw iconic brands in CPG, spirits, luxury, hospitality and technology at JWT, BBDO and The Barbarian Group.
Within and beyond the advertising industry, Mona remains committed to creating a better world. She sits on the board of Fearless Beauty, a non-profit organization that empowers women impacted by institutional and social injustice through cosmetology education and beauty industry mentorship, and serves as a member of Chief, a network built to drive more women into positions of power and keep them there. Currently, Mona lives with her husband and daughter in Montclair, NJ.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your backstory so our readers can get to know you a bit better?
I’m a second generation Arab-American raised by parents who immigrated to the US over 45 years ago. Talk about differences in generations. They both worked over 40 years at the same U.S. pharmaceutical company, my dad a formulation pharmacist and my mom a molecular microbiologist. But their real passion lied in the non-profit organization they formed upon moving to the states that promoted awareness and understanding of Palestinian heritage. My culture played a huge role in my upbringing. I always wondered how the daughter of two scientists ended up in advertising. In hindsight, I was always surrounded by this blend of arts and science, and, above all, storytelling to preserve a culture.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? What lessons or takeaways did you learn from that?
On my first day in advertising, a director warned me of another colleague who had a reputation for upsetting people. If I had to cry, do it in the bathroom. How disappointing that one of my first memories was getting told: “Hey, there are jerks here, and not only is that understood and accepted, but the expectation is that you enable it too by hiding your hurt.” Was that his intention in warning me? I don’t think so. I actually think he was trying to do me a favor. But those small, seemingly nothing moments can culminate to form a powerful dynamic in this industry that I knew I’d never be comfortable with. Over the years, I realized I could either accept the realities given to me and know I’d never be happy, or fight to find the good people who believed a better version of this industry existed.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
The energy of the co-founders, Andrew and PJ. They give life to the agency in completely different ways. Andrew is an outgoing, wildly optimistic Tennessean, and PJ is an incredibly passionate Brazilian with a thoughtful creative mind. I met them at a time when, frankly, I had had enough of the ad industry and the egos and inauthenticity that came with it. Then, I met these co-founders who, beyond having enough drive to turn the industry on its head, were decent, good humans. The humanity starts with them and is true of the agency. There is a goodness in the people here that I am equally thankful for and protective of.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who played a crucial role in helping get you to where you are?
My team at my first job at JWT NY. I was as green as you could get, but they saw potential in me and fought to get me into rooms that no Account Executive would normally be in. Every leader in that group had a totally different personality, but it worked, and we looked out for each other. They embodied this leadership quality that I was so grateful for: pushing you into the unknown to see what you’re capable of, while still being supportive in the background.
Thank you for that. Now, shifting to our main focus here, how would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?
What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?
Moving forward means focusing on what matters and drowning out the rest of the noise. Imposter Syndrome materializes for me as noise. It badgers me until I feel too defeated to move forward.
How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?
Imposter Syndrome is an inherently selfish experience. “I can’t do it.” “I’m not qualified.” “They’re going to find me out.” Someone once told me you make decisions either out of fear or love. If you’re acting out of fear and insecurity, chances are, you’re not treating others with the empathy they deserve.
We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?
I’ve realized thatit doesn’t go away with more years of experience. I had thought that experience made you feel like you belong, but I now think it’s the opposite. The more rooms you’re in, the more talented people you meet, the bigger the world gets, the feeling gets deeper. But with that, you learn how to better manage it and remember why your unique story deserves to get told.
Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?
My daughter has become my antidote. She’s at the age where she really believes I’m the funniest, coolest person in the world. I’ve never experienced anything like it, just pure joy and happiness that you exist. There will be a day where that will change and she’ll realize that I’m really not that funny, but I won’t forget this feeling.
In your opinion, what are five steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite that feeling?
There are five people that I call when I’m feeling not good enough, who puff me up when I’m a little deflated.
- The straight shooter. This person has no problem calling you out for unfairly holding yourself back and injects some confidence into your thinking. Not into sugarcoating.
- The eternal optimist. Someone to point out the silver linings in the rainbow of life. Definitely into sugarcoating. Sometimes that’s okay.
- The thoughtful listener. Gentle and rationale. No judgement. Your free therapist.
- The wise owl. Draws from their life experience to make you feel like if they can do it, so can you.
- My mom. Or whoever loves you unconditionally. They believe you are the best thing in the world, and everyone else can go jump in a lake.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
Ina Garten. She built her career in politics and now works as a celebrity chef. She must have some good stories.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me on LinkedIn.
Thank you for joining us! This conversation was very inspiring.