Develop a more intentional approach to your careers and life. Who do you want to be? My approach has always been to be as transparent as possible with my family, friends, and colleagues. Authenticity is what you will get from me. While in some instances, people will see it as a vulnerability, I am seeing it as a strength. It helped me keep things simple in my life. Being truthful is how you gain trust from people around you because they know your word has meaning.
Starting something new is scary. Learning to believe in yourself can be a critical precursor to starting a new initiative. Why is it so important to learn to believe in yourself? How can someone work on gaining these skills? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, authors, writers, coaches, medical professionals, teachers, to share empowering insights about “How To Learn To Believe In Yourself.” As a part of this series we had the pleasure of interviewing Sebastien Taveau.
Sebastien Taveau is a platform and product ecosystem executive with over 25 years of technical and professional experience in various industries, including FinTech, mobile payment, security, and identity, as well as several consumer solutions.
He is a strategic thinker and a hands-on doer who strongly believes in intelligent disruption, clear strategic vision, and practical execution. His latest endeavor, the book “The Delivery Man: Turning ideas into products in Silicon Valley” is a best seller on Amazon.
Sebastien has led or been part of the core execution/executive teams to over a hundred successful project deliveries, including Zelle, Mastercard Masters of Code, Human Interface technology for Android devices, and PayPal Mobile.
He has provided expert opinions for and has been quoted in numerous publications, including WSJ, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Reuters, Mashable, USA Today, CNN, CBC, Forbes, and Newsweek
Sebastien’s specialties include disruptive innovation, emerging tech, fintech, xCommerce, solution architecture, human interface, and distributed computing (aka blockchain/cloud).
Active in volunteerism, he is involved in non-profit organizations that promote public education for all, gender equality, STEM access equity. He also mentors and advises start-ups and young entrepreneurs of all creeds.
Sebastien is a member of the exclusive eBay Inventors Club and has twenty + granted patents in his portfolio. He believes in creating positive environments as a team leader and empowering his crew to achieve their full potential.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am Sebastien Taveau, a Frenchman living in America who wants to help others regain control over their identity and ambition, to move from robotic, toilful careers to the freedom and success I found. But to get there, my journey was atypical. I grew up in France in a middle-class family. My father’s job got us to move every four years or so to a new place. Nothing out of the ordinary except for the lack of interest or understanding in anything technology in my family beside me. We had our first color TV almost 5 years after the whole neighborhood. I can tell you my siblings and I hung out at my neighbor’s house often. However, being from a family of educators, having a curious mind was strongly encouraged. This is how I discovered computers in the 80s with school friends. Knowledge was acquired by doing and breaking (and not telling our parents). From there, the technology bug was acquired and along the big dreams of technology wonders and potential.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I always had a fascination for the USA but more importantly for everything relating to technology which for me was Silicon Valley. The career I have was not how I envisioned it as a young self. My formal education is in international business administration from the University of Paris 1 — Pantheon Sorbonne. My original career plan was to join one of the European Institutions in Brussels or Strasbourg and build myself a career of public service administrator.
It did not happen as planned and I think for the better. My uncle encouraged me from a young age to experiment with his computers (Apple Mac which were expensive at that time) with no fear. Even if I was to damage one, he always said it could be replaced.
Back in 1996, when an internship opportunity presented itself in Austin, TX, he was the one who bought me my airfare to come here. It was supposed to be for 6 months and became 25+ years.
When I attended my first event in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was hooked. You could feel the constant vibes of technology innovation. Discussions were stimulating my curiosity even more. It was like I had found the environment I liked the most. It took me a few more years before moving from Austin to the Bay Area.
It also came with the feeling of being the outsider in the first few years. Expanding a network of contacts was easy in the SF Bay Area but it seems to be superficial contact especially when you were not the “it” kid. This started to weigh heavily on my well-being to constantly run the rat race. It took years to break that cycle.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There were a lot of mistakes made for sure. None of them were extremely bad especially since I am a fixer including fixing what I break personally. The funniest one may have been during my first real managerial function in my late 20s. The team was focused on embedded software for silicon components. One of the large projects we had was for a well-known mobile phone manufacturer. The project required coordination across multiple teams and regions. As I was struggling in managing my first large project and having difficulties aligning the skills needed by the team with the ones we had. One day, I got the most random call from a manager out of our office in St Petersburg, Russia. He was inquiring as to what work his team of 60 people should focus on since I was their manager. I had no idea I had a team in Russia and even less that their skills were exactly what we were missing. So, with a bit of luck, the project went back on track and completed on time.
The lesson? Always check carefully with your talent partner who is in your reporting organization. And make sure to communicate rapidly with everyone. Communication is absolutely key.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Of course, I cannot omit to talk about the book “The Delivery Man” which was released last November.
Working for 25+ years in the tech industry has taught me valuable life lessons on how to achieve holistic, life-balanced success. By sharing my stories and advice, I hope to provide material for strategies that can lead to more intentionality in the realization of your true American Dream. I want to help others regain control over their identity and ambition, to move from robotic, toilful careers to the freedom and success I found. With similar intentions to those of my compatriot, the Marquis de Lafayette in 1776, I am determined to guide and inspire those who want to take charge of their lives and create something different for themselves. What is the American Dream 2.0, reboot edition?
Additionally, I also joined an angel investment syndicate, Angel Squad under the hospice of Hustle Fund. It’s a lot of fun and learning being able to access so much information and making vetted investment decisions. The nice part of being a LP (limited partner) is that it gives more freedom in the investment decision.
And of course, I am involved in non-profit organizations supporting STEM education for women of color, gender equality, financial education for underserved populations, and promoting cultural events from different countries or regions in Europe.
Lastly, I have been taking a lot of courses in different topics including learning a new musical instrument, and of course some of the latest trends in technology like AI/GPT so I can keep my knowledge and skills up-to-date. It’s important to be a lifelong learner.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to believe in yourself? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Believing in myself has sometimes been something I did not accepted. For example, I was a thought-leader in an industry for many years. I shaped that industry before it became the norm (mobile consumer biometrics). However, the visibility was intense, and I had the feeling sometimes of not being the right person. Why me? And then the company was acquired and as with any acquisition, after logging my time during the transition, I was invited to leave based on strong hints I overstayed my welcome. It was a bit maddening to be the face of the change, THE industry expert, and then nobody. Or at least that’s what I was thinking and self-doubting. In that specific case, believing in myself was to find the energy to bounce to my next opportunity and to recognize I could do it all over again for something else if I believed in that something and in myself. And it did happen.
I was recently reading an article in CNBC about why so many women in executive roles were stepping down. Someone commented wondering “[if] these departures really constitute failures of women to hold down roles, or are they more signals of redefining what it means to succeed?” In recent decades, the American Dream is also associated with national disillusionment. There’s ample evidence that upward economic mobility has declined, and income inequality has risen in the United States. A 2020 poll showed that fewer adults now believe in the attainability of the American Dream for themselves and that the younger generations are less likely to believe in the ideal than their older counterparts. The shift appears to indicate that pursuing personal success instead of being part of something greater can be damaging for those who remain too focused on their unattainable dreams, at the expense of personal authenticity or fulfillment. It can then become an unhealthy pursuit, where many get lost and cannot live up to their own fantasy expectations.
I think the fundamental element here is not gender related but the fact newcomers in the workforce are bringing a completely new view of success. They believe in themselves and are bringing great values to the workforce. However, they are also not letting a job define who they are or what will be success for them. The strive not for a lifelong job at one company but for life balance is important and succeeding in friendships is as important as succeeding professionally. They believe in their whole self not just their work persona. And believing in one’s whole self allows one to be more authentic and happier. This can be summarized quite well with soul alignments. If a company has a culture but no soul, it will not be able to compete for talents as easily as a company who pursues endeavor aligned with its members aspirations. And I am actively not using the word “employees” which will be irrelevant. You can say workers, I prefer members.
The short answer to everything I have been exploring recently is how to achieve mental wellness in all aspects of life.
What exactly does it mean to believe in yourself? Can I believe that I can be a great artist even though I’m not very talented? Can I believe I can be a gold medal Olympic even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?
It is important to dream but in the pursuit of such ambition, one should not lose sight of the journey to get there. It never happens overnight. It is also important to be realistic. For quite some time, I ran the rat race, dreaming of being the next great tech visionary and making a lot of money along the way. Then I realized the toxicity of being on this journey and re-calibrated my dreams. As I said earlier, I call it the American Dream 2.0 — Reboot edition.
More than just the pursuit of material success and a promise of opportunity, the American Dream is an aspiration to a way of life that enables all individuals to strive for and reach their fullest potential. This idea of self-fulfillment has propelled the United States as a beacon of progress, with America often serving as an oasis where people from around the world come in search of greater opportunities, freedom, and prosperity. It’s a grand dream that has remained doable over time.
The American Dream is also a global hope. All around the world, people dream of its attainability and how they can succeed with determination and hard work. But there was more to the definition: it’s a dream of social order in which any person can attain the fullest stature they are innately capable of and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth.
“The Delivery Man” is a recollection of experiences that led me to develop my most powerful professional self, my finest worth and inner calm. The ability to recognize my strengths but also my limitations helped me become more realistic and happier. So now, I believe strongly in myself, and I know I can back it up with experiences and skills. Finding that true self as early as possible in life is hard but very fulfilling.
And honestly, in this quest to find my authentic self, I almost lost myself a few times because of the need to pay bills, to contribute to my family, to be the provider and caregiver. It was not easy. When I realized I was good at delivering projects or products either from scratch or pivoting existing ones, it also helped me seek only work I was interested in. If you believe in what you are tasked to do, you believe in yourself.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
We all have these moments of self-doubt. They can be triggered by fear of failing, feeling over our head into a project, even toxic managers can put down our self-confidence. The Impostor Syndrome happens even at the top. More than once, in the middle of a delivery for a project, the question “Why am I doing this or that?” popped in my mind. If you let negativity drive your vision of who you are or what you are doing, it will drag you down. There is a whole chapter about it in my book. While we all strive to make decisions based on facts and data, most of the time, we only have partial data points. I think this is the most obvious impact I observed when in self-doubt. I delayed decisions a few times for too long and it could have had negative consequences especially when it is around data security. The key takeaway is to remember you are not alone and you can ask for help. Being surrendered by people smarter than you or experts in a key topic should be the norm. Yet some people fear not being the smartest in the room, especially at the executive level. It never ends well. Being able to learn from others but also listening to advice can help you overcome any doubts and make the right decision in a timely fashion.
And since I preach authenticity, few times in my career, I was laid off. This is usually a big ego burst and triggers a lot of questions for anyone in this situation. We see that in today’s market with so many workers being let go and wondering “Why me?”. I asked myself that question a few times. And yes, when in doubt, when uncertainty in one’s future, or if the job was the identity of the person like it was for me at a point, it can affect the cognitive capacity to make a rational choice. I took on some jobs I didn’t like which made me even more miserable which created a downward spiral. Having the support of friends and family and learning to think positive helped me out of this rot but I have colleagues who couldn’t and took their life. This is extreme and we should not shy away from talking about it. Again, “Why me?”. Why did I get out of my hole, but they didn’t. Could I have done something to help them even if I was worried about myself? Asking for help is not a stigma. It is a sign of strength.
At what point did you realize that in order to get to the next level, it would be necessary to build up your belief in yourself? Can you share the story with us?
Being a first-generation immigrant in the US, I carry with me the culture of my upbringing. And it did hold me down early in my career. I had to learn to stop being French in many aspects. Culturally if you don’t have an engineering degree you cannot work in engineering. And yet, here I was working in the technology field, managing engineering teams and working on high profile projects. Being French was looking at me as a fraud. Being American was looking at it as someone believed in my ability to do the job. As we jokingly say among my immigrant friends, we were raised with negative reinforcement vs the positive reinforcement in the US. The second aspect was to take ownership of my accomplishments and letting people know I was the one who did it. In France, you have a job to do, you do it, and you will be recognized for constantly doing your job well. In the US, you must be your own champion and tell people what you did otherwise, you won’t be seen for promotion or bonuses.
The advice I received and aggregated across my career also led me to the sport analogy below.
· Set boundaries.
· Seek help.
· Life is a team sport (family, friends, colleagues).
· You don’t have to win or even be the captain. As long as you play it and it delivers joy.
· Just find the playbook for your life and share it.
· Some of your plays may be adopted by others.
· Always learn by observation.
As I said in my book, I also created my personal board of advisors with people close to me or who I trust to be bluntly honest with me. I can share with them my doubts, my thinking and get precious advice on important decisions. It gives me the confidence to be better tuned with my aspirations therefore believing in them and myself.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
Video Link: https://youtu.be/Xe6N_LnmNFM
I explore a lot of these concepts in my book but let me share here the essence of the most important ones. These are in no particular order, just try to practice all of them at the same time.
1 . Develop a more intentional approach to your careers and life. Who do you want to be? My approach has always been to be as transparent as possible with my family, friends, and colleagues. Authenticity is what you will get from me. While in some instances, people will see it as a vulnerability, I am seeing it as a strength. It helped me keep things simple in my life. Being truthful is how you gain trust from people around you because they know your word has meaning.
2 . Prioritizes personal values and fulfillment over unrealistic dreams. As I said above, being authentic and truthful is who I am. These are my values. Not having to constantly pretend or wear masks in different settings make it so much easier to find peace and balance. It also helps to stay grounded in reality.
3 . You can create a structure and communication framework to support growth in your organization without compromising your authentic self, relationships, or values. This is important to focus on communication. Going back to the sport analogy, you don’t have to do it alone but it is important to communicate your intentions and expectations. No one is a great mind reader.
4 . Be kind to others and to yourself. You can work behind the scenes and still build a sustainable and successful career that rewards you with acknowledgment, respect, and meaningful accomplishments for what you deliver. This is something I have tried to exemplify in my life and career. Sometimes you are at the top and everyone is nice to you. You can easily fall into the trap of feeling “superior” to others because of that treatment. I always approach everyone as if I was at the bottom and no one cares about who I am. That way, I must focus on them and see how I can gain their trust. We have all heard of the story of how you treat restaurant staff is a great reflection of your true self. I worked in pubs and restaurants when I was a student. I have seen the best and the worst in humanity. One of the greatest memories was to have Roger Moore aka James Bond, ordering a drink from me and being super nice. He was chit chatting with everyone, being Roger Moore the person not the famous actor. He was kind but also sure of who he was. And no, I cannot tell you what James Bond drinks when he is not James Bond. It was our special shared moment.
5 . You can meld and own both your professional and personal lives — it is not an “or” proposition; it must be an “and” proposition. This is the last but most important element. They always say don’t bring your “self” at work and don’t bring work at home. This is so wrong. You can see that the inspiration of the current workforce is to not be defined by work but by what inspire them. If you remain truthful and authentic to your values and yourself, this is how people should see you at work and at home. It took me some time to realize I could have both. For too long, we were made to believe you had to sacrifice one to have the other. It was even more atrocious for women. Why should someone compromise a career for family or sacrifice family for a career. Even the words used like compromise, sacrifice are loaded with negativity. We need to bring back positive thinking and life as a holistic whole.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
ST: A lot of this starts with the impostor syndrome. We all have it. As I said earlier, it was even more important earlier in my career. As soon as I realized I was able to do what I was tasked for but to do it well, it started a pattern of being able to question my self-doubt or self-criticism and try to find solutions or answers to them. Most of the time, it was with the help of others. Again, asking for help is important because it gives a different perspective to your thinking. And most of the time, the person helping will provide the positivity needed. Too many times I have seen people going to extremes because of these negative streams of thoughts. Silicon Valley is highly competitive and if you do not have this capacity to set boundaries or to re-frame what it means to be successful, you will easily fall into depression or worse.
So instead of looking at things through the negative lens, if it happens, it is important to ask for help but also to put on your learning hat and maybe acquire a skill or knowledge you didn’t have before. Having the satisfaction of personal growth can do wonder in resetting a mindset. Even if it is taking a short class of 1h online, that accomplishment will feel very good and will propel you back into positivity.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
ST: Confidence should not be confused with arrogance. I strongly believe you can succeed by being kind, vulnerable. However, it’s been the norm that to get to the top, you must be ruthless, aggressive, even develop a win-at-all-cost mentality. Unfortunately, we still find people coming to the workforce with that mindset and thinking they are superior to everyone else. Usually, these individuals may meet success but in the long run, they are so toxic that they can’t keep going forever. When no one wants to work with you, it is a strong signal you have a behavioral issue. That being said, if you are not that person but you want to own your achievements and successes, you have to be your own champion.
And as you are blowing your own horn, never forget to reward and acknowledge anyone who got you there. Because most of the time, they will also be your champions. This always gives a boost of self-confidence when someone speaks highly of you. And if you are in a position where toxicity is getting to you, never confuse determination with obstinacy. Same is applicable for project management, you have to let go sometimes for your own mental sake. Personally, I have had people working with me at 4 different companies. And I have joined companies because I really liked the leadership style and how they treated the workers.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
ST: First and foremost, as I said earlier, we all suffer from it at certain times. So, the first advice is “don’t beat yourself up”. Secondly, if you are unsure, find re-assurance with someone you trust and can talk to. Be open, be vulnerable and accept criticism or advice as long as it is constructive. Few times, I had friends or close colleagues being brutally honest with me but also letting me know when I had done something exceptional in their eyes. The impostor syndrome is not something that will go away but if you are willing to be a lifelong learner, you will eventually learn to minimize its impact on your psyche because you will have the capacity to pick up a new skill that will get you closer to reduce your self-perceive gap in knowledge. I always try to do 4h a week of learning something completely new and sometimes random. Keep me on my toes and my mind sharp. And sometimes, you get great stories out of it. During the pandemic, I picked up a few extra-curricular skills I would not have thought about and unrelated to my professional field. I’ll give one to your reader because it was hard. Bagpipe. I am not that good and I would not go to competition because I would truly be an impostor but for me, it gives me the satisfaction to be able to play one of the most difficult instruments on this planet (or so they claim).
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
ST: I share my stories and advice to help readers develop strategies that can lead to more intentionality in the realization of the new and achievable American Dream. From starting my career as a young, inexperienced professional to becoming a seasoned executive, the insights on how to navigate the tech industry and achieve success without sacrificing personal values or relationships became important to me. I also emphasize the importance of work-life balance and want to share practical strategies for achieving a more balanced life, including setting realistic goals, prioritizing self-care, and creating boundaries between work and personal life whenever possible. When someone says “my work is my life”, I instantly cringe. We must work towards creating a culture that values workers’ well-being and recognizes the importance of a healthy work-life balance.
If I could (and I will advocate for it), I would like to create a new discipline in the corporate world. Chief Soul Officer or Chief Karma Officer or Chief Wellness Officer. There is this strive by the upcoming generation to focus on important challenges outside of work. Volunteering has increased over the past 3 years. I think people realized that a lot of the events affecting their life were bigger than them. This is an important moment in the corporate world. How do you fulfill the soul of your members with meaningful commitments to support them at work and outside of work? The soul of the company needs to complement the soul of the person. Corporate culture is just a tiny element of this new challenge.
If this can become the norm, then you will have empowered workers and with it the self-confidence to go beyond themselves because it will help the greater purpose they may seek.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
ST: Simone Biles. What she did took a massive amount of courage. When she decided to not compete in the Olympics to take care of her mental health. It was a very powerful moment. Here you have this elite athlete who recognized she needed to step off to find herself back. I still have goose bumps when I read about it.
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Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.