Your background doesn't matter, but can work in your favor. I come from humble beginnings -- a long line of carnie folk. My grandfather and great grandfather owned a carnival. My father, arguably one of the smartest people I know, was also the first person in his family to go to college. On top of that, I grew up in a small southern town in the 1970s and 1980s, a place where little girls were not supposed to excel in math and science, much less grow up to lead in these areas.
Perhaps this background is why I resonate so well with this quote from Oprah Winfrey: "It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you. Always."
I whole-heartedly believe that the ability to succeed comes from within -- in the end, where you came from just doesn't matter. But early in my career, I was not as confident. Despite being younger than everyone I knew in my class (and I had gone to a large public undergrad), I somehow managed to get into Wharton Business School. I was intimidated by the caliber of my fellow classmates, to say the least. I vividly remember walking across campus with a classmate during my first semester and noticing a career fair being set up. I longingly glanced at the booths of the top consulting firm and said something under my breath about how I wished I could work for one of them. My classmate replied by saying that was a great idea, "you should apply for summer internships." I looked at him, horrified, and said I couldn't possibly land one of those jobs -- there were so many others in our class more qualified.
My friend's next response was profound: "Of course you can get the job. You are at Wharton, just like everyone else in our class. But I guarantee, if you think you aren't good enough to work there, the consulting firms will think the same thing."
I took his advice seriously. I practiced consulting interview methods incessantly, walked into my interviews with confidence and the hard work paid off. To my knowledge, I was the only person to land internship offers with all three of the top firms. But more importantly, the entire experience taught me a valuable lesson: Don't let circumstances hold you back -- hard work and confidence lead to success.
Since those early business school days, I've learned to believe in my abilities, not just in spite of my background, but also because of it. For example, working summers in a small town Texas bank exposed me first-hand to sexism and discrimination. As a result, I was able to leverage that experience many times in my first few years working in technology, an industry lacking in gender equality. Plus, being from "carnie stock" has made me scrappy -- I often find I'm willing to work harder and be more persistent than most people to achieve my goals.
While the ability to triumph does come from within, be proud of where you came from. Use your background to your advantage. These experiences have undoubtedly made you into the person you are today -- by embracing these roots and appreciating how far you've come, you can channel this knowledge to confidently step forward and better the future.