Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
“Chasing dreams is a marathon, not a sprint.”
(August 15, 1985- March 31, 2019)
Imagine running your victory lap. It’s the final stretch, and you’re exactly where you’d only dreamed of before this point. You’ve made it. You’ve checked every box, dotted every ‘i’, crossed every ‘t’, yet you still don’t feel like a winner. You still don’t feel deserving or worthy, despite days, weeks, months, and maybe even years of hard work.
“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously,” Michelle Obama stated during an appearance at a London school. Our forever First Lady was talking about impostor syndrome and how it has affected her on her journey. People from all walks of life are affected by this persistent inability to believe their success is real and a result of their efforts, knowledge, or skills. Of course, if you are Black and woman, this inability occurs more frequently. For Black women, the impostor syndrome is potentially triggered by feeling like an outcast in predominantly White spaces, navigating gendered racial microaggressions, stereotype threat, or simply existing in a world that either ignores, silences, or objectifies them.
What Is Impostor Syndrome?
On your race towards your destination, impostor syndrome can be defined as an experience of feeling like a fraud, intellectually and/or professionally. Experiencing imposter syndrome is feeling like you aren’t good enough, like you don’t belong, and/or like you’re phony. It is only a matter of time before people “find you out.” It’s not taking compliments when you know you put in the work. It’s downplaying the prestigious award you received. It’s self-fulfilling, self-loathing, and self-squeezing into the boxes your enemies pre-destined to put you in.
The term “impostor syndrome” came about in 1978 by American psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who believed that women were less likely to internalize success. Research even supports that impostor syndrome doesn’t just limit women, but also people of color. You know how it is. Rising to the top only to find a lack of representation in senior leadership roles, or even better, being told “You’re Black, so you’ve got to work twice as hard.” The aforementioned combined with microaggressions, a lack of support, and toxic work environments are enough to throw anyone’s mental game off. You find yourself not only questioning your worth but if the tax of your counterparts is higher. If they’re running faster than you. If they’ll last longer than you. If your dedication, hard work, and patience is enough.
“Most important thing is to get rid of doubt. If you got doubt in what you’re doing it’s not gonna work.”
(August 15, 1985- March 31, 2019)
Signs That You May Be Experiencing Imposter Syndrome
While ‘imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence, there are several other signs, thoughts, and feelings that could point towards this experience. This includes:
- An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
- Attributing your success to external factors other than yourself
- Berating your performance
- Excessive fear that you won’t live up to expectations
- Sabotaging your success
- Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short
While some of the above feelings could fuel you to achieve, it usually comes at the expense of your peace and results in constant anxiety. This looks like over-preparing or following some of our older parents’ advice and working much harder than necessary to “make sure” that nobody finds you out.
This might work well for a moment. You might start at a sprint and even venture ahead of the competitors beside you. But, eventually, you’re sprinting in a loop of a vicious cycle that only leads to burnout. That’s no good. What you need is your sanity. Your steady pace. Your feet grounded to the track because impostor syndrome…doesn’t get to win.
“I’m prolific, so gifted…I’m the type that’s gon’ go get it. No kiddin’.”
(August 15, 1985- March 31, 2019)
Your Victory Lap & Ways To Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Impostor Syndrome is not like other mental conditions. It isn’t a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but that doesn’t mean it is uncommon. Overall, it is estimated that 70% of people will experience this at least once. So, it’s important to be able to identify impostor syndrome as well as implement tactics to overcome it. Remember, it’s all about how you run your race, no one else. How you endure until the end.
If you think you might have imposter syndrome, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I agonize over even the smallest mistakes or flaws in my work?
- Do I attribute my success to good fortune or outside factors?
- Am I very sensitive to even constructive criticism?
- Do I feel like I will inevitably be “found out” as a phony?
- Do I downplay my expertise, even in areas where I am genuinely more skilled than others?
How do you feel? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then it’s time to evaluate your pace on this race. Because this is for your victory lap, and the key here is not too fast and not too slow. It’s all about staying steady, consistent, breathing, and remembering these tricks for your training. Because again…impostor syndrome can’t win.
- Breathe. You won’t make it if you don’t.
- Separate feelings from facts. Write it out if you have to, so you can see the evidence and the painting on the wall. You’re the shit, sis.
- Make a list of your accomplishments.
- Stop comparing yourself. Evaluate what fuels your comparison traps. In most cases, social media is a cause. Consider a break from your accounts.
- Talk to others. Remember, 70%! Most people, especially successful people, experience impostor syndrome. Sometimes vulnerability is the only cure you need, and you just might make new connections along the way.
- Talk to a therapist. If you find that your experience with impostor syndrome is debilitating, a therapist can help you recognize your feelings and create an action plan to get past them.
- Just keep running.
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