Updated: Sep 28, 2022
It dawned on me that the only difference between people who live with impostor syndrome and those who don’t is how they think.
Imagine going to school for six plus years to earn a doctoral degree to become an Astrophysicists then saying “Anyone can earn this degree.”
Believe it or not this is the reality of having impostor syndrome.
And as an overachiever, I constantly feel a need to prove myself. Even after earning my degree early and getting accepted into a top masters program I had feelings of shame.
I felt ashamed about things that I had not given myself time to achieve.
And I didn’t give myself enough credit for all my accomplishments and experiences that I did have.
It is important to mention that these feelings of fraud and shame are not uncommon and there is no quick fix for it. With this in mind, it is not surprising that impostor syndrome is a condition that affects 70 percent of Americans.
What Is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is a phenomena in which people find it difficult to internalize their accomplishments, skills, and experiences and are constantly in fear of being exposed as a fraud.
People who live with impostor syndrome often attribute their successes to luck or key relationships and overwork to compensate for their perceived lack of ability.
Ironically, these people are often not the frauds they think they are and have the ability to be high achievers who excel in whatever they put their mind to.
But impostor syndrome is often so crippling that it can show up in many aspects of life, even for me.
I found myself flying under the radar in difficult situations where I felt uncomfortable raising my hand in team meetings and thought my opinion didn’t matter or I wasn’t smart enough to comment.
For others this may look like not asking for a promotion you deserve or procrastinating on a major project, self-sabotaging, and becoming a work alcoholic.
But all is not lost, there are some helpful ways to combat impostor syndrome and break the cycle of negative thinking.
Three Ways To Combat Imposter Syndrome
Reframe The Conversation We Have With Ourselves
In African American households where we often hear that “We have to work twice as hard as our white counterparts to be half as good,” this can lead us to criticizing our own performance. Instead of thinking to yourself “OMG everyone here is brilliant and I’m not” try saying “everyone is brilliant and I have so much to learn!”
Look at every new experience as a learning opportunity and understand that “you don’t have to be good to start, you just have to start to be good.”
Accept That You Can’t Be Good At Everything & That’s Okay!
We have to accept that everything will not always be our strong suit and that’s okay. Instead try to see the strengths of the relationships you’ve built around you, training, degrees, experience and know that’s enough.
We can’t keep waiting for our lives to be perfect before we can enjoy it.
We need to reclaim our own identity as successful people who have the power to change the world.
Normalize Your Challenges
As African Americans sometimes we may not feel like we are as articulate or intelligent as our white counterparts.
We tend to code-switch, speaking standard English instead of our African-American vernacular in professional settings around white individuals to fit in.
This can lead to higher rates anxiety and depression and lead us to concealing our true identity.
However, we need to realize that it’s a normal response to feel like you don’t fit in when you’re the first to achieve something as a woman, person of color, or someone with disabilities, etc.
We have no reason to question our achievements or apologize for being ourselves.
If any of this relates to you, take some time to ask yourself what you truly want and think about what you can do differently to get there?
Really give yourself plenty of options and time to decide before you make a change.
How To Help Someone With Impostor Syndrome
We need to eliminate toxic work cultures and hold managers accountable for their role in perpetuating impostor syndrome.
For example when performance goals are constantly shifting it can be difficult for employees to feel like they are hitting their target and being successful.
Employers should compensate for this by keeping target goals consistent and attainable.
Managers should also constantly be providing positive feedback which is not always easy for those with impostor syndrome to internalize right away.
Managers must create a sense of belonging by encouraging and praising their employees when they complete a task rather than immediately pointing out errors.
Encouraging members of your organization to value themselves can help to normalize imposter syndrome by saying, “We’ve had plenty of our employees with imposter syndrome perform exceptionally at business presentations, etc. You shouldn’t worry about that.”
Most importantly open the floor for more discussions about impostor syndrome so your employees know they are not alone.
This also applies to teachers and parents who should praise their students for their achievements and allow them to feel comfortable to open up about their shortcomings.
In addition, on the opposite side to this rather than being on-call 24/7, as an employee don’t be afraid to take time to relax and recuperate.
One must always aim to set healthy boundaries to value #selfcare and personal life.
Be proud of yourself and your accomplishments even if you make a mistake, accept that others will be there to support you.
Know that you are worth it and strive to work as hard for yourself as you do for others!
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