This one is for the people still on their way.
On Women, Impostor Syndrome & Self-Doubt
The first time I heard the term "Impostor Syndrome," I was sitting in The "Girl's Lounge" in the Microsoft Tech Center at the 2017 Ad Week Conference. It was my first time in New York City alone. I had expected something out of Nickelodeon's "Girls Room," but (to my dismay) Amanda Bynes was not the host. Instead I found a self-care haven. There was free hair and make-up styling, some cheeky refreshments that cost men one dollar and women only seventy-nine cents, but most importantly, there was a community of support. The interview I had stumbled in on was a dialogue on the Impostor Syndrome phenomenon sponsored by the Female Quotient. On stage were six or seven women dressed to the nines. These women were CEO's and entrepreneurs and they commanded the room.
The women of the Girls Lounge defined Imposter Syndrome as a sort of psychological infection that festers in moments of success, filling you with self-doubt and the belief that you do not deserve the successes you have achieved. Though Imposter Syndrome impacts people of all walks of life, there is evidence that feelings of self-doubt are more pervasive for women and minority communities due to internalized systemic oppression (See resources below for more information).
My favorite tip for dealing with moments of self-doubt from the interview went something like this: When your negative conscience tries to bring you down, name her and banish her.
Patricia (mine is named Patricia): *whispers* You're not good enough
Me: I *clap* don't *clap* have *clap* time *clap* for *clap* your *clap* shit *clap* Patricia
This is such an excellent way for you to identify the catalyst of your self doubt, cast it away from your current situation, and evaluate the opportunity in front of you with a clear head. The conclusive sentiment: everyone experiences sensations of self-doubt, it's what you do to move past them that makes or breaks an opportunity. After the conference, I was reading an article on The Cut about 25 Famous Women on Imposter Syndrome and Self-Doubt. Here is how Emma Watson described her experience with Impostor Syndrome:
“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are. It’s weird — sometimes [success] can be incredibly validating, but sometimes it can be incredibly unnerving and throw your balance off a bit, because you’re trying to reconcile how you feel about yourself with how the rest of the world perceives you.” —Rookie, May 2013
It is refreshing to see celebrities taking ownership of their own humanity. However, all of the women I've mentioned have something in common: they are all already stereo-typically successful. While it is an amazing service to women to hear that these glamazon celebrities and deities of business success are, in fact, human, what about the women just starting out? What about the women who didn't go to an Ivy League school or star in a multi-million dollar franchise before they hit puberty? AKA, what about me? To me, it feels like there is definitely a mountain high enough and a valley low enough to keep me from reaching their level of prestige. I am interested in the paralyzing fear that what I've done isn't good enough to get me where I want to go--the fear that I don't deserve it. The fear that I'm not good enough.
According to Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, there are various types of impostor syndrome that a person can experience. For a brief explanation of each, read this article. Here's quick list:
- The Perfectionist
- The Superwoman/man
- The Natural Genius
- The Rugged Individualist
- The Expert
If I were to self-diagnose, I would place myself as "The Natural Genius." I am by no means a genius, but the personality traits described align with my personal experiences. I was always told that I was an "old soul" or the "smart one." While I am not complaining about the compliments, this positive reinforcement in combination with my own stubbornness led me to believe that I could do anything I wanted, and that I didn't need to try for it. I was complacent with only doing the things that came easy to me, but terrified to try new things for fear of failure. Little did I know that I would get rejected from over half the colleges I applied to, fail tests, not receive scholarships, and have countless other "failures." Rejection stole my confidence and dropped me on my face. People in college used to ask me all the time how I did all the things that I did. With a sarcastic laugh I'd say "..... I don't sleep." But the truth is, I am plagued with feelings of regret. I wish that I had done the things that scared me, put in (more) extra hours, accomplished something extraordinary. Perhaps in another person's eyes, I am a success story. In mine, I struggle on a daily basis with insecurities regarding my merit as a student, a friend, an artist, and a professional. When I am feeling down on myself, there are a few things that I do to recharge my confidence. If you're reading this, they might help you too.
5 Ways to Overcome Feeling Like You Aren't Good Enough
1. Use positive language when you talk about yourself.
Positivity is infectious. When you tell a story, especially about one of your accomplishments, try not to undercut yourself by focusing on negative elements. Every time you share a story, your brain re-writes your memory of that story. Use positive language to cultivate memories of self-love and encouragement. This is not to say that you should glaze over painful events in your life. Not everything is cherries and rose buds. This is about practicing optimism and empowering yourself.
When someone gives you a (genuine) compliment, accept it. Qualifying their compliment with self-depreciation makes it seem as though you are in some way unworthy of the praise. You deserve to be recognized.
Positive communication is not limited to vocabulary. Using positive body language such as sitting or standing up straight, making eye contact, and smiling can completely change how you feel about yourself in a situation. I am not telling you that you are prettier when you smile. I am telling you that you have agency over your feelings, and you can leverage that agency to help yourself overcome bouts of insecurity. Confidence does not take up space, confidence opens it.
Of course, when bad things happen, it is okay to feel bad about them. You are allowed to be sad, angry, and frustrated. There are some things in life that are just unfortunate. Take the time you need to reflect on and care for painful situations, but do not dwell in sadness to the point where you hinder your own progress.
2. Reflect on the things you are proud of or grateful for daily.
Having daily rituals can improve your productivity and positivity. One of my favorites is to say out loud 3 things I am proud of or grateful for every day. By reminding myself of the things I have accomplished, or good things that have happened to me, I can counterbalance feelings of negativity and doubt. Try starting out the day like this. Celebrate your accomplishments, appreciate your relationships, and acknowledge your value.
3. Educate yourself, but don't get caught up on perfection.
I feel most confident when I know what I'm doing. Who wouldn't? But no one is an expert in everything. Use your time to pursue knowledge in the things you are passionate about. Practice your craft, read up on current events in your field, or explore another person's work that inspires you. Education is a powerful tool that can and will bring you closer to your goals. However, pursuing an unattainable level of expertise can be a form of procrastination. Practice your craft, but do not tell yourself that you are inadequate. You aren't.
4. Listen, Evaluate, and Try Again.
It is okay to mess up. Everyone does. That does not make you lesser, and it does not mean that you aren't cut out for it. The best medicine you can give yourself in moments of "failure" is time, focus, and forgiveness. Listen to the criticisms you have received or reflect on your struggles by asking "What did I do well?" "What did I do poorly?" and "How do I want to improve?" Your goals do not have to be determined by people who critique you, but feedback can aid in your journey. The most important part is that you forgive yourself and move on. Inevitably, you determine the standard of your own success.
5. Just Do it.
Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient and creator of the "Girl's Lounge" said it best:
Overthinking, hesitation, and fear are the killers of dreams. Rejection is nothing in comparison to regret. Just go for it, and love yourself through every minute of it. Don't let feelings of self-doubt keep you from acknowledging your success, or achieving success if you are still on your way.
Additional information on minorities and imposter syndrome: http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx
A Different Take: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_ladder/2016/04/is_impostor_syndrome_real_and_does_it_affect_women_more_than_men.html
A Book to Read: https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Thoughts-Successful-Women-Impostor-ebook/dp/B004KPM1N0