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You Belong: How To Kick Impostor Syndrome To The Curb

Imposter Syndrome is real.

Workin' Girl

For many of us who are high achieving and trying our best to excel in our professional lives, there's often something that comes up, that if unchecked, can serve as a blockage to our success.

Before I quit my full-time job to pursue entrepreneurship and other creative endeavors, I had a comfortable and stable full-time job working in marketing. However, I remember experiencing overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and doubt about my capabilities and the work that I was doing. On paper, I had all the credentials. I graduated from Princeton with honors, interned for four years at a top media company in New York City, and was building my own podcast brand Dreams In Drive. I was fully capable, but in person I found ways to put myself down and often felt like I didn't deserve my seat in the company organizational chart in comparison to my colleagues. I envied my mostly non-white co-workers who seemed to just show up and show out, even if their output was slightly mediocre.

It was until a few years in and after doing some research did I realize those "feelings" had a name and was something many high achieving women like myself often went through. "Impostor syndrome", a term coined by American psychologists Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, and Suzanne Imes PhD in 1978, is defined as "internal experience of intellectual phoniness" by people who believe they they are not intelligent, capable, and/or creative, despite evidence of high achievement. Those suffering from it often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually uncover them as a "fraud."

It's complicated, but something that is highly prevalent -- especially in my inner circle of Black female sisterhood. While many may try to discredit it, the American Psychology Association characterizes is as "specific form of intellectual self-doubt…. [that] is generally accompanied by anxiety and, often, depression."

I spoke with Christine Michel Carter - a writer and marketing strategist whose work focuses on careers, Black moms, millennials in the workplace, and diversity and inclusion - about this. She shared some tips for xoNecole readers learning to navigate through impostor syndrome.

Reclaim Your Space

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Reclaiming your place and role in history is crucial. Personally, when I realized the POWER (instead of weakness) I had as one of few Black women working at my company, I started to walk into rooms with my head held up higher and more resolve to make sure I was heard and respected.

Understanding our history as Black women in the workplace is important to consider, says Christine.

"Historically, [millennial and Black women] haven't been given the same opportunities as their white male or white female counterparts. There's always that feeling in the back of their head that when they are granted opportunities, that they don't deserve those opportunities because women who looked like them historically hadn't been given those opportunities. It's difficult to realize that you might have a better education or experience present-day, but it doesn't do anything to [rewrite] our internal dialogue."

Understand The Way You Work

You also need to understand your personality type and the way you work, mentions Christine. As someone who suffers from anxiety and can become anxious if she doesn't feel prepared, Christine makes sure to ask for agendas prior to meetings so that she is "set up for success." How can you make sure to nip doubt by making sure you're prepared and make others knowledgeable of how you best operate and create good work?

According to Dr. Valerie Young, an impostor syndrome expert who identified five main subgroups of impostor syndrome sufferers, certain personality types need distinct corrective action. For example, the "superwoman" will push herself to work extremely hard in order to measure up. To combat this, it's necessary to steer away from external validation and "become more attuned to internal validation." This nurturing of inner confidence will help you "ease off the gas as you gauge how much work is reasonable."

Take Note Of Your Wins

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Keeping a record of your accomplishments is another way to remind you of your value, explains Christine. "It's nice to go back and look back at the things you've done and say, 'Wow I really contributed. I'm really a valuable team member. I'm very much deserving of having a seat at the table.'"

Don't wait until yearly reviews to reflect on how much and how well you've executed. Conduct monthly "How did I do?" meetings with yourself, or your direct supervisor, where you review projects and analyze your growth and ability to meet expectations. Include metrics and feedback if you can. You may surprise yourself on how much of a bada** you are. This also holds you accountable and ensures you aren't playing small because you don't think you can achieve.

Stay In The Now

Christine also recommends that we practice staying in the present moment. "Focus on the task at hand. Sometimes you can't worry about what will happen or has happened." Be hyper-aware of how your thoughts may be leading you to other damaging thoughts or behavior that are not conducive for growth.

Seek Help From A Professional

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Don't be afraid to get professional help. If you've tried several of these self-help tactics and still find it difficult to thrive, a licensed professional can give you tools and resources for overcoming impostor syndrome that are catered to your unique experience. If you need help finding a therapist in your area, I suggest browsing the Therapy For Back Girls Therapist Directory.

Whether you're climbing the career ladder or pursuing the entrepreneurial path, learning how to overcome impostor syndrome is pertinent. Honestly though, could you imagine a world where more Black women rose up and said, "Impostor syndrome, I rebuke thee?!" In my opinion, there's nothing more powerful as a Black woman than walking into a room and making your presence known. When we stand up for ourselves and share our stories, we're helping to impact larger conversations that face women of color such as the gender/race pay gap, maternal mortality and more.

Though it took me a while to realize how impostor syndrome was limiting my ability to live up to my potential, I was so proud of the day I built up the courage to speak up for myself and stop playing small. So much courage, I decided I was destined for a career and life much bigger than the one I was living. I resigned and decided to pursue a career and employer that was more in alignment with my purpose.

There's no permanent fix and there are days when I feel impostor syndrome creeping up, but now I know what to call it and how to dismiss it.

For more tips on learning how to deal with overcoming impostor syndrome, check out session 22 of Dr. Joy Harden Bradford's Therapy for Black Girls podcast here.

Featured image by Getty Images

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'Atlanta' Actress Zazie Beetz Gets Real About Impostor Syndrome - Read More

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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