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
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
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
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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