What is Imposter Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome: when one perceives themselves as an intellectual and professional fraud. More than half of women said they have felt like impostors, compared to only 24% of men, according to a study by Heriot-Watt University and the School for CEOs. And younger people were more prone to feeling like an impostor: 45% of young professionals compared to 30% of older professionals said they doubt their abilities.
Imposter Syndrome usually shows when we are about to do something that terrifies us but at the same time excites us, as both feelings are reasonable coming from the fact that you are expanding your comfort zone. However, we tend to concentrate on the terrifying piece and forget about the joy and the excitement that comes with learning something new.
Imposter Syndrome: Being the only one
For Black and Latinx in the community, the intersecting challenges of racism and sexism make them even more susceptible to impostor syndrome. A 2020 study by the Indian Institute of Management found that, for Latin doctoral and postdoctoral scholars in STEM, gender was one of the many intersecting identities that contributed to feelings of impostor syndrome, with Latin women often being the only or one of a very few in their field.
Unfortunately, situations of being the only one do not stop at college. A 2019 report from LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company found that 45% of women of color have been the only person of their gender in corporate rooms, and the number is even higher for women in STEM fields.
Imposter Syndrome: The Feeling
”I think whenever you’re the first or the few or the only, you’ve got that added pressure now to represent your entire group,” said Valerie Young, co-founder of the Impostor Syndrome Institute. She said, “I think finding support is critical, especially if you are the only, the one, or the few.”
Black and Latinx people’s impostor feelings are often racialized and linked to feelings of anxiety because of the stereotypes often associated with their race, according to a study from the University of Texas at Austin.
What to Do:
Fostering community through campus organizations, employee resource groups, professional associations or even Facebook groups can help Black and Latinx communities manage their impostor feelings in professional and academic settings.
Dr. Valerie Young has developed a 10 step process (which can be found below). In her 4-minute Ted Talk, she talks about having it and what one can do.
10 Ways to Cope with Imposter Syndrome
- Break the silence. Shame keeps a lot of people from “fessing up” about their fraudulent feelings. Knowing there’s a name for these feelings and that you are not alone can be tremendously freeing.
- Separate feelings from fact. There are times you’ll feel stupid. It happens to everyone from time to time. Realize that just because you may feel stupid, doesn’t mean you are.
- Recognize when you should feel fraudulent. A sense of belonging fosters confidence. If you’re the only or one of a few people in a meeting, classroom, field, or workplace who look or sound like you or are much older or younger, then it’s only natural you’d sometimes feel like you don’t totally fit in. Plus if you’re the first woman, person of color, or person with a disability to achieve something in your world, e.g. first VP, astronaut, judge, supervisor, firefighter, honoree, etc. there’s that added pressure to represent your entire group. Instead of taking your self-doubt as a sign of your ineptness, recognize that it might be a normal response to being on the receiving end of social stereotypes about competence and intelligence.
- Accentuate the positive. The good news is being a perfectionist means you care deeply about the quality of your work. The key is to continue to strive for excellence when it matters most, but don’t persevere over routine tasks and forgive yourself when the inevitable mistake happens.
- Develop a healthy response to failure and mistake-making. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating yourself up for falling short, do what players on the losing sports team do and glean the learning value from the loss and move on reminding yourself, “I’ll get ’em next time.”
- Right the rules. If you’ve been operating under misguided rules like, “I should always know the answer,” or “Never ask for help” start asserting your rights. Recognize that you have just as much right as the next person to be wrong, have an off-day, or ask for assistance.
- Develop a new script. Become consciously aware of the conversation going on in your head when you’re in a situation that triggers your Impostor feelings. This is your internal script. Then instead of thinking, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” tell yourself “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.” Instead of looking around the room and thinking, “Oh my God everyone here is brilliant…. and I’m not” go with “Wow, everyone here is brilliant – I’m really going to learn a lot!”
- Visualize success. Do what professional athletes do. Spend time beforehand picturing yourself making a successful presentation or calmly posing your question in class. It sure beats picturing impending disaster and will help with performance-related stress.
- Reward yourself. Break the cycle of continually seeking and then dismissing validation outside of yourself by learning to pat yourself on the back.
- Fake it ‘til you make it. Now and then we all have to fly by the seat of our pants. Instead of considering “winging it” as proof of your ineptness, learn to do what many high achievers do and view it as a skill. The point of the worn-out phrase, fake it til you make it, still stands: Don’t wait until you feel confident to start putting yourself out there. Courage comes from taking risks. Change your behavior first and allow your confidence to build.