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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

Oh, imposter syndrome! You have been by my side for so many years and frankly, I'm over it! Pack your bags. You've got to go!

Okay, so...story time! The first quarter of 2021 has been good for me (on paper). I received a grant that I had been hopeful for, my work was really starting to stick in my community, and I received an unexpected promotion. Before I had the chance to enjoy any of these things, imposter syndrome came knocking on my door and sent me in a downward spiral of overwhelming emotions, sadness, and anxiety.

None of it made sense. I spent weeks waking up with tears in my eyes and a lack of motivation to even act in my new role. With every task, I would ask myself "am I even qualified to do this?" and that impostor kept answering "absolutely not!", and I believed her. I listened to her. Despite me knowing the truth of who I am and what I bring to the table, I believed her. Never mind the work that I had done prior to the promotion that provided evidence to contradict the impostor, her voice was loud and consistent. As I took on tasks within my newly defined role, I began to question myself daily and honestly, I became anxious for a call that there had been confusion with whom this role should be given to. But that call didn't come. Instead, I was praised for the work that I had done since the promotion and was asked to join various committees and esteemed groups that would further aid in my growth and support my new role. Regardless of my successes, that imposter was still so incredibly talkative. I broke down. Completely. And it was UGLY! In response, I took a few days off from my new role and stepped away from social media to address my impostor directly (because mama ain't raise no punk)!

I recognize the importance of sitting with my feelings and decided to take these moments of silence to reflect on my feelings associated with my job and all of the other good things that were happening in my life. I noticed what had happened. I was, in fact, qualified for the position. I did actually possess the skills necessary for success. And no, it wasn't luck or coincidence that great things were happening in my life. I was deserving of these things. The thought patterns that I had been experiencing weren't my own, they belonged to that aggravating, ashy impostor!

Okay so...what is imposter syndrome? Imposter syndrome occurs when an individual doubts their abilities and begins to feel like a fraud. It tends to occur more frequently in high-achieving individuals. They tend to find it extremely challenging accepting their accomplishments and begin to question how deserving they are of certain experiences and accolades. It's that annoying voice that tries to hold us back when we try to advance or when we approach something big. It's like the more significant the change, the nastier that voice gets.

This phenomenon was explored in the 1970s by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They defined this phenomenon as a "phoniness in people who believe they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement." It's almost a fear of success that is accompanied by stress, anxiety, and reduced confidence that may result in complacency and loss of motivation. Those with an "impostor" may ruminate over the smallest mistakes or feel as if they shouldn't take credit for their successes. All in all, it's disruptive and destructive.

So how do we get rid of this impostor? We...

  1. Name the impostor. Similar to the way we name our emotions to take back control of them, we have the means to name the impostor and strengthen our skills when confronting them. The impostor is there. You might as well get to know them so that you can defeat them when they approach you with a narrative that isn't true.

  2. Realize that EVERYONE experiences imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. You are not alone. If people got honest with themselves, it is likely that they'd admit that they have been approached by an impostor as well. Find safety here. Speak to your tribe about what you're experiencing because they may have lived experiences that can guide you in overcoming this feeling of inadequacy.

  3. State the facts! I'm constantly encouraging you all to utilize affirmative statements to thought stop and shift the narrative of your life, and I am going to do it again today. You have full control of your life. What that impostor says is not true. Actually, it's the furthest thing from it. You know who you are. Look at all that you are and all that you've accomplished. You're really going to believe the voice of someone who only shows up when things are going in your favor? Nah! You're worthy of more than that. Be vocal. Brag on yourself. Challenge every negative thought with the truth of who you are. Let that impostor know who they're dealing with!

  4. Give that impostor a real slap in the face by doing it (whatever it is) anyway! You want to know something that an impostor absolutely can't stand? ACTION! Get in front of that impostor and their aggravating voice by doing whatever it is you feel called to do. Prove the impostor wrong. Walk with boldness and confidence that you have overcome ingrained thoughts and behaviors, and instead have chose that despite any challenges that reveal themselves during the process, you are present and ready to be an active participant in your life!

  5. Let go of past mistakes. You need mistakes to grow and learn. Remember that they do not define you. Instead, the refine you. Give yourself permission to let go. Give yourself permission to grow daily and to truly walk in your calling. That impostor holds no weight here. Remember that name you gave them? Call them out by name and tell them to "shut up!" because their input is loud and wrong, and frankly, you don't desire or require it!


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