Ep 021: Imposter Syndrome
Happy Me Happy Earth Podcast Show Notes
When I ask people in our community, “What’s holding you back from creating the change you want to see in the world,” one of the most common replies I receive is “imposter syndrome.” So on this week’s episode of the podcast, I’m diving into what imposter syndrome actually is, why it exists, and how we can overcome it.
Spoiler Alert! Imposter syndrome is not a personal failing or an indication that something is wrong with you, it’s a rational and healthy response to living in a culture built on systems of oppression.
Below is a brief outline of today’s episode, 021: Imposter Syndrome. Please tune into the full episode wherever you get your podcasts to hear about my personal struggles with imposter syndrome and examples of how I continue to overcome it.
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
What is imposter syndrome?
What we now call imposter syndrome was originally called the “imposter phenomenon” by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. Through their work, they discovered that high-achieving women often experienced common feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, and unworthiness. Similar feelings were also present in white men early on in their careers but usually dissipated as they rose through the ranks. However, for women, especially women of color, these feelings remained or increased as their success and achievements grew.
A more recent study of women in leadership positions revealed that 75% had experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their careers, and the percentage was even higher for women of color.
The term “imposter syndrome” is thrown around a lot today. We typically use this term to describe a group of feelings including doubt in our abilities, feeling like a fraud, and having difficulty accepting accomplishments because we feel unworthy of awards, praise, or other accolades.
Why does imposter syndrome exist?
In an excellent article titled Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome authors Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey identify the true reasons why women in particular tend to doubt themselves and feel undeserving of success. They note that back in 1987 there was very little awareness of the concepts of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases. These concepts were not mentioned or considered in the work of Clance and Imes.
Tulshyan and Burey write, “Imposter syndrome puts the blame on individuals, without accounting for the historical and cultural contexts that are foundational to how it manifests in both women of color and white women. Imposter syndrome directs our view toward fixing women at work instead of fixing the places where women work.”
All this to say, if feelings of self-doubt, unworthiness, and anxiety have ever held you back in life it’s not your fault! These feelings are not a personal failing or flaw, they are a rational and healthy response to systems of oppression.
We, humans, are herd animals. For most of our history as a species, belonging and being accepted by the herd were essential to our survival.
Since people of color and women have been systematically excluded from corporate leadership, government, and other positions of power and influence it makes perfect sense that we would feel like we don’t belong. Our brain identifies this lack of acceptance as a threat to our survival.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Through our activism and by speaking up about the true cause of imposter syndrome we can begin to dismantle these systems of oppression. And on a more personal level, we can work to dismantle the thoughts and feelings these systems have created within us. Today I want to talk about how we can do that inner work.
First, it’s important to recognize that no amount of awards, promotions, degrees, certifications, or publications will make us finally overcome imposter syndrome. Many of the most successful people on the planet struggle with feelings of inadequacy and question their success. Michelle Obama, Brene Brown, and Sheryl Sandberg to name a few.
The only way that we will feel worthy is by transforming our self-image. We can do this by challenging the thoughts of inadequacy that were programmed into our brains from a young age.
Our thoughts create our feelings and we act according to how we feel. So if you want to overcome imposter syndrome it’s important to take a look at your thoughts and feelings.
What does imposter syndrome feel like?
Below are some common feelings we tend to associate with imposter syndrome. More importantly, what feelings come up for you?
- Doubt in your abilities, intelligence, talent, and/or skills
- Fear of being found out or called out
- Fear of judgment
- Feeling unworthy
What thoughts are creating these feelings?
What thoughts are contributing to your feelings of self-doubt, fear, and/or inadequacy?
- I’m not smart enough.
- I don’t have enough training, skills, or credentials.
- I’ve not accomplished enough.
- I don’t belong here.
- I’m not enough.
- I’m not worthy.
An Exercise to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Now that you’ve identified the true source of what our culture calls “imposter syndrome” and the thoughts and feelings that are contributing to it, you can choose to transform these thoughts.
Often our feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy hold us back from taking action toward our goals, speaking up, and creating the change that we want to see in the world. So, it can be helpful to put yourself in the shoes of your future self. Your future self is the version of you that is taking the courageous action you’re currently putting off. She/they/he is taking action and succeeding.
- What thoughts is my future self thinking?
- How does my future self feel?
- What action is my future self taking?
- How are they showing up?
Write from their perspective. Practice thinking from their perspective.
On the podcast, I give personal examples of how I’ve answered these questions in order to overcome imposter syndrome in aspects of my life.
How to Practice Thinking Different Thoughts
In order to retrain our thought patterns and overcome imposter syndrome we need to practice thinking different thoughts. Remember, this takes time! You’ve probably been practicing your current thoughts, those thoughts that the systems of oppression programmed within you, for your whole life. It’s going to take some time to retrain your brain.
You can start by journaling or speaking about your future self thoughts each morning. Challenge yourself to look for evidence in your life that these future thoughts are true. You may find this quite difficult at first. This inner work takes time, patience, and persistence.
This daily practice helps to balance your brain’s negativity bias, expands your capacity to experience joy and success, and ultimately transforms your self-image. Remember, your self-image is the thoughts and beliefs that you have about yourself.
You can expect that throughout the day your brain will go back to your old thoughts of inadequacy and unworthiness. One time this week when you notice these old thoughts interrupt the pattern and bring to mind those future thoughts. Flip those old thoughts on their head and looks for ways that the opposite is true. Practice, practice, practice.
Take action today!
I hope that this week’s episode of the Happy Me Happy Earth podcast and these show notes have been incredibly helpful to you!
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Podcast music: “Bounce” by Coma-Media on Pixbay