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Reframing Imposter Syndrome: Recognizing Systemic Inequity & Ways to Overcome

Estimated reading time ~ 5 min
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Imposter Syndrome is an all-too-common phenomenon that transcends achievements and qualifications. That nagging sense of inadequacy and the fear of being unmasked as a fraud persist, despite ample evidence of achievements and qualifications. Overcoming this psychological hurdle is crucial for personal and professional growth.

Clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes first coined the term in 1978. They observed that individuals experiencing Imposter Syndrome, despite possessing ample external evidence of their achievements, persistently believed that they did not deserve the success they had attained.

For women, Imposter Syndrome often carries an even heavier burden. A recent KPMG study found that “75% of female executives across industries have experienced Imposter Syndrome in their careers.” And interestingly, it often emerges when women are a step or two away from advancing to the C-Suite.

For African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American (ALAANA) communities, this is further compounded by unconscious intergenerational trauma and structural racism. Historical injustices have shaped a legacy that persists through generations. Ongoing disparities in education, health care, mental health and criminal justice underscore the enduring challenges faced by Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC).

Understanding the underlying reasons for feeling this way are crucial

  • It often stems from self-doubt, especially when we never expected to reach the level of success we have achieved.
  • The fear of falling short or never living up to the expectations that have been set, whether self-imposed or by others, can play a major role.
  • Isolation can intensify these feelings, especially when we lack personal or professional connections with others in similar positions.

Understanding why dismantling Imposter Syndrome is important work for our community

As noted by Asha Frost, an Indigenous healer and the author of "You Are the Medicine," generational trauma is intricately woven into our cellular memory, passed down through DNA. The oppressive, colonized, and racist experiences endured by BIPOC individuals persist so deeply in our collective psyche that we often struggle to extend unconditional love to ourselves. Recognizing this truth helps us understand that the manifestation of Imposter Syndrome and self-critical tendencies is not our fault. Instead, it becomes our responsibility to actively address and heal these ingrained patterns and layers. This proactive approach ensures that future generations, including our children and descendants, are not burdened by these same traumas.

Frost adds insight by emphasizing, “As a BIPOC person doing this work, I have found that unraveling the massive generational trauma takes time. We all marinate in white supremacy, born into this society, but BIPOC folks carry a depth of trauma that vibrates in our bones and blood memory.” Patience is indeed a virtue. Meeting these uncomfortable feelings with self-compassion and self-love may just be the recipe to begin the healing process.

In their article titled "Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome," authors Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey assert that labeling women with Imposter Syndrome can be harmful. This diagnosis places blame on the individual, side-stepping systemic issues at play and implying that the woman herself is the problem, neglecting the historical and cultural context that surrounds women. They highlight that systemic racism amplifies these issues for women of color, leaving us with a pervasive sense of falling short of patriarchal, ethnocentric standards. Echoing Frost's perspective, they suggest that our struggle might not solely be with Imposter Syndrome, but rather with an environment lacking a vision of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that truly embraces us—a circumstance beyond our control, emphasizing the urgent need for systemic reform.

Collectively, we must also recognize that Imposter Syndrome hinders our progress and deprives the world of the valuable contributions and ideas we have to offer. Your unique perspective and lived experiences enable you to see the world in a way that no one else can. This makes you more than capable, good enough, smart enough, and worthy enough to share your rare magic.

Ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome

Despite comprehending the systematic history of Imposter Syndrome and its impact on our community, it doesn't cease to feel extremely personal and isolating. I experienced a profound impact of Imposter Syndrome when preparing to launch my consulting company, Globally Empowered. This sentiment surfaced more frequently than I'd like to acknowledge (or felt comfortable with). Nevertheless, this experience taught me a great deal about myself and how to navigate through these challenging emotions, ultimately providing me with the following strategies to combat Imposter Syndrome.

  1. Recognize and Acknowledge: Normalize the existence of Imposter Syndrome. “I am not alone in this struggle, even though at times it may feel like it.” Recognizing it is the foundation for positive change.
  2. Challenge Negative Self-Talk: “I replace self-doubt with positive affirmations and self-compassion. I recall the accomplishments and skills acquired along the way.” Reflect on the last time you navigated through a career or life challenge, ultimately landing in a much better place than where you started.
  3. Normalize Failure: “Failure is an inevitable part of my life and any journey towards success.” If you were to ask most entrepreneurs, they would say that failure is a part of the process. Setbacks do not define us; they provide opportunities for growth and learning.
  4. Embrace Vulnerability: “I am comfortable with embracing vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. To find comfort when dealing with uncomfortable situations and circumstances, I seek support and validation.” Whether it’s from a mentor, career coach, therapist, friends, or colleague, surround yourself with those who can provide constructive criticism and affirm your capabilities.
  5. Celebrate Your Wins: “I take time to acknowledge my achievements, no matter how small they seem.” Reflect on the hard work and dedication that led to your wins. This reinforces a positive self-image and bolsters confidence.
  6. Embrace a Growth Mindset: “Learning is a lifelong journey. I seek out new challenges and opportunities for growth.” And remember: Even the most accomplished individuals need to continually evolve and acquire new skills.

In my experience as a Black biracial woman, when these inferior feelings emerge, it is often an indicator that we must face them in order to progress. Staying in our comfort zone seldom leads to the progress and opportunities we seek. My advice: Worried about failure? Do it anyway. Nervous about voicing your thoughts in meetings or presenting in front of a group? Proceed, even if you are shaking while doing it. The key is not allowing fear of failure to hold back your progress. Some of my most valuable life lessons have come from embracing perceived failures or mistakes.

Believe it or not, feeling like an imposter often signals that you’re pushing boundaries and/or stepping out of your comfort zone. It often accompanies periods of significant growth and achievement. Consider it a sign that you are on the right path. Like life, overcoming Imposter Syndrome is a journey, not a destination. It demands self-awareness, self-compassion, self-love, and a willingness to challenge negative thought patterns.

Above all, know that you are not alone! There are countless ALAANA/BIPOC communities, spaces, and resources ready to support you – and may this article be one of them.

Embrace your accomplishments, believe in your capabilities, and remember: You Are More Than Enough. And if you ever need a helping hand, Globally Empowered is here. Book a coaching/mentorship session with us today.

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