Time to Tackle Imposter Syndrome

Okay, it’s time to tackle imposter syndrome. Let’s talk about it. You may or may not be familiar with it. Or you might actually be familiar with the feelings but didn’t know there was a name for them. So, what is imposter syndrome? Well imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which a person doubts their accomplishments and has persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. The real kick in the teeth is that these feelings persist despite evidence to the contrary. Imposter syndrome manifests as feelings of inadequacy even in the face of significant achievements and success. It can be a terrible feeling that leads people to believe that they have somehow fooled others into thinking that they are more capable than they actually are. Once it sets in, feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, and lack of confidence can then arise. Impostor syndrome is more common than you may think and practically no one is immune to it. It can pop up in student academics or in a professional career setting and have a significant impact on the mental health and well being of an individual. 

Imposter Syndrome can be a beast of a boogeyman for underrepresented minorities in STEM. As someone who ran the gauntlet, I can tell you that oftentimes that boogeyman’s best friend is something called unconscious bias. They seem to work very well as a tag team together in order to disrupt, cause drama, and present unnecessary hurdles on the way to a very attainable goal. 

So what is unconscious bias and how is it related to impostor syndrome? Well unconscious biases are deeply ingrained stereotypes or attitudes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions, often without us even realizing it. They can be extremely stressful and problematic for an individual from a historically underrepresented or marginalized group when encountered in a particular industry or field. These biases can lead to assumptions that – that person was hired or promoted because of their identity causing others to doubt the person’s abilities and qualifications. This includes assumptions that an individual was hired or promoted to meet a diversity quota. Experiencing this kind of bias can lead individuals to doubt their own abilities leaving ample room for the boogeyman (Impostor Syndrome) to be tagged in. 

The tag team of unconscious bias and impostor syndrome are a devastating duo but believe it or not they are not undefeated. Although they may pop up daily for some people at work, in academics and even in social settings, the individuals who fight these demons everyday and come out on top pushing forward each and every inch to do battle the next day are the real winners. The reality is they just have a harder fight ahead of them that is often unseen, noticed  or even acknowledged by others. 

Is this all something that is real? Yes! Have I experienced it? Yes! Do I have the magic answer to help others overcome these feelings? Unfortunately, I do not have a one size fits all answer. As much as I would like to be, I am not the wordsmith that could so eloquently wrap all of this up in a bow that will magically provide the solution to overcome that dreaded tag team of impostor syndrome and unconscious bias once and for all. I actually take this subject very seriously realizing that each individual is different and we do not all respond to all situations the same way. Being the subpar wordsmith that I am I find myself fighting that duo constantly, whether it’s a one on one with the boogeyman (impostor syndrome) regarding pressure I seem to put on myself with this blog or facing the dreaded tag team in a professional setting outside of the STEM Voodoo world. For me, I know unconscious bias is often based on an uneducated opinion and it’s not fact. The effects can cause emotional stress at times but we’re still largely talking about a collection of uneducated opinions from people that may have already judged you from a quick glance. Everyone has an opinion just like everyone has gas and oftentimes like gas an opinion doesn’t mean…… It’s here one minute and gone the next and that opinion can also stink like….. Imposter syndrome on the other hand can be tricky. Fortunately, I have scoured the internet to share strategies for overcoming impostor syndrome and unconscious bias. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Recognize your feelings and acknowledge that they are valid. Impostor syndrome can be a difficult feeling to overcome, but recognizing that it is a real and common phenomenon can help you feel less alone.
  2. Challenge your negative thoughts. When you experience self-doubt, take a step back and objectively evaluate whether your thoughts are based in reality or if they are the result of impostor syndrome.
  3. Seek support from others. Talking to a trusted friend, mentor, or therapist can help you work through feelings of impostor syndrome and provide a fresh perspective.
  4. Address unconscious bias in your workplace. Educate yourself and others about unconscious bias and work to eliminate it through education, training, and policy changes.
  5. Celebrate your accomplishments. When you achieve something, take time to celebrate your success and recognize your hard work and effort.

The main thing to take away from all is to remember that your feelings are valid, challenge negative thoughts, seek support, address unconscious bias, and celebrate your accomplishments. With all of that said, here are some great resources out there to help you along the way. 

  1. Feeling like a fraud: The impostor phenomenon in science” by Clance and Imes (1978) – This is the original research paper that first identified and described the phenomenon of impostor syndrome.
  2. Harvard Business Review – This website offers a wealth of articles on impostor syndrome, including research-based insights and advice for overcoming it.
  3. Psychology Today – This website features articles and blog posts on impostor syndrome, written by experts in the field of psychology.
  4. Overcoming Impostor Syndrome – LinkedIn Learning Course – This online course offers practical tips and strategies for overcoming impostor syndrome in the workplace.
  5. TED Talks – TED Talks features a number of videos on impostor syndrome, including talks by experts in psychology and business. We’ve embedded an interesting one below. 

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