I recently attended a panel discussion featuring four of the twelve incredible contributing authors of Together We Rise. The book, authored by a group of women who call themselves the Lady Leaders Book Club, covers a lot of ground when it comes to the experiences of women in leadership. One of the consistent themes was around imposter syndrome. As one of the women shared her story I found myself nodding along, smiling with empathy for the challenge that this “syndrome” creates for those who experience it, myself included. Then the host vulnerably shared about his lack of familiarity with the term, saying that while reading the book he had to do some research on what it actually was. I have to say, I was shocked. There are a variety of reasons why someone may or may not experience, or be familiar with, imposter syndrome. One of those reasons is directly tied to the way in which power is held, acknowledged, and used.
Imposter Syndrome and Its Connection with Power
Imposter syndrome is defined as, “as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” In my experience, there are internally driven aspects to one’s likelihood to experience imposter syndrome. However, what people experience as imposter syndrome often comes from the environment they’re in and the systems of oppression at play. People who are different from the dominant social group (i.e. those who hold the most power- in the room, on the team, in the organization, etc.) are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. That experience plays a big part in everything from how likely you are to apply for a job, to whether or not you’ll share an incredible, outside of the box idea, to having the courage to speak up in the face of unethical or harmful behaviors.
When I’m experiencing imposter syndrome, I feel like I don’t belong. It convinces me that I’m not good enough, I don’t have the right credentials, experience, vernacular, dress, you name it. Some of that lives within me, without a doubt. Confidence is something that gets built over time, and as we’ve all experienced, the more time and repetition spent on anything, the more likely you are to improve. When that’s the case, you’ll be able to exist and operate from a place of knowing you belong, you are valued, and you have something powerful to contribute. However, there are environments that will always create the experience of imposter syndrome for those who don’t match the people in power, no matter how much personal work and practice one puts in.
What Can You Do?
So, what can you start to do about this? First, there are some real tried and true ways to manage imposter syndrome for yourself. While I don’t love the title of this article, because I don’t think you ever really overcome imposter syndrome, I do think the suggestions are on-point, like the one about rewriting the story that’s playing in your head. Second, recognize that while imposter syndrome is an innately human experience, there are realities around how power is allocated and used that directly impact the frequency, duration, and intensity of which individuals will experience imposter syndrome. This compels us all to do work on understanding power, including the ways we have it and the ways we don’t. And, for the ways we do, we need to question and recognize how we use our power to create belonging. To go out of our way to demonstrate to others that they are not inadequate at all but are, in fact, exactly what is needed in that space–in all their most authentic ways of being.
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