It’s that uncomfortable feeling you experience when you think you're unqualified, you’re not smart enough, you don’t “deserve” to feel good about yourself or your achievements. It makes you feel like a fraud, like, at any point everyone is about to figure you out and realize that you don’t belong, that you’re not smart, that you don’t actually possess the talent or skills they thought you did. It makes you think that you’ve only made it so far because people have felt sorry for you or you just got lucky. It’s that feeling that deep down, no matter how successful or good you are at something, you’ll never be deserving of the praise and recognition that you’re receiving.
Imposter Syndrome sucks.
It’s something I’ve experienced for a majority of my life, and unfortunately I’m not the only one. Imposter syndrome is all too familiar for women of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes developed the concept of imposter syndrome, originally termed “imposter phenomenon,” in their 1978 founding study, The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention. Their study suggested that “despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.” It would be these findings that spurred decades of thought leadership, programs, and initiatives to address imposter syndrome within women and other marginalized groups.
Unfortunately, these initiatives and programs won’t fix the root problem of why all these groups “suffer” from imposter syndrome. For so long, I thought it was my job to “get over” my imposter syndrome and just be happy with my accomplishments. I just needed to stop doubting myself and believe that I deserved nice things. According to the world, it was all up to me to make the best out of circumstances and overcome these imaginary barriers. However, as I grew older I realized that my imposter syndrome wasn’t just silly feelings that I could get over with power of positivity and good vibes; it was a trauma response.
In the article, Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey, the authors analyze the 1978 study, providing their thoughts on how the study and lessons that have followed focus less on the systems that have created imposter syndrome and instead has focused on how people who deal with these feelings can overcome the: “The impact of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases was categorically absent when the concept of imposter syndrome was developed. Many groups were excluded from the study, namely women of color and people of various income levels, genders, and professional backgrounds. Even as we know it today, 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.”
I’m not the problem.
It was after reading this article that it finally clicked for me; I’m not the problem. My imposter syndrome doesn’t stem from irrational insecurities, but stems from centuries of people like me being told that we don’t deserve our humanity, that we’ll always be inferior, and that whatever we accomplish will never be good enough.
My imposter syndrome is a product of the world I live in. As a child, I was shown that people that look like me and come from the places that I come from don’t have the same levels of success as their white counterparts. As an adult, I was shown that even if I did reach those same levels of success, I still wouldn’t be treated fairly. I still wouldn’t be seen as an equal because no matter what I do, there is always going to be a large group of people that don’t think I belong.
So, how did we get over imposter syndrome?
Unfortunately, that’s not something that I, an individual, can fix. It is also not something you, also an individual, can fix. It is something that we, as a society, have to fix, which is easier said than done. As stated by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey, “The answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is not to fix individuals but to create an environment that fosters a variety of leadership styles and in which diverse racial, ethnic, and gender identities are seen as just as professional as the current model (eurocentric, masculine, and heteronormative).”
We cannot continue to blame ourselves for feeling like we don’t belong because we were never supposed to belong. We were never supposed to be as successful as “them”. Hell, we were never supposed to be seen as human.
Yet, despite all of that, we’re still here succeeding and doing amazing things.
While I may never “get over” my imposter syndrome, I will always show myself grace.
While I may never “get over” my imposter syndrome, I will always remember that I am exactly where I need to be.
While I may never “get over” my imposter syndrome, I will never forget the community that I have supporting me, and who I will continue to support as well,
Imposter syndrome sucks, but we’re going to keep it pushing!