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Dealing With Impostor Syndrome & How To Banish It For Good

Posted on Sep 01, 2018
Alina Din

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As working women climbing the career ladder, imposter syndrome can overtake the best of us. In fields typically dominated by certain “types” based on age, gender, race, [insert label here], entering as a newcomer can feel downright unnerving. Self-perceived “imposters” think they have less value to add, were given the opportunity by mistake, and/or just aren’t good enough to hold their current position. Unfortunately, these feelings affect many women today, across all industries, especially -- and ironically -- those who’ve excelled and done really well in their careers.

Feeling like an imposter also affects how we move up at work. It leads to what's been coined by reporters Claire Shipman and Katty Kay as the “confidence gap.” They found that despite having strong credentials from top schools or impressive titles from world-renowned companies, many women attribute their success to “getting lucky” or downplay their accomplishments and strengths. They defer leadership to their male counterparts, and if a better opportunity comes along in the form of a new job or promotion, they tend to hesitate before taking it on, questioning if they are really ready to go for it. Their findings align with internal research by Hewlett Packard that found that men, on average, apply for a job if they meet only 60% of the qualifications, while women generally apply if they meet 100% of them. This confidence gap also leads women to caveat otherwise assertive statements with, “This is just my two cents...” or “This is probably a crazy idea, but…” Author Ann Friedman finds this feeling also occurs among minority males who attribute their success to affirmative action, ahead of their own personal strengths or qualities.

This brings me to my next point -- if accomplished women in general are feeling like imposters, what does that mean for accomplished women of color? Often, it adds insult to injury. According to the New York Times, the lack of diversity or representation at the workplace can make minority women feel particularly isolated. Additionally, the pains of discrimination are more sorely felt when coupled with imposterism. Minority women feel even more like outsiders amidst a homogenous group of colleagues and that their perspectives don’t matter. Without having co-workers they can relate to, they’re often left questioning themselves or what they have to offer.

As Muslim women, our representation across the workplace is steadily building, but still has a long way to go. The feelings of imposterism and isolation I’ve described above certainly weren’t new to me. As I researched this topic, I’ve reflected on my career journey thus far and all the hits I took because of a confidence gap or attributing my success more to external factors like luck or a helping hand, less to my own personal qualifications. The good news is that while it takes some work to undo years of bad thinking and false beliefs, it’s not impossible! When I decided to learn web development two years ago, I oscillated a lot between feeling super excited and too nervous to even begin. I had taken a programming class in college several years ago, and at the time I found it so abstract and difficult to grasp that I dropped it after a week. Then, life happened and I gained some wisdom: I learned that it’s okay to try a second time and that initial failures don’t mean I’m a fraud. Now, the learning curves don't faze me like they used to. Sometimes they're even enjoyable!

#AsAHijabi • For those who’ve been told they don’t fit in, they don’t look the part, or they simply don’t belong—I hope that you can see past the negativity and toward the amazingness that is your future. It is not about what you wear or how you look, it’s about how you own who you are on the inside. In becoming a surgeon, I have certainly faced my share of obstacles. And sadly, many were created because of the fact that I looked different, that I was Muslim and did not attempt to shy away from this. I am a hijabi and proud of it. Despite the naysayers who’ve tried to persuade me to downplay this aspect of my life in favor of conformity, I have still happily succeeded as a doctor and #AsAHijabi thriving in my community. For those out there who wear hijab, or any woman for that matter who is judged because of something she puts on, or some different aspect regarding her look, I urge you toward the following: . •You have this one life, take hold of it and live it out loud, exactly as you want to live it! •When people glance sideways at you, smile widely at them; show them that their skepticism does not faze you. •Always look the world in the eyes. It is when you look down, uncomfortable and embarrassed that you let them take your power. •Know who you are first and foremost and then let your courageous spirit guide how you present yourself. You are strong, beautiful, intelligent, and what you choose to wear on the outside only accentuates that power that you hold within. • Share your #AsAHijabi story. 💕 #strongertogether

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There are ways to overcome imposter syndrome, and here are a few ideas:

1. Lean into your fear – temporarily. Know it’s okay to feel nervous and scared initially. Fear is a natural reaction to perceived potential failure or lack of control; that’s a survival mechanism ingrained in our genes. The trick is to tell yourself that trying “the thing” won’t kill you, because the only way to guarantee absolute failure is to quit before you begin.

2. Re-define your fake truths. I learned this from my mentor, Niko Everett. She had me take a minute to write down why I felt unqualified to be a writer. Then, I turned my sheet around, and for each “disqualification,” I wrote down something I did in the past that disproved it. For example, when I wrote that “I can’t write a book because it’s too hard,” I countered it with, “I sold products for a school fundraiser for five hours when I was in the sixth grade, despite most people rejecting my sales pitch. That was hard but I met my quota anyway!”

3. Find a tribe. Great ideas and learnings happen in collaboration. Find people in the same boat as you (hello, Meetup!), who are diligently chugging away at the same kind of project or endeavor you’re pursuing. Bounce off ideas and encourage each other, and articulate what you’re all about to a willing audience!

4. Practice grit. Grit is my favorite new word -- it means having passion and perseverance to pursue long-term goals, as defined by Angela Duckworth, PhD. When dealing with short-term setbacks, which all of us inevitably go through, having a tenacious spirit and infallible willpower in the face of them makes all the difference. I highly recommend Duckworth’s book “Grit” to learn about different peoples’ path to success and how to follow suit. Her TED Talk is also inspiring, as well.

5. Teach! Feel like your skills are not up to par? Teach someone how it’s done. It’ll refine your own development, reveal skills you never knew you had, and sharpen what you already know. Sharing your knowledge with someone else who needs it also helps boost his or her confidence, so it’s a win-win for both of you.

6. Own your journey. Whether it’s taking a promotion, changing careers, or excelling at your current role, you made a hard-earned journey to get to where you are today. Your experiences and views add dimension and dynamism to your organization, especially if they’re nontraditional! As a Muslim woman, you ride on the backs of giants like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Zahra Billoo. You’re a trailblazer in your own right, so own it boss lady!

When you level up your skills and elevate professionally, there will be many points along your ascent where might second-guess yourself or wonder how you got there. While a little humility keeps you open to growth and improvement, don’t let it become your modus operandi. Resist downplaying the strengths and accomplishments that have paved your success thus far, and let Anais Nin's powerful words be your guiding force: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

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How do you deal with impostor syndrome? Share in the comments below! 

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