I never had to be taught to work twice as hard; it was just an understanding. To get to where my Caucasian counterparts were, I had to put in more effort for less reward. However, despite earning my place at the table, I’ve never felt I belong or done enough.
When I worked in the retail industry, I had keys, access codes and knew the COO and influential higher-ups. I was told it was an honor to hold a managerial role, yet the first time I was asked if I had gotten a promotion, I answered by saying a “real grown-up” would show up soon.
I still refuse to introduce myself or end emails with the title “editor,” telling myself that I’ve done nothing to earn it. In my mind, I’ve just been in the right place at the right time, and people have yet to figure out that I don’t belong.
These feelings aren’t exclusive to me. In 1978, psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes first identified impostor syndrome, describing it as an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”
In their research, Clance and Imes found that men do not experience impostor syndrome as often but recognized that further research would need to be done.
Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy wrote in her 2015 book “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges” that some men feel like frauds, but because of the strong-assertive stereotype placed upon men, they shield their emotions and do not discuss their self-doubt.
Men who discuss their self-doubts are seen as failures in conforming to societal expectations, Cuddy wrote. This can lead to harassment or ostracism.
Kevin Cokley, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, found that because of lack of representation, minorities experience impostor syndrome. Minorities do not see themselves as leaders or bosses within organizations, so when they reach that level, they feel like outsiders.
It’s become a pattern of mine to learn a job, perform to the best of my abilities, take on responsibilities and then end up doing a superior’s job while they coast on the successes I bring.
There were times when I could have easily been promoted, but I always talked my way out of it, arguing to myself that I wasn’t talented enough, wasn’t a leader and that no one would listen to the short, young brown girl.
Titles have always been arbitrary in my mind when it comes to me. However, I can respect titles when it comes to my professors, bosses and editors because they have rightfully earned the respect, praise and role.
I walk into most meetings thinking I have contributed the least and with a mentality that today is they day they realize they made a mistake in promoting me. I never am satisfied with what I have done because, in my eyes, it will never be enough.
These behaviors are not only uncomfortable, but can lead to failure. People who feel like impostors are constantly self-criticizing and analyzing the smallest aspects of their work.
Cuddy writes that when people feel like impostors, they attribute their accomplishments to luck instead of hard work or talent. Impostor syndrome causes choking at the worst possible moments and disengagement, which is virtually a guarantee of under-performance.
Achievements could alleviate these insecurities; however, for most, it worsens the experience.
Whenever I get a promotion or new responsibilities within my work, I see it as new ways to fail and show that I do not deserve whatever high regard is being given to me.
I’ve read multiple ways that could help me confront these feelings. The only thing that put me at ease was when a professor brought up impostor syndrome and a majority of the class said they dealt with it. I brought it up at work and people identified with it.
This is a shared human experience that even Hollywood elite like Issa Rae experience.
Rae told The New York Times she has a mantra that reminds her she’s worked hard and earned her place. Simply put, that’s what we all need to tell ourselves: it’s not just luck; I belong here.