I recently attended a conference at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee where one panel discussion was about a psychological response called impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is characterized by a person being unable to internalize their successes and hyperconscious of the way others perceive them. According to most research, high-achieving women are more likely to experience these feelings despite their diligence and accomplishments.
This syndrome does not refer to healthy stress or anxiety about a big presentation. Impostor syndrome is not classified as a disorder as most people suffer from these feelings at some point in their lives, but some people are more susceptible than others. Imagine a crippling fear that one day you will be discovered to be a charlatan, undeserving of praise or accolades. Albert Einstein reportedly told a friend that "the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler." If such an esteemed man can have such feelings, I consider myself in good company.
I have struggled with impostor syndrome in my adult life. Despite excelling in school, I have rationalized away this success by reasoning that much of what I know is readily available online to anyone. Although I often dedicate thirteen hour days to the mission of educating America's youth, I constantly remind myself that I do not physically work as hard as other people who are paid less. I am uncomfortable with being called an expert even though many people seek out my expertise.
Much of this response has been ingrained since childhood. It is not ladylike to be cocky. It has taken a long time for me to realize that the application of both terms to women is ambiguous at best, limiting at worst. For men, the difference between cockiness and confidence is simply evidence. The proof that you deserve that promotion is that you are in a position to apply for it. This makes an innate and unnerving sort of sense. Is it possible that the major reason men make more money in identical positions is that they are willing to ask for promotions and raises? Women, who tend to be consensus seekers, often wait to be nominated for a position or a raise rather than assert they earned them.
Joyce Roche, a reporter for The Shriver Report, identified 10 Ways to Overcome Impostor Syndrome. The remedy for this condition is to talk about these feelings. It helps to discuss these feelings with others who can serve as a social mirror through which people dealing with impostor syndrome can begin to see external evidence as a product of internal virtue and hard work. It is a reality check for those struggling with unfounded insecurity. I discovered that attending conferences and networking events helped me overcome these feelings. By networking with powerful women and knowledgeable professionals, I slowly realized that I could hold my own.
I accepted an invitation to be the moderator at The Reality Check in Memphis, TN on November 1st. I know from personal experience that the encouragement to accept their value in the home, workplace, and world is a great message which women need to hear. Join me at The Reality Check where the panelists and speaker Ebony Sha'nae Peats will discuss these topics and more.
Think you might have impostor syndrome? Click here to take the quiz.