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​Imposter Syndrome - At the Best of Times - Was Still the Worst

​Imposter Syndrome - At the Best of Times - Was Still the Worst

“Normal” wasn’t working. That’s what I’ve been hearing over and over again the longer we’re in this pandemic. “Normal” wasn’t working. “Normal” wasn’t good enough. And that’s true in more ways than I like to think about.

But as it turns out, it’s especially true when it comes to our wellbeing in the workplace. For those of us who’ve been privileged enough to go remote in 2020, we might have thought that some of the old office worries would go away. With so many other COVID-19-related emergencies and lightning-fast changes, wouldn’t it have been nice to get a break from the same tired dynamics? Unfortunately, that’s not what we got!

Instead, on top of everything else, we got a huge increase in mental and emotional pressure. The racial reckoning across this country has brought out some of the best in our colleagues and allies, and also some of the worst. Those of us who experience everyday violence because of our race have also been hit by the shrapnel of white allies’ sudden and explosive awakening.

We know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of well-intentioned mistakes. And quite frankly, it’s important for new allies to know that their mistakes can be met with a certain kind of grace. But for so many of us, the cost of that grace has been exponentially increased.

We are often assumed and expected to be educators, representatives, de-escalators, and comforters before we can be given the space to be mourners. Let alone the space to be vulnerable and the reassurances that we will be cared for, and allowed to be really human in our professional lives.

We are reprimanded or even disciplined for not extending the quality or quantity of grace that is expected - at the precise moment it’s expected! Even on those occasions when we miraculously succeed in performing this role, we’re not extended any grace in return.

So what’s that do to our sense of self? What’s the impact of this genuinely new and increased pressure on our sense of worthiness? Well, it’s not good. Right now, we face the perfect storm of factors to exacerbate the old office problems that were already there. Emotionally worn-out with our new and incredible stressors, it’s no wonder that self-doubt, fear, and the lingering suspicion that we just might not be cut out for all this come creeping (or flooding) back in.

[Related: First-Line Managers Can Reduce Stress With Compassionate Management]

Imposter syndrome can affect you, no matter what level of success you attain.

Whether you’re just starting out or have the C-suite in your sights, you can still struggle with it. No salary, no achievement, no promotion by itself can make imposter syndrome go away.

There are well-documented reasons for that. While everyone can experience imposter syndrome, it’s particularly insidious if you have any kind or combination of marginalized identities. And, to be clear, this isn’t about being weak. You don’t suffer from imposter syndrome because there’s anything intrinsically wrong with you, who you are, or where you come from.

It’s because representation matters. It actually, deeply, and materially matters. Representation is more than promotional materials, or stock photos on your company website. Those photos might help feed our imagination, but they aren’t enough! We need to see ourselves reflected in our work environment, and we need actual people to reflect ourselves back to us.

The real presence of people who look like us, speak like us, and who share our culture and background is critical to our ability to imagine our own success. Moreover, their actual presence is critical to our sense of belonging in our professional spheres and our sense of being both capable and deserving of success. None of that changed when we went virtual.

Feeling consistently grounded in our worth was hugely challenging when things were “normal.” “Normal” already meant that stacked odds were negatively impacting the hiring, retention, and promotion of marginalized people in corporate America. “Normal” already meant a dearth of appropriate, meaningful, and practical mentorship. “Normal” had us isolated and guessing at our next moves.

[Related: Diversity Without Power is Still Not Enough]

“Normal” had us winging it, and that was just a battle of attrition.

If you’re struggling right now, hang onto that. This was hard at the outset, and it’s harder with everything collectively in front of us at this moment.

But the good news is that you deserve support. You deserve the opportunities to learn, grow, and advance in your career. Think of imposter syndrome as your circumstances lying to you.

So you have to push back on that lie, but you don’t have to do that alone. I can help. Let’s get to work reducing all that extra guessing you’re doing to try and find your way. At the best of times, there was so much uncertainty around how to position yourself and how to find a firm place to stand in all these situations that weren’t built with you in mind. Let’s take out that guesswork, so you can focus on the new challenges without getting hung up on the old.

[Related: Advancing Women Advances Business]

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Denitresse Ferrell is a Transformation Strategist and Success Coach. She helps ambitious professionals gain clarity on their career goals and develop strategies to get there.


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