4 Min ReadCareer 09 July 2020
Impostor syndrome — that feeling that you're "a fraud" or that your success is not deserved — has grown new wings during this pandemic. While most of us have experienced impostor syndrome at some point in our careers — it's estimated that more than 70% of people will feel the symptoms — I've heard from so many women who are now questioning their worth and value when they have never before. The reason? We are all overtaxed.
If you're a project management whiz, your focus can be shaky right now, which leaves you contemplating your value. If relationship management is your forte, doing so virtually is a completely new skill set to learn. If you've always delivered 110% effort at work but your caregiving responsibilities now put that at about a 60, you're contemplating if you're going to get fired.
Don't worry. No one is going to "find you out" anytime soon. Because you are worth all of the success and praise you come by in life. And, in these unprecedented times, you need to cut yourself some slack. Recently, I spoke at an event with Karen Sunderam of UBS and Christmas Hutchinson of Verizon Media about how to help women stop the impostor syndrome shame cycle. Here are some of my favorite tips from the evening:
Don't worry. No one is going to "find you out" anytime soon. Because you are worth all of the success and praise you come by in life.
Create a "smile file" full of positive feedback and accomplishments that can remind you of how competent you are.
When you're deep in the dregs of impostor syndrome, it can be so easy to focus on everything you've done wrong, all the reasons you "shouldn't" be where you are, or all of the things that people who aren't you are doing right now. It can be really hard to pull yourself out of this state without any greater frame of reference. But, whether you realize it or not, the proof of your success is very real. A "smile file" can be anything you need it to be — from a simple note in your phone with positive reminders about yourself, a collection of feedback from your colleagues, or a list of your professional successes. You could even have a physical folder with print-outs of your accomplishments and photos from major events you've attended.
Surround yourself with colleagues or friends (a "personal board of directors") with whom you can share your impostor syndrome struggles.
It's not easy to support yourself alone! Sometimes you just need to vent. And the best part is, not only can you commiserate on impostor syndrome struggles with them but these people will also be there to boost your confidence despite every fear or insecurity you may have to let out. Even the famous author Maya Angelou, who has long been lauded as a literary genius, experienced imposter syndrome: "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out."
But, whether you realize it or not, the proof of your success is very real.
Put things in perspective to feel less paralyzed — weigh the costs of potential mistakes and rejections.
If you ever find yourself on the precipice of an impostor syndrome spiral, try to take the situation out of context and out of your own personal feelings, and consider how you would respond to the experience if a friend were sharing their story with you. In this context, you may be better able to weigh the outcomes with a level head rather than letting yourself get lost in negativity and self-doubt.
Address the root cause. Ask yourself, "Why am I telling myself this story?"
If this is the first time you're experiencing impostor syndrome, it's most likely due to the stressful situation we find ourselves in right now. If it's happened before, keep some tips in your back pocket to halt the progress of impostor syndrome as it's occurring. However, at some point, you have to think about why these feelings keep coming up in the first place. When you have a moment of clarity, try to dig deep and figure out why you keep selling yourself short. What part of your history or psychology keeps leading you back to impostor syndrome? If you're having trouble untangling this on your own, maybe call on the help of your "personal board of directors" or seek professional guidance from a therapist.
Don't write off the positive effects of impostor syndrome (e.g. humility), just keep the negative ones in check.
Try to find a silver lining in this situation. Yes, impostor syndrome comes with a lot of struggles, but sometimes it's okay to look at the bright side of a bad situation. Feeling like an imposter is a sign that you're truly progressing and challenging yourself in your field. If you stayed in the same place all the time, you'd always feel comfortable. It's only when you're growing that you may start to question yourself. Keep the negative responses to imposter syndrome down by reminding yourself of all the positive things it signals about your journey.
If this is the first time you're experiencing impostor syndrome, it's most likely due to the stressful situation we find ourselves in right now.
So the next time you're thinking, "Why me?" or "I don't deserve this praise," stop yourself, think back to this list, and celebrate all that makes you you.
This article was originally published May 18, 2020.
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5 Min Read
Like so many millions across the globe, I deeply mourn the loss of one of our greatest real-life superheroes, Chadwick Boseman. To pay tribute and homage to him, my family rewatched his amazing performance in Black Panther. T'Challa was one of Boseman's most important roles both on and off the screen, as his portrayal of the heroic warrior and leader of the people of Wakanda inspired viewers of all ages.
Re-visiting the futuristic city of Wakanda on screen caused me to reflect on how Blacks in America once had our own version of Wakanda: Black Wall Street. Black Wall Street was the name given to the wealthy, thriving, Tulsa, Oklahoma neighborhood of Greenwood in the early 1900s. The nearly 40 square-block neighborhood had more than 300 businesses and over 1,000 homes, including several stately mansions. Like Wakanda, Black people in Greenwood built their own hospitals, schools, theaters, newspapers, churches, and everything needed for their community to flourish.
Tragically, he lost everything he built, as did the entire district of Greenwood, in the largest, government-sanctioned race massacre in U.S. history.
With only 42 years separating the moment Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and Greenwood's founding, the amazing feat of Blacks building Black Wall Street is something that required supernatural acts of real-life superheroes the likes of which we see onscreen in Black Panther.
One of these real-life superheroes and leaders of Black Wall Street was my great-grandfather A.J. Smitherman, owner and editor of the Tulsa Star. The Tulsa Star was the first daily Black newspaper with national distribution and was a source for Black people to stay informed about issues affecting them throughout the US. A member of the first generation of Blacks born free in the late 1800s, Smitherman attended La Salle and Northwestern Universities. After receiving his law degree, A.J. began his career in community activism, politics, and the newspaper business.
A fearless leader in the Black community not just in Tulsa but throughout the nation, he dedicated his life to empowering his race in all categories of life in every way: morally, economically, physically, and politically. A.J. fiercely and courageously used his newspaper and the power of the press to end a myriad of corrupt operations and develop his community. As one of the most influential founding fathers of Black Wall Street, his contribution and investment in Greenwood was and is immeasurable. Tragically, he lost everything he built, as did the entire district of Greenwood, in the largest, government-sanctioned race massacre in U.S. history.
Unlike Wakanda—the fictional land hidden in the mountains of Africa, mostly invisible to the outside world and protected from foreign threats—Greenwood was exposed. Greenwood was not only visible, but the 11,000 residents and their luxurious lifestyle were a constant reminder to their poor white neighbors across the tracks that Black people had surpassed them in economic empowerment and success. Eventually, the jealousy, greed and contempt for the growing Black economic and political power ignited a horrendously evil act of domestic terrorism by white Tulsans.
A.J. fiercely and courageously used his newspaper and the power of the press to end a myriad of corrupt operations and develop his community.
On May 31st, 1921, thousands systematically looted and burned down Greenwood in a 36 hour-long massacre resulting in the murdering of over 300 Blacks. Thousands more were detained in concentration camps where they remained for months through the freezing Oklahoman winter.
In a recent interview, I was asked what goes through my head when I see the racial unrest taking place today and compare it to what was happening 100 years ago leading up to the Tulsa Massacre. The short answer is that I am incredibly sad. I'm sad for so many reasons. One of the things I am saddest about is knowing that my great-grandfather and great-grandmother sacrificed everything for the betterment and empowerment of their race. And after all of these years, the struggle continues.
I believe that now, more than ever, it is so important to maintain not only our hope but our faith.
A.J. Smitherman's writings in both the Tulsa Star, and thereafter in the Empire Star, a paper he founded later in New York, reveal a man full of hope and ambition to make a difference and contribute to his race and his country as part of the first generation of Blacks born free. He worked tirelessly to this end until the day he died in 1961. Tragically, A.J. died still a fugitive of the state of Oklahoma, having been unjustly indicted by a grand jury for inciting the massacre. This is another point of tremendous pain and grief for me and my family. It is a travesty that he never saw justice in his lifetime, and he furthermore never saw his dream of racial equality.
But perhaps what saddens me most is the fact that I truly believe that in his heart, he still had hope that America was on a path to find its way out of its dark past and into the light of a new dawn. He hoped that the nation would one day become a country where his descendants would no longer be subject to racial hatred, discrimination, and economic disenfranchisement. And I'm certain that he believed the days that Black people would fear being lynched would be long gone by now.
One of the things I am saddest about is knowing that my great-grandfather and great-grandmother sacrificed everything for the betterment and empowerment of their race. And after all of these years, the struggle continues.
I can feel A.J.'s blood in my veins, and I feel a responsibility to carry the torch of the light of hope. I believe that now, more than ever, it is so important to maintain not only our hope but our faith. I'm very grateful for the attention being brought to the legacy of Black Wall Street and A.J. Smitherman. Knowing their story of success and triumph and how it tragically turned to massacre and destruction is vital to insuring history doesn't continue to repeat itself 100 years later.
One thing I know for certain is that building a brighter future will require all of us to summon our own inner superhero, like A.J. Smitherman and Chadwick Boseman before us, and work together to continue to fight for our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.