In early July, I had the honor of sitting on a panel at the Multicultural National Women’s Conference in New York City. I was joined by author and entrepreneur Tywanna Smith, President and Founder of The Athlete’s Nexus.
While the conversation covered a lot of ground, especially on the challenges women face in navigating traditionally male-dominated professions and roles, one topic that came up was “the impostor syndrome.”
In recent years it’s become trendy to discuss how we apparently suffer from this impostor syndrome, especially minorities and women. In a nutshell, the impostor syndrome is an inability to acknowledge and internalize one’s accomplishments, and the persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
As I jotted down some talking points during the interview, I wrote this across the top in bold, underlined font.
I DON’T SUFFER FROM IMPOSTOR SYNDROME AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU.
I have never felt like an “impostor.” I have always deserved to be here and where I find myself. I’ve worked hard. I don’t suffer from a “syndrome.”
You have worked hard to get where you are, and unless you are truly paralyzed by fear of being exposed as a fraud because you don’t believe your own accomplishments – you don’t suffer from this syndrome either.
Identifying and acknowledging the gaps in your knowledge or training and being aware of what you don’t know is part of your present evolution, ensuing transformation, and ultimate self-transcendence.
So I take issue with this trend and this label. It minimizes the impact that this experience has on people that really do suffer from it. We’re labeling something that should be considered positive personality traits—self-reflection and assessment, a healthy dose of humility, a gentle acceptance that we can’t be right all the time, and a desire to know more, to grow and to evolve —and labeling it as a condition. A syndrome. Something we need to “deal with” or “get over.” As if there’s something wrong with us.
Of course we all have worries that we aren’t good enough or equipped to do any given task or our job on any given day. We should not be labeling normal and healthy feelings like they are some sort of psychological affliction. Good grief. Worries about not being good enough are natural, we all have them, and they keep us on task and aware of what we might need to learn next.
Even the most accomplished executives and leaders in the world have moments when they don’t feel up to the task, when their flaws and shortcomings seem much bigger than they really are. But what sets these folks apart, is their constant awareness of the “gap” in their knowledge and then their willingness to work towards closing this gap. It’s totally natural, a sign of one’s humbleness and open-mindedness to learn and grow, not a “syndrome” to be suffered through.
So I wholeheartedly disagree with this labeling. Words are powerful. Descriptive words like “syndrome” even more powerful. To say that one has a syndrome – when you don’t – is so negative and demoralizing.
I’ve talked a lot these past few months about the importance of shifting our perspective and creating a more positive narrative—for SHPE, for Hispanics in STEM, and for the Hispanic community as a whole.
This “impostor syndrome” label is a microcosm of that broader challenge. It’s not that our feelings of insecurity and inadequacy are unfounded. There are some lingering and troubling statistics about Hispanics in STEM. Worse, our people are being told they “don’t belong” in this country. That alone is enough, at a minimum, to make someone pause.
It’s time to flip the script.
If you’re a Hispanic in STEM and currently experiencing feelings of inadequacy for some reason, remember these three things:
-You aren’t alone. SHPE is with you all the way.
-It’s going to be okay. SHPE will help make it okay and better.
-You deserve everything you’ve earned. And SHPE is here to support your long-time success.
We Hispanics have worked too hard, sacrificed too much, to allow ourselves to question our incredible accomplishments. If anything, the hurdles and barriers we’ve scaled to get to where we are—both as individuals and as a people and as a community—should make us even prouder of those achievements.
Unless you’re a MENSA-level genius (or entirely delusional), you’ll never know everything. Knowledge gaps are inevitable. They’re what push us to improve. As we gain more experience—learn new things, collaborate with our colleagues—those knowledge gaps don’t vanish. More come up in their place.
So accept the fact that you’ll never know everything. Self-doubt will never fully subside. Accepting this and getting comfortable with uncomfortable feelings is the key to personal and professional growth. Instead of letting doubt cripple you, let it empower you. Use it as fuel to propel you forward and upward, to that next promotion, that next venture, that next great idea.
Because in the end, what defines you isn’t what you don’t know, but how open you are to learning the things you don’t.
That’s how true transformation takes hold. That’s how we learn to ascend to transcend. By looking beyond our current peak and daring to dream of even higher peaks and higher mountains to conquer.
Raquel Tamez, SHPE CEO