Macy Harrell, a public relations and creative branding professional, says she was known for being productive and getting excellent results for her client. “But for years it never quite felt that I was doing enough. I felt too young to be a leader, or that my co-workers were more qualified than I was by default.”
Being the youngest and only minority in the office she felt invisible like she didn’t belong. “Some of that feeling came from my leaders lacking confidence in me and not feeling trusted by them. So when it came time to lead, it was easy to think I couldn’t. This created a less than confident perception of myself,” says Harrell who is Black.
She decided to do her own thing on the side. She co-founded The Posh Connect in 2014. “I was so scared to go full time with the business that I stayed at the agency where I was for a safety net. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be a business owner. I wouldn’t even call myself that at the time, even though that’s exactly what I was.”
Harrell says when she started getting clients on Ellen, Good Morning America, and in magazines like Allure and Essence, people took notice. Business owners asked her for freelance support left and right. “It was because of the work I put in. It wasn’t by luck or chance. I was actually good at my job. I needed to start believing that,” she says. Success built her confidence and belief in herself. In addition to The Posh Connect, that she runs with a partner, in January she started her solo venture, Macy Media.
Harrell’s story isn’t unique. Tremaine Willis, says as the owner of a 100% black woman-owned Registered Investment Adviser firm, Mind Over Money, she struggled with the question of whether she really could run an investment company. “Do black women really do this? We do. We do everything and it is on me to keep growing and showcasing that more of us can step into this space and be successful,” says Willis.
Imposter Syndrome permeates the workplace. It is a sense of feeling like a fraud in one’s work even though one is qualified. “It often happens with high achieving people and can manifest in many ways: anxiety, not pursuing opportunities, rejecting positive feedback, turning down opportunities, working way too hard, work martyrdom, perfectionism. This is a phenomenon that was first noticed by psychologists in the 1970’s when women were entering the workforce in a way they never had: management and leadership roles in corporate America,” says Brian Daniel Norton, a psychotherapist, and executive coach.
He says for many reasons, women, POC and the LGBT community are most at risk. “When you experience systemic oppression or are directly or indirectly told your whole life that you are less than or undeserving of success and you begin to achieve things in a way that goes against a long-standing narrative in the mind, Imposter Syndrome will occur,” says Norton.
The ramifications are huge. “It can be crippling to live with,” says Margaret Seide, a Black psychiatrist.
Jamie-Alexis Fowler is the founder and executive director of Empower Work, a non-profit that provides a crisis text line for workers. Imposter Syndrome is one of the top issues that people reach out to them about. “They’re overwhelmed, stressed, in many ways paralyzed by this sense that no matter what they are doing, it’s not enough, or that someone is going to find out that they don’t know what they think they know. They feel like a ‘fraud’ or that they’re never going to be qualified enough,” says Fowler. It impacts their mental health. “They have anxiety, stress, lack of sleep, an inability to focus, and more.”
Janet Zaretsky, an executive coach, and author of Where’d My Confidence Go…and How Do I Get it Back? says a woman with Imposter Syndrome will likely thwart her career trajectory both in terms of pay and in position and influence. “She will look at job descriptions and discount her own experience, thereby limiting the positions she applies for. She will negotiate poorly if at all.”
Truth is you may never fully overcome Imposter Syndrome, but you can manage those feelings and minimize their impact.
“First recognize nothing is wrong with you. You have a well-worn brain pattern and behavior that is now unconscious and automatic. When I work with women on this issue, we do work that has them see all the thoughts, the emotions, the ways of being, and the physical sensations that go along with the pattern. When you can see it, as a pattern, you can interrupt it. When you interrupt it, you can create a new one,” says Zaretsky.
She also suggests a daily practice. “Get three performance reviews or client testimonials and put them in a file. Read them to start your day. Your job is to look for the evidence of that truth, instead of the one your brain is spitting out to you automatically that tells you that you are less than in some way.”
Norton is big on meditating for 20 minutes twice a day, seeking career counseling, and finding mentors, “who can catch you from falling down the rabbit hole of IS and support you in taking chances.”
It’s important too, he says to develop passions outside of work and to take time off. “Distance yourself from work, and spend time doing things that bring you joy.”
Harrell says every so often she takes a minute to remember where she started and where she is now. She says doing so helps you see your growth, “It’s because of your own abilities, your value and your decisions that you are in the position you’re in. Don’t doubt that you’ve paved your own way and deserve to be there. Repeat these affirmations to yourself until you believe it. The cure for Imposter Syndrome is showing yourself you can and celebrating you when you do.”