Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong in a space because you’re not “worthy” of being there? Do you ever downplay your accomplishments with negative self-talk, and as a result discrediting your efforts? Have you ever thought: “Oh crap! Any day now, they’re realize that I’m just ‘faking it, till I make it’” This feeling of being “found-out” is known as Imposter Syndrome, and it’s much more common than you think. Anywhere from 2 out of 5 people will experience this in their lifetime, and unfortunately, most are highly-successful women. And, you guessed it, people of color and minorities.
What is it exactly?
“Impostor syndrome is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".” (Source).
Although IS (Imposter Syndrome) also manifests in men, it’s most common in women. I argue that misogynistic mentalities flourish in corporate environments and in turn, make women feel like “visitors” or “guests” in their place of work, instead of the necessary roles they deserve to play. When you factor in the cultural and historical tendency to constantly close doors on women, and other minority groups, and reiterating over, and over that that “space” isn’t for them it’s no wonder that they internalize said rhetoric, and begin to believe that they are trespassing, just by being themselves.
How does Imposter Syndrome manifest?
Negative Self-Talk: You talk yourself out of things before even trying. “Why would they hire me for this job? I shouldn’t even apply!” “This promotion is way out of my league. No point in wasting their time, or mine.” “I’m just a ________. There’s no way I’m ready to compete on that / their level.” “This is (Insert Company Name). You don’t belong here! This is next level, and you’re just a novice!”
Hyper Self-Criticism: When you pick apart every single thing you do in the office, you basically set yourself up for a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I forgot to send that email yesterday to headquarters. What a rookie mistake! They’re probably right, I’m definitely not ready to compete on this level.” You will dissect every email, conversation and project until you find a mistake to zoom in on, and use as fuel to this idea that “you’re not good enough.”
Equating Confidence with Narcissism: You could have the entire alphabet of qualifications after your last name, and still not feel like an expert in your field. Imposter Syndrome leads you to believe that celebrating your wins, or showing any signs of authority in your field or workplace is not confidence, but narcissism. Instead of “rocking the boat” and risking rejection or judgment from your colleagues, you harp on what you didn’t do, or did wrong. You believe that it’s your charm, personality, or “being in the right place, at the right time” that has gotten you so far. You attribute your “wins” to luck instead of your capabilities, effort and merit. Guess what? By lying to yourself, you feel even more like an imposter, because you know that it’s not true.
It's not just you.
I feel Imposter Syndrome on the reg. My current job has afforded me the opportunity to attend events, and enter spheres that are seemingly closed off to both people of color, and also non-Spanish people. I feel like I’ve passed through to another dimension of sorts, and it’s exciting, intimidating, and more often than not, lonely. Restaurant openings, exclusive art exhibitions, press conferences, concerts, gallery openings; I enjoy the idea of these events, but I often feel like “What am I doing here?” as soon as I arrive. I convince myself that I don’t have enough marketing experience, or that my ‘gram game is strong enough to compete, or that hell, I don’t look trendy enough to rock in these circles. I can’t pronounce all the items on the menu, and my Spanish doesn’t sound like theirs. I think the worst of all is that I don’t know anyone… yet… and seeing people greet one another with dos besitos reminds me that hey, there’s them and there’s you.
“Is my Spanish good enough? Oh no! I conjugated that verb incorrectly, everyone’s going to think I’m just some “dumb American” trying to get by on high school Spanish!”
“God, I’m the only Black person in this restaurant / event / press conference. They’re probably going to think I’m lost. Do I really feel like being bothered with that today? I should just go home.”
“I don’t have a degree in Marketing. I studied linguistics. WTF am I doing here?”
“Let me make sure my press pass is visible. I don’t feel like having anyone ask me why I’m here. Wait, I have a press pass! Am I press?”
“Oh! Look! Someone who looks like me! Ayyy, my people, my people! Nope, wait, she just spent too long at the beach. Le sigh.”
“Is my hair too big? Am I smiling enough? Too much? Do I look like a real ‘marketer’? Wait, what does that even mean? She’s wearing yoga pants! I wish I could wear yoga pants to an event…”
Every time I go to an event, I have to remind myself that I belong here. That even though they don’t know me, doesn’t mean that they won’t, or don’t want to per say. It’s not easy climbing that mental mountain, but I do it because besides my dope, and talented friend Wes over at Much Bites (a fellow English speaker who is all up in the Spanish gastronomy scene), and the lovely Afroféminas (an Afro-Spanish journalist and writer), I don’t have very many examples! So I put myself out there in case there’s some other awkward Black girl wondering if it’s possible to leave English teaching behind, and work in a different field such as digital marketing. When all these super-bloggers with their black lipstick and Stan Smith’s peer out over their Meller’s they’ll see me in my Brown-skinned, big-haired glory. They may not know me now, but they will.
You’re not alone. No one is exempt from moments of self-doubt, or even negativity. Queen Maya once said: “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.’" Girl, if it can affect Maya, it can affect us mere plebes!
The key is not allowing said fear to cripple or stagnate you. It’s hard to seemingly swim uphill all the time, and tune out what society, history, and perhaps even your colleagues say, and project onto you, but, you owe it to yourself to speak louder than their doubts. You are enough. You are beautifully human, and always learning and growing. Strive for knowledge, not perfection. Luck isn’t a thing, but effort and skill are. And when they try to close the door, or shut you up, channel your inner Tyra or Naomi, Zendaya or Chanel Iman and rock up like the boss you are because life is your catwalk. You can’t fake greatness. You got this, queen.
Danni, Community Director at Las Morenas de España, is a twenty-something, Chicago native currently residing in Madrid. Lover of language, words, and travel, she's managed to combine all of her passions through her work. In her free time, you can find her exploring the winding streets of Madrid, hunting down good flight deals, planning her next adventure and writing & researching for LMDES. Danni loves spicy food, natural hair, music and of course, her wonderful husband. If you need to find her, she’s the girl with huge hair and her face buried in her Kindle.