How to overcome imposter syndrome

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Exploring how to overcome imposter syndrome was the theme of the first ever Afri-love Connection Club Everyday Wonderwomen events and we could not have picked a more timely topic!

Everyday Wonderwomen speak

I started to share some of what happened at the Mombasa event. After another magical evening, this time in Nairobi, I felt compelled to share the powerful take-aways from our panel and audience. 

Because we wanted to create a safe space where women could talk freely, I haven’t attributed the ideas and thoughts below to anybody. What you read here is a mixture of my own reflections and actual suggestions and sometimes actual words, from ladies on the night. See the bottom of the post for information on our panelists. 

But first, to recap, imposter syndrome can be defined as:

“A collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.” [source: Harvard Business Review]

Imposter syndrome is a good thing

One woman in the audience talked about 2 sides of imposter syndrome. It can be paralysing on one hand but, it can also force you out of complacency which, is always a good thing for those who are interested in growth.

Indeed, I observed that a lot of us women in the room seemed to be thrill-seekers! Many of us talked about how imposter syndrome had flared up, after we’d voluntarily put ourselves in situations that scared us. We’d said “yes” to things that forced us to step up.

Deep-down, I think we have a knowing that we can figure things out. That we can put in whatever it takes, to make what we need to happen.

Putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone like that is especially scary because, it can mean we’re more likely to fail. 

How to overcome imposter syndrome

Be ready to fail

Observe the children in your life. See how bold and fearless they are? How persistent to achieve something, despite a million failed attempts? 

“The oil is within us” too! 

(A panelist shared her favourite quote with us – “Zetna Fi Betna” – a Sudanese phrase that translates thus.)

We often take rejection and failure too personally. What happens if we allow ourselves to be uncomfortable? What if we let ourselves be vulnerable and admit that sometimes, we have no idea what we’re doing

We know that perfection is the enemy of progress but we don’t often act in alignment with this knowledge.

And what is failure anyway? Rock bottom can be a beautiful place because, there, the slate is clean.

Find your tribe

We needn’t be alone in this journey. 

Accept that the people closest to you may not understand your passion and ambition. Often, their good intentions inspire them to advise you to be “more sensible”. Lower your expectations of them. 

Focus instead on finding your mirrors. People who can reflect  back to you a true picture of what you’re capable of. People who can encourage you by putting a spotlight on your greatness.

Perhaps you need both sides of the coin though – people you can turn to when you need loving encouragement, as well as people you can turn to when you need a kick up the backside!

Beware social media

But be clear about the difference between tough love and situations that make you feel bad about yourself.

Social media can be a wonderful thing. It connects us to like-minded people from all over the world and helps us engage our tribe. 

It can also be a source of pressure. If we start comparing ourselves to other people and the curated slice of life they choose to show, we can easily fuel the feelings of inadequacy at the root of imposter syndrome.

Know yourself and set appropriate boundaries. Keep reminding yourself that what’s presented is only part reality.

Speaking of departures from reality…

Conjure up some imaginary friends

Perhaps you need a nemesis. A fictional (or real) person that you compete against, in your head. Somebody whose existence motivates you to shine bright, despite all the voices in your head that want to keep you small.

Perhaps what you need is an alter ego. A turbo version of yourself who is more fearless, more competent, more charismatic and just all-round super fantastic and amazing! Go on and give her a name! Step into her shoes whenever you need an extra boost of confidence. 

Assume the position

While you’re at it, physically act the part. If you haven’t yet watched Amy Cuddy’s popular Ted Talk on faking it until you make it and the power of body language, do so today. 

You can also look up power poses such as the superhero stance/The Wonder Woman which, is said to help you feel more powerful and act the part, in just two minutes!

Literally stand up for yourself! 

Assume the same entitlement observed in too many mediocre white men!

Be you

Hold the resistance right there! Remember, we all have something different to bring to the table. If we stay true to ourselves and focus on our unique contribution, we can bring so much value to the world. 

We are worthy, just the way we are!

Know yourself and question the real cause of your fear. This allows you to either expose the foolishness of it, or address what you’re really afraid of facing.

Be kind to yourself

Take care of yourself and nourish your mind, body and spirit. Whether that’s starting the day in stillness, incorporating movement etc.

In the same way that physical muscles grow stronger with repeated exercise, advocating for yourself is also a muscle that needs exercise to strengthen. Be your own cheerleader!

However, while a lot of how to overcome imposter syndrome is about doing internal work, appreciate that there are external factors too. These could include sexism, racism, ageism and so many other prejudices and intolerances.

Keep challenging the status quo that contributes to your feelings of imposter syndrome.

We got this! 

Lastly, remember this: we have all the resources we need within us, in our communities and in the world. 

How have you overcome imposter syndrome?

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Our panelists

A huge thank you to our panelists for agreeing to share personal experiences around a topic that is difficult for many to open up about. All of these women wear several hats but, I’ve just highlighted one for each of them.

If you’re interested in participating in future Everyday Wonderwomen events 

Either on the panel or in the audience, sign up to the Afri-love Connection Club mailing list for updates. 

You’ll also get invites to all our other events; regular business and self-care resources; updates on when our doors are open to new members; and announcements about our international offerings.

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