Imposter Syndrome, Anxiety, & Intersectionality

by | Jul 5, 2023 | Hummingbird Blog

I really enjoyed gaining perspectives from Brian’s last blog Am I an Imposter: Representation Helped Me Imagine the Possibilities of a Human-Centered Workplace Culture. Brian spoke about the importance of being unapologetically authentic for him and only him first, but the trickle effect is that it inspires and encourages others. He also spoke about the journey to get there, how early on in his career it certainly wasn’t easy to come out as it created anxiety about the impact on his career trajectory and a generalized perception of his capabilities as a leader. He pondered about if more leaders had been out would he have felt both a greater sense of belonging and safer sharing his stories. 

Brian’s blog really made me think about two things: the intersectionality we all hold and how having anxiety can make understanding imposter syndrome super complex. First, I want to say that no one in this world will know what it feels like to be in your body with your specific experiences. I have a twin sister who I lived with for 26 years and still, we interpret and internalize experiences so differently. 

Brian made a point in his blog that he recognized his “privilege I have as a cisgender, white, man who is 6’6” tall.”  I felt that acknowledgment was important, but not in the way you may think coming from a Black woman. Because I am a Black woman WITH anxiety, I deeply understand how it can eat you up inside and quiet any positivity going on around you. I know that when I’ve seen other powerful Black women doing things I thought I couldn’t it has actually HEIGHTENED my anxiety, manifesting comparison demons leading to imposter syndrome. What I realized is that, for me, as someone who suffers from generalized anxiety, imposter syndrome mostly has to do with my own thoughts about myself and my decision to assume what others think about me and has little to do with others’ actions or the representation around me. 

I realized this at an early age when I was a track star during high school. It was actually when people had no expectations of me, when I was an underdog, that I ran my best times and felt most relaxed. When I started winning and when I “thought” people viewed me a certain way is when my anxiety would kick in and I questioned my abilities and my belonging. This would carry on to my professional career- I would approach interviews with confidence and ease and blow people away, but once I started working my anxiety and fears would affect my performance, my confidence, and really my ability to focus on my true purpose and fulfillment in jobs. It’s something I have to constantly keep in check with the mindfulness exercises I do daily.

I love exploring diversity of experience and thought because we can uncover multiple solutions to mitigate some of our fears and challenges. I love Brian’s approach of ensuring there is representation to build belonging and thus build bravery around empowering ourselves and mitigating imposter syndrome. I often taken a more internalized approach, as I’ve found that focusing on what I can control is a great anxiety management tool.

First, I focus on my thoughts: Did you know that 82% of people suffer from imposter syndrome? It’s not a personal shortcoming, it’s actually a societal norm. Once we realize we’re not alone, we can implement practices that focus less on shame and guilt and more on being proactive (I’ll get into that below).

I also utilize the 70-20-10 rule from my professional athlete days. That is, 70% of the time we will be mediocre, 20% we will suck and 10% we will be amazing. Perfectionism is a terrible expectation and can contribute to feelings of imposter syndrome. I try to extend grace to myself and know that there may be times when I shoot my shot it may miss the mark- but that makes me human, not an imposter.

Advice to Leaders:

-Normalize talking about imposter syndrome and being intentional with empowerment and reward (not to be confused with coddling) and leading with vulnerability. Your position of power, whether you want to admit it or not, plays a crucial role in your employees’ situational self-esteem.

-Utilize stretch opportunities, BUT also remain a support system and set your employees up for success. Create space where they feel comfortable taking risks.

Advice to all Readers:

-Take time to explore your feelings and why imposter syndrome may be coming up for you. Is it your anxiety speaking? Are you not prepared? Are there power dynamics that affect your bravery/safety? Knowledge is power, and the first step to tackling your challenges.

-Focus on the glimmers which are the opposite of triggers- these are tiny moments of awe that can spark joy and evoke inner calm. Write down your wins (even the small ones). Review them often! This will boost your confidence and give you momentum.

Lauren Dike

Lauren Dike

Senior Consultant

she / her

Lauren (she/her/hers) spent 14 years in finance and accounting, managing billion-dollar assets for commercial real estate companies. While her work with investments was lucrative and exciting, she was distracted by the lack of investment in people’s safety and well-being. In 2020, she decided to step away from finance and take the leap into diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We want to engage in this conversation with you! Follow us on LinkedIn and let us know your thoughts on the discussion.