Meaghan Lewis is an imposter, and so are you. If you’re afflicted with Imposter Syndrome, as 70% of successful people are, you might feel like a fraud because your accomplishments are inadequate. Many people with Imposter Syndrome attribute their success to luck or timing, instead of their own hard work. They report “waiting to be found out.”
Ironically, imposters are the ones who are most likely to be high achievers.
In March 2014, Thoughtworker and Quality Assurance Analyst Meaghan Lewis presented on the Imposter Syndrome and how it affects women of color at the National Society of Black Engineers. While our fellow imposters come from different races, genders, and socioeconomic classes, it does disproportionately affect women of color, especially in a male-driven industry like technology.
I sat down with Meaghan to discuss the phenomenon and ways to overcome the false feeling of being a fake.
Fiona Lee: What inspired you to give your talk on the Imposter Syndrome?
Meaghan Lewis: I never felt like I was good enough growing up. In school, I didn’t feel like I was being supported at times. I really just wanted to be good at whatever I applied myself to. At a time when I just wanted to fit in, I somehow felt different and that I wasn’t quite good enough. I discovered a few years back that there is a term for this feeling: the Imposter Syndrome.
It was important to open a discussion up with women and minority groups who felt the symptoms of the Imposter Syndrome. Some of us begin to feel like “imposters” because we don’t happen to look like our peers and colleagues.
FL: Do you think the Imposter Syndrome disproportionately affects women and minorities?
ML: I would say so. While it’s certainly not something that applies to any one gender, traditionally it’s held women back more than men. Just to be clear: anyone can have these feelings of inadequacy, but I think it’s safe to say that women have had different challenges than men. Minority groups have been affected in the same way.
FL: What are some of the specific challenges women and minorities face?
ML: The way men and women are viewed differently. For example, women are sometimes referred to as being “bossy,” whereas men may not feel the same sort of push-back when they try to demonstrate leadership qualities. The confidence gap starts at a very early age. I also believe it is something that can be combated even before kids start elementary school by showing girls that they are empowered and that they do have a voice.
FL: How do people internalize the effects of the Imposter Syndrome?
ML: The feelings I was discussing earlier tend to pop up when you come across new and unfamiliar situations. For example a new job or promotion, where you’re not entirely sure how to respond to new responsibilities can cause anxiety. You may start to feel like people are looking up to you and expecting a lot out of you, and you’re not sure that you can live up to these perceived expectations. I felt particularly impacted by Imposter Syndrome in school, where I was the only female in the engineering program. I began to feel like the men in my program were smarter and more on the ball than I was, which was completely illogical.
FL: How would you bridge this confidence gap?
ML: One thing that really helps is finding support systems inside your community. For example, a group of friends or people that you trust to share your feelings with. Just talking and getting it out there helps immensely. A big part of the Imposter Syndrome is that it takes place on an internal level and you keep these really negative thoughts to yourself. When you start talking to others about Imposter Syndrome, you can begin to share methods used to overcome it.
Having groups of people you can confide in is the key to bridging the confidence gap and helping to grow as an individual. You can find this alliance in friends, colleagues, meetup groups, or conferences. Whatever feels most comfortable to you. Just a couple weeks ago, Thoughtworks hosted a breakfast for women of color in tech. We discussed topics that have affected us in their own ways. For example, one topic was 'How you want to be perceived in the workplace and if you are really perceived that way or not'. It was great for us to know other women out there feel the same way and interesting to see how they handled this challenge.
It’s also important to stress the power of positive thinking. There are always going to be times when you’re uncertain and there are always going to be times when you think you’re going to fail. It’s how you react to these feelings that will ultimately impact the outcome.
Check out Meaghan's presentation on the Imposter Syndrome here.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.