“Could you take that failure and flip the script?”
Have you ever avoided applying for a job because you didn’t feel qualified? Sat in a meeting where you felt like you couldn’t contribute, even though you had a good idea? “Imposter Syndrome” contributes to why you felt you had to deny yourself those opportunities. On Oct. 10, Rebecca Kronman explained to Six Degrees Society what Imposter Syndrome is – a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”, despite laudable accomplishments – and help eliminate the doubts that contribute to it.
Hosted by M. Gemi in their New York flagship store (Pro tip: It helps to have wine at a gorgeous Italian style bar when discussing failures in a group setting), SDS talked about investigating what failure feels like and inviting yourself to make the choice to begin again.
The term “power posing”, standing in a posture of confidence when we don’t necessarily feel fearless, went viral with social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED speech. Since 2012, her keynote has been viewed more than 13 million times. “Something shifts when you stand differently. The way you shift your body influences what happens in your mind,” Rebecca said.
Rebecca asked SDS to recognize the connection between striking a power pose, but also challenging to soften the way that we talk about failure. Failure is inevitable and we should be kind to ourselves when it happens, building up our resilience for the next bump in progress.
One SDS attendee recommended using the “Just Not Sorry” Google Chrome plug-in, which warns you when you use words like “just” or “sorry” too frequently – undermining your message rather than helping to make your point. There were nods of agreement around the room that “just” is a word that many have used to seem friendlier over email, when it may in fact be to our detriment.
After the event, SDS spoke with three attendees to talk about how they tackle imposter syndrome.
SDS: What do you do and how long have you been involved with Six Degrees Society?
EMILY DOTHE: I’m a software developer at Goldman Sachs. This was my first event!
LILY MERCER: I am an account executive for a healthcare technology company. Tuesday was my first event with Six Degrees Society.
ABIGAIL LEHMAN: During the day, I work in Precision Media and I provide analytics and insights to support our campaigns. I also consult with entrepreneurs and help them scale their businesses. I have been a supporter of SDS for the last two years and have come to events in the last year and a half, but I plan to join as a full member. (I also work with Alison from ProjectAG and supported the most recent Entrepreneur Bootcamp held with Six Degrees Society. Keep an eye out for more to come!)
SDS: Was there anything that Rebecca Kronman said about imposter syndrome that resonated with you?
ED: Being in a room full of strong women who all appear to also suffer from imposter syndrome at times was in itself a tremendous comfort. I think that just becoming aware of the phenomenon and how common it is already helps diminish the effect. I also found our conversation about the way we compose emails (especially to other women) to be particularly profound—I think it highlights some of the “emotional labor” us ladies subject ourselves to, even with the simple things. I’ll definitely be keeping our conversation in mind moving forward!
LM: I was struck by the study she mentioned about girls giving up on a project that is outside their ability, while boys will view it as a challenge. I agree this happens because girls expect perfection. Striving for perfection is often a fast track to failure. Instead, it’s better to work toward becoming our best and viewing challenges as learning experiences.
AL: That the Imposter Syndrome is also an embodied experience…it made me think of it also as a process or a cycle, not just a feeling. As you acknowledge, you may not be able to change it, but for me, it’s about being in relation to the feelings and choosing my response rather than simply reacting. Also, Rebecca shared that the research on fixed vs. growth mindsets suggests that even girls have already absorbed messages about their (perceived) limitations at a really young age. I had a sense of this but it was disheartening to hear that research has confirmed this phenomenon. It made me feel a stronger commitment to combatting the Imposter Syndrome in myself so I can support others who feel it, too.
SDS: Can you share a moment when you felt imposter syndrome? How did you get out of it or do you still feel that way?
ED: The common “What do you do?” question always gives me that uneasy feeling associated with Imposter Syndrome. Whether it’s in a one-on-one conversation or in a group, I somehow find myself feeling silly telling them I’m a software developer, even though that is my area of expertise and my profession. But, taking pride in the work I’ve produced and, really owning this path I’ve chosen for myself helps me say this simple fact with confidence.
LM: I made a career switch from clinical care to healthcare technology. When I was applying for jobs, I had serious doubts about how qualified I was to make the change. What helped me to continue and eventually make the change was talking to and reading about other people who have successfully changed careers. If they can do it, so can I!
AL: SO. MANY. TIMES. What helps me is recognizing that striving for perfectionism was my previous defense mechanism and it’s very counterproductive. It also helps me to remember the growth vs. fixed mindset. Anytime I get down on myself, I try to remember that I am very capable of learning and improving. Currently, I work in analytics within ad-tech and it’s a very male-dominated field. Each week I am the only woman in the room during team meetings. What helps me is reminding myself of the things that I am really talented in and can offer to the group, instead of fixating on the skill or knowledge I fear I lack. I think we all need to cultivate a really strong sense of self, and many different areas where we confident and capable. True, authentic power is really beyond external accomplishment. When we have strong networks of friends and family, when we have hobbies, interests, passion-projects, and strong practices of giving back- I think that also makes our lives imposter-syndrome-proof because we have so much evidence to the contrary. Our meaning really then does become beyond any one activity, job, or relationship.
SDS: What were the three things that someone said about you on the notecards? What did it feel like to hear them from someone else?
ED: One of the words someone wrote down to describe me was “perceptive.” Given that this was my first event and many of these ladies were new to me, it was very humbling to receive such kind and genuine words!
LM: Approachable, warm, and cheerful. It was great to hear that I am easy to talk to!
AL: Kind, good-listener, rebel— The first two I have heard before and I try to cultivate both so that was affirming that other people could sense that, too. “Rebel” was surprise, though. I guess I do have some big ideas about women and our advancement! There is something gratifying to be seen as challenging the status-quo and being seen as impassioned, determined, and/or vocal about my beliefs.
SDS: What stuck in your mind from the event?
ED: The word “despite” has stuck with me because it is the word that to me is the key to breaking down imposter syndrome. Many of the definitions of imposter syndrome that we discussed at the beginning of the event went something along the lines of “feeling fake, phony, undeserving … despite having expertise” and I think it’s the word “despite” that invalidates all those negative feelings at the beginning.
LM: I came away from the event feeling empowered.
AL: *We make ourselves* feel like imposters …Besides making one another feel insecure or insufficient, we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to the imposter syndrome. I had read before that women need to eliminate the word ‘just’ from our work communications and eliminate needless apologies. (A lot of research shows that professional women are vulnerable to double standards about warmth and competence in their performance evaluations, and this qualifying language can also be undermining of our own success.) What really surprised me was learning that when we use qualifying language in our everyday speech, *we make ourselves* feel like imposters. So besides power posing, I am trying to be more intentional and deliberate in how I communicate with others.