As a Latina daughter of immigrants who’s had to figure out my early career years on my own, there’s been plenty of times that I’ve wondered a) how to do something, and b) if I really have what it takes to succeed and do something for the first time (in my family). Over time I’ve built a strong muscle of resilience and I’m now pretty used to that beginner feeling, but every now and then I’ll get a flash of imposter syndrome. On this episode, I share my top 5 strategies for battling imposter syndrome, all based on neuroscience. I hope they help you when you’re battling your own moments of self-doubt or insecurity. Below, find the free FULL 10-STRATEGY PDF with my best strategies to combat imposter syndrome.
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Priscilla Esquivel Weninger: When I doubt myself, when I have a hard day at work or I encounter a challenge that I don’t know how to approach or I get scared if I can do something, I think about my grandparents. I think about my parents who were immigrants who came to the us with nothing, the risks that they’ve taken…I think, like, if they could do that, if they could face their worst fears, be subject to incredible hostility, take risks, figure things out on their own with such little resources, then I can get through this.
Welcome to the Early Career Moves podcast, the show that highlights markable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I am your host Priscilla Esquivel Weninger, proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
Priscilla: Hey there. So, today I’m really excited to be recording my first ever solo episode for the podcast. I promised you that every 10 episodes I’ll be coming on here to talk about a specific topic, something related to the themes that we discuss on the podcast, where we can dive deep into something related to my own career journey, life experiences, or really anything that’s on my mind.
Today’s topic is on imposter syndrome. By now, you’ve probably heard these words, imposter syndrome, ad nauseum. I mean, they come up all the time, especially on the interviews on the podcast, but just in case you haven’t heard of this term or need a refresher, imposter syndrome refers to a constant feeling of self-doubt, insecurity and incompetence despite evidence that you’re skilled and you’re successful. It’s the fear that you’re going to be “found out” for being an imposter and then fired or something. This feeling can affect anyone, but it hits particularly hard if you’re a woman or identify as a person of color, and can you really blame us when we live in a world where there’s so few of us in positions of power or even just in the room on the team with us?
So, on this episode, I’m going to share five strategies that have worked for me to battle imposter syndrome, and if you want to learn about the other five that I’ve written about, head over to my website, ECMpodcast.com to download the full PDF and also become part of our newsletter community.
Okay, let’s dive in. So, number one, make a greatest hits list, so I love this one because it directly addresses what psychologists call the negativity bias that we have as humans. So, as humans, we tend to remember traumatic experiences better than positive ones. We recall insults better than praise, we react more strongly to negative stimuli, and we think about negative things much more frequently than positive ones.
So, tell me if this has happened to you, you might be having a really great morning and day at work, you might even be getting some compliments or some shout-outs, you’re feeling good, but then suddenly someone, maybe a manager, a coworker, or even a friend makes an offhand comment to you that you find irritating and you take it personal. Suddenly, you can’t get that thought out of your head, and then later at night, let’s say someone asks you, you know, “How was your day?” You reply that it was terrible, even though overall it was actually a good day, but that one negative incident totally tainted the day for you.
Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever let one person’s negative comment just stew in your brain over and over again and you ignore the 10 other positive things that went well during the day? So, yeah, that’s literally your brain doing its job. This is how the brain kept us safe in the hunter and gatherer days. Even though we’ve evolved, this primitive part of our brain still exists and it still registers events as life or death, and that’s why it seems to always be scanning for danger and for what’s going on negatively but if we don’t control this, it can go a little too far and interpret all kinds of mundane things as life or death. So, part of what we have to do is use our prefrontal cortex, basically like the human part of the brain, to rein it in, take a step back, and recognize what’s really happening.
So, to address negativity bias, we need to be really intentional about focusing on what’s going right and focusing on the good and that’s where the strategy comes into play. So, all it is is grab a sheet of paper or just type it onto your notes app, you know, list out every single accomplishment that you’re really proud of that’s taken place in your life. Literally try to go through all of the years of your life and don’t just think about the traditional milestones like graduating from college, because you’re not just your resume, you’re not your academic professional accomplishments. There’s so much more to you and to who you are. So, you even want to think through what are the things that may be. Nobody really knows about me, right? Like what are those silent or invisible challenges that you’ve had to overcome on your own? Did you help your parents with raising your siblings? Did you ever have to translate for your parents? You know, have you had to overcome significant trauma? What kind of challenges have you overcome? And when you actually sit down to do this, this actually may be somewhat of an emotional exercise, ifyou let it. One of mine, for example, is being a daughter of immigrants and figuring out the college process by myself, figuring out the FAFSA, writing essays that no one could check for me, right? Like, just doing it alone, asking friends, asking parents of friends, and that’s something, when I look back, I’m just so proud of her, right? I like to refer as my younger self as third person, but I’m proud of her. I’m proud of young Priscilla just figuring it out, you know, and, like, that fills me with pride.
So, write down at least 25 of your greatest hits, leave it somewhere where you can refer to it and see it often, and when you’re having a rough day or doubting yourself, read through the list, remember how much you’ve already accomplished because trust me, your brain needs it.
Okay, the second strategy is about strengths, which is one of my favorite topics. Another way to make the brain focus on the positive is by being super aware of our strengths. If you haven’t yet taken the Gallup Clifton Strengths Assessment online, which I’ll add to the show notes, then you need to do that ASAP. It’s not free. I think I paid around maybe $50, it kind of depends, there’s different kinds of reports that you can get, but I really do think it’s totally worth doing this assessment. So, what this hour-long assessment can do for you is that it tells you your top five natural strengths out of a list of a possible 34, and the 34 strengths are grouped into four major themes, which are strategic, executing, relationships, and influencing. This report helps give you a language and vocabulary to your strengths and figure out where you shine, how you shine, and how these strengths can manifest for you at work. The reason why I think strengths exercises can be so effective to building confidence is that imposter syndrome often has us thinking that we’re either A, good enough or B, not good enough, like there’s some kind of binary, but really, there’s so much nuance. We’re constantly growing and we’re growing on a spectrum. We all have different strengths. That person who you think is “good at everything,” you know who I’m talking about. There’s a few people that, you know, you look at them, you see their LinkedIn and you’re like, Ugh, they’re so amazing, right? Well, even that person has growth areas. Maybe they’re just really good at leveraging their strengths and making sure that they are visible to others, and you want to ask yourself, am I doing the same?
So there’s an opportunity to just figure out, are you using your strengths? Are you bringing them to work? Sometimes, this work helps you realize that you’re in a role that’s asking you to constantly use strengths that are not in your zone of genius, so for example, for me, my strengths are almost entirely relationship and strategic based skills. I’m a people person, I’m future-focused, I love to plan big picture, long-term exciting, you know, plans, right? And that comes naturally to me. That’s my zone of genius. What’s not in my zone of genius is rigorous quantitative analysis, which by the way, was a huge part of business school, um, being super methodical or detail-oriented, and it’s kind of embarrassing to admit this, but I only have one strength in my top five. That’s considered to be an execution skill, which is the strength that people have when they’re really good at getting stuff done. Now, does this mean that I’m never good at executing or I don’t do the things that I say I’m going to do? No, it just means that I have to work a little harder to create systems to make sure that I do fulfill the projects and plans that I get so excited about. In terms of the detail stuff. Does it mean that I automatically get an out and I don’t have to do these detail-oriented tasks at work? Absolutely not, I still need to work hard every day to meet the bar when it comes to being detailed-oriented, but I’m also going to make sure to seek roles and opportunities where generally, I can really shine through my strengths. My strengths help me be successful as a consultant because I work with clients. I’m client-facing, I work with people on teams constantly, and we’re working to achieve very long-term strategic projects and goals, so that’s where I really get to shine, but trust, I can’t get away with not being detail-oriented, right? So, that’s something that I’m always thinking about in my growth and development. It’s helpful to understand your strengths and areas of growth through a report like this because it helps contextualize when you do make a mistake, we don’t need to automatically make it mean that, you know, we’re a failure or we’re an imposter. Instead, you can contextualize the error and understand how it fits into your areas for growth and development plans. It allows you to keep it moving and do better next time, And so I wouldn’t be able to talk about all of these things if I didn’t understand my strengths through this report. So, I definitely recommend you do that.
Okay, third one, remind your brain that you can do hard things by trying something out of your comfort zone regularly. So, back to the brain, your primitive brain does not like it when you try to do something brand new out of your comfort zone. Why? Because your primitive brain is concerned with three things only: one, seeking pleasure, two, avoiding pain, and three, conserving energy, so basically doing one and two with the least possible effort. This is why it’s so much easier to order that pizza, stay in bed and watch Netflix than it is to maybe work on editing your resume or going on a three-mile run. It’s always a battle between the primitive reptilian part of the brain and the prefrontal cortex. Anyway, this is also why we get totally freaked out when we’re asked to do something completely new, especially at work, or when we ponder doing something risky or out of our comfort level, the thing is it’s going to be hard to get better and improve, or see a lot of rewards, whether that’s a promotion salary increase, getting the new flashy job that you want, getting into a top grad program without taking some risk. So, you might as well embrace doing things out of your comfort zone and make it a habit to try new things constantly. There are two ways to do this. One is at work and two is in your personal life. So, the work option, I only recommend for people who have already been at their organization for a while or in their role for awhile and have built up credibility, you’re already meeting or exceeding expectations, and you have the room to try something different. This option involves telling your manager that you’re interested in getting involved with a stretch project. A stretch project is a project on the side of your normal work that will require you to use a skillset that you may not yet have or you’re insecure about, so it’ll make you stretch your skillset a little bi Bonus points, if it’s a development area that you’ve been told that you need to work on, that’s even better, right? So, what happens when you do a stretch project is that you have to become resourceful, you have to ask for help, you have to get a little vulnerable doing that, you have to admit to people that you don’t know something, which is actually a really great skill. You also have to network sometimes and meet new people, which actually helps you, right? You make mistakes, you learn, you grow, right? Like, you realize that the world doesn’t end when you don’t know something or you’re faced with a big challenge, even when your brain is freaking the F out, which it will do because that’s its job, right? You may end up doing a great job and teaching your brain that you can do hard things and that you’re more than capable and have everything within you to succeed.
Now, if you’re not at the stage at work, then do it in your personal life. I really think it’s important to make it a habit to regularly try new things that sort of freak you out in your personal life. I have done this in the past with taking improv classes in the evening after work. Taking improv really freaked me out. It was really awkward, and talk about looking stupid and not knowing what’s happening next on stage with, like, strangers watching you, right? Like, that’s scary or it was scary for me, but I’m actually super grateful that I did that and that I put myself in those uncomfortable, awkward moments because they made me a way stronger public speaker and it also made me a lot more flexible and comfortable when it came to those moments where I didn’t know what was happening next, right? So, we have to provide evidence sometimes to our brain, even if it freaks us out to show ourselves that we’re capable of doing scary things, and what happens is, that seeps into your professional life too. The next time you do something out of your comfort zone, whether that’s taking a standardized test, submitting an application, raising your hand when it comes to a promotion, asking for a promotion, negotiating for a higher pay, whatever that is that freaks you out, you’re going to be a little more comfortable with that risk.
So, what is that thing for you? Start small or go big. I’ve heard stories of people who have gone skydiving and that experience alone and overcoming a major fear changed their life in ways that they couldn’t have imagined by just taking a lot more risks in their lives and seeing lots of positive changes happen, so it’s worth pushing through that fear to see what’s on the other side.
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Priscilla: Number four. Number four is a little bit related to three and it’s called embrace being a beginner bad-ass. So, this one’s a mindset shift that is inspired by the fixed versus growth mindset concept. If you haven’t read Mindset or listened to Mindset by Carol Dweck by now, I cannot recommend this book enough because for me, it really helped me realize that a lot of my imposter syndrome came from a place of having a fixed mindset and not a growth mindset.
So, embracing being a beginner bad-ass is the opposite of faking it until you make it. I’ve heard many people talk about faking it till you make it as a strategy that they used to overcome imposter syndrome, and there’s just something about this that has always rubbed me the wrong way and just hasn’t really felt right to me, and recently I realized why this was. So, the culture of faking it till you make it is based off of this fixed mindset idea where we either A, know something or are smart or B, don’t know something or are not smart. So, there’s no in between, there’s no acknowledgement that we are capable of learning and growing. Faking it till you make it assumes that you lack something innately and therefore need to pretend to know what you’re talking about in order to achieve a goal, and I do think that a lot of people do do this, but I think it can be very damaging to collaboration and actually, even working more efficiently, but that’s another conversation, lastly, it’s just not authentic, right? Like, literally, you’re faking something you’re lying. So, anyway, instead I want you to consider a different option, which is being a beginner. Bad-ass being a beginner bad-ass means you’re not afraid to tell someone that you don’t know something but that you will figure it out, and sometimes you don’t even have to say straight up, “Hey, I don’t know this.” It just looks like figuring it out. You ask great questions, you pull resources, you work quickly, you’re open to feedback. Being a beginner bad-ass means you understand that subject matter expertise can be learned and it has nothing to do with your value as a team member or a person. First of all, your value comes from you. It has nothing to do with work. You decide that right, but at work, your “value” manifests through those intangible soft skills that propel you forward. So, being humble, collaborative, inquisitive, a strong communicator, a constant learner. I often find that people respect you a whole lot more when you’re upfront about what you know and don’t know, and have a plan in place to figure it out. Like, Marie Forleo says everything is figureoutable, and when we’re honest about where we are, other people can also relax because they know that you’re leveling with them and they can also help you get the help that you need, the resources that you need to be super effective. Of course, I’m not referring to highly technical roles that do require very specific skill sets. I’m not talking about faking knowing how to do brain surgery. That’s not what we’re talking about. I’m talking to all of you who work in roles where your imposter syndrome gets the best of you and is actually holding you back from asking the questions or using your time efficiently to fill in the knowledge gaps needed to be successful. If you want to get ahead and reach your goals, you have to embrace being a beginner and you might as well get comfortable with those growing pains, take the pressure off by thinking that you should already be somewhere by now and just allow yourself to be a beginner, give yourself that grace. To me, that’s freedom and it also clears the way to act efficiently and quickly to actually be successful.
Okay, last strategy, know about your ancestors, be proud and thank them. So, this is my favorite strategy of all time and it’s based on the fact that it’s no accident that black indigenous people of color in the United States and the world have been systematically, disenfranchised and disempowered, and it’s not an accident; it’s been intentional, so the more reading and resource that you can do about your ancestor’s history, the more amazed you’ll become at the incredibly resilient, courageous group of people that you come from, and that’s really important when we’ve grown up in a society where we’ve received so many media messages about everything that’s wrong, deficient about the groups that we come from, and like I mentioned earlier, it’s by design. We have to spend intentional time filling our mental schemas with all of the positive contributions and incredible resilience from our groups that our schools did not teach us about. So, go beyond what you learned in school, look up incredible historical figures that share your ethnic or racial background or gender, watch documentaries, read books, make sure you’re consuming empowering media that is providing positive representations of your people and filling in those history gaps, and this doesn’t actually have to just be about famous historical figures. This can be your actual own family, right? I have a picture of my maternal grandparents on my wall that I look at every day and they remind me of how hard they have fought and how strong they are. Ben, my grandfather was an orphan. He grew up very poor in rural Mexico and had to drop out of elementary school when he became an orphan to support himself and live on his own, and over the years, he worked really hard and as an adult, he actually built his own successful business that still exists today that my uncle runs, and he was able to have five kids, send them all to college, build a house, have several properties and really become a successful businessman through his own merit, and so when I think about his story, I think, you know, he didn’t have the opportunities that I’ve had, but dang, he played the hell out of the cards that he was dealt. And that’s all I want to do, is play the hell out of the cards that I’ve been dealt. I don’t want to worry about the people around me, what their cards look like. I strictly look at mine, I look at my lane and I play the best hand possible. That’s what keeps me going in those moments when I doubt myself, when I have a hard day at work, or I encounter a challenge that I don’t know how to approach or I get scared if I can do something. I think about my grandparents, I think about my parents who were immigrants who came to the US with nothing, the risks that they’ve taken, I thin, like, if they could do that, if they could face their worst fears, be subject to incredible hostility, take risks, figure things out on their own with such little resources, then I can get through this, I can get through the presentation through the project, through this test, whatever it is. So, definitely, take that moment to thank your ancestors. Think about your family, the people that have raised you, the people that I’ve helped you, the people who inspire you draw from that, make sure to draw from that intentionally.
All right, y’all, so that’s where we’ll end for today. I had a lot of fun talking about these strategies. I have five more waiting for you on my Overcoming Imposter Syndrome PDF which is available on my website, ECMpodcast.com. Make sure to grab that and also make sure to follow us on Instagram ECM Podcast is the handle, and definitely let me know. What’s your take on imposter syndrome? How do you handle it? All right, have a great weekend.