Imposter SyndromeFeatured

I am intimate with the feeling of Imposter Syndrome. I think many people are. I’ve come to hold the belief that it is positive – if I don’t feel like an imposter then I’m not stretching my potential. But the feeling is still cringe-inducing. It’s like the cringe of a naked public speaking dream, but without the feeling of relief that comes from waking up. I’ve begun to document the moments when it is most visceral for me. Listing these things out has been cathartic. This isn’t really meant to be about gender or age, although those are relevant for me. This is simply about the feeling of not belonging.For me...– Imposter syndrome is reflecting on a business trip - 15 meetings, 22 high powered people - observing that only one of those 22 handshakes was with another woman. What year is it again?– Imposter syndrome is leading a company all-hands meeting and wondering why all these people are listening to me and why they just laughed at that dumb joke.– Imposter syndrome is deliberately saying, “I sit on the exec team,” to my family because saying “I am an executive” makes me want to curl up like a rollie-pollie - it doesn’t feel or sound right.– Imposter syndrome is when an interview candidate tells me about their fourth job - the one they started in 1992. The voice in my head that wants me to feel small reminds me that I was still learning to speak in 1992. Then, I proceed to evaluate the candidate on their management abilities.– A friend I trust has told me that imposter syndrome is simply where insecurity and privilege intersect - it is the privilege of being in the room plus the insecurity of not belonging in the room. I can’t think of a less flattering venn diagram. But I agree.– Imposter syndrome is when I call the CEO of another company from my cell phone. He answers and asks, “Who is John Franklin? That is what my caller ID says.” I respond, “John Franklin is my dad. I’m still on his cellphone plan...” Painful pause. “I pay my portion monthly...” Painful pause. The CEO responds, “My kids are still on my plan too.” And then I push ahead and lead this call.– Imposter syndrome is that mosquito-like persistent thought bubble that reads, “Who the hell am I to [fill in the blank].” Can other people see that bubble?– Imposter syndrome is every time I need to introduce myself and give my “professional background” on a call. Mine could take 3 seconds.– Imposter syndrome is getting promoted 5 times in 3.5 years. Wtf. Why me?– Imposter syndrome is someone older than me asking (earnestly) if I will be their mentor. Ha.So how do I cope with it? I’m doing it now - acknowledging it, naming it, sharing it, and trying desperately to accept it. Writing these things down helps me find some perspective and peace. Sharing these things helps me see how pervasive it is for others.On a good day, the feeling of embarrassment shifts to amusement - amusement at the absurdity of it all - and the feeling of shame becomes that of pride - pride in stretching myself. But that is the glamorous and slightly disingenuous version. On a bad day these tiny things still stir up enough embarrassment and shame to make me physically squirm. Maybe I should just rollie-pollie and blast Adele.In Dare to Lead, Brene Brown writes, “If you put shame in a petri dish and cover it with judgement, silence, and secrecy, you’ve created the perfect environment for shame to grow until it makes its way into every corner and crevice of your life. If, on the other hand, you put shame in a petri dish and douse it with empathy, shame loses its power and begins to wither. Empathy creates a hostile environment for shame - an environment it can’t survive in because shame needs you to believe that you are alone and it’s just you.”I’m sharing this because I think I’m not alone.Emma Stubbs is the VP of Strategy at CircleUp, a technology-enabled investment platform on a mission to help entrepreneurs thrive. Prior to CircleUp, Emma was a Director at Redstar Ventures, a startup foundry combining business model development and venture investments under one roof. Emma began her career at Innosight, Clay Christensen’s global strategy and innovation consulting firm, spending the bulk of her time with clients in Europe, helping to launch white-space business models and innovation capabilities across a range of industries. Emma graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a Bachelors in Neurobiology.
Thank you, Emma for writing! We'd love to feature more stories on what it's like to be a woman in tech, best practices of your discipline, how to get better at what you do, trends in your industry and more, told by Elpha members. DM me if you're interested in writing a feature story for us.
Thank you for sharing! I've been dealing with my own imposter syndrome feelings and it was really helpful to read your feelings and read your impressive bio at the end. For my imposter syndrome was starting a new job and cringing inside when someone said, "We're so excited to have an engineer of your caliber on the team!"
Many thanks for sharing your post with us. I've learned about this concept 2 years ago, and I felt so relieved "I'm not crazy". The glass ceiling + the double glass ceiling because I'm North African seem so huge to overcome, but now I'm reading more and more stories about fraud syndrome and it's great so again THANK YOU!
Just last week I started writing down my own imposter list; including all the things I believe I am not/ can't do/ don't do well enough. I then created an action plan for how I will address each of those items. It put me much more at ease and gave me a path forward to consciously eradicating what makes me feel insecure...
I love this! Before I thought Imposter Syndrome was just something that was always going to "be there" in the back of my mind. This gives us a way to finally deal with it instead of trying to ignore it!
Emma i am so relieved i am reading this. I have been dealing with the same feeling for so many years and my analyst has put so much effort in reducing them. These are serious doubts we are facing and it takes a lot of self acceptance and empathy to face them. It happens, though! They can be eventually eliminated, i can see it happening. Stay strong !!
Thanks so much for sharing this Emma. This speaks so much to my reality over the last year and a half. I'll definitely get started on my lists.
You are definitely not alone in the venn diagram of privilege+insecurity - I can totally relate to the rolly polly 'who am *I* to do *this* and be *here*' feeling. thank you for sharing your cringey relatable moments here with us Emma. <3 i used to have a lot more insecurity about my work as a therapist/coach, which i'd bring to my supervisor every week to talk about. one day she told me: 'amy. you are without a doubt NOT the best therapist. there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of other therapists who are experts in the issues your clients are raising, who are more skillful than you, more masterful than you, more empathetic than you, more experienced than you. But *you* are the therapist sitting in front of your clients, *you* are the person they've chosen, *you* are the one they keep coming back to week after week for support. You are definitely NOT the best therapist... but you're the only one who can help them right now because you're the only one who's present with them right now. And being present to do the work with them is infinitely more important than 'being the best.' That experience ^^ replays in my mind every time I feel a whiff of insecurity, and a little bit of my icky feeling is replaced with trust instead. It isn't some grandiose sense of trust that I am also capable of whatever the 'best person' in my field could do in that moment, because that situation is literally impossible. Instead I trust that in the absence of that person, whatever tiny un-skillful thing I'm capable of squeaking out is the best possible outcome for my client, because it's the only possible outcome given the circumstances.
I love this, Amy! It's so easy to forget that *you* are the one others chose to work with, and that's enough. Thank you for sharing.
This was amazing to read as a recent graduate who has no formal tech/business background but is trying to get her vision off the ground. It's always difficult to validate yourself in a space where societal expectations make women work harder while men can get away with not knowing something by exuding their masculinity. I think it starts from a young age where men are told " boys will be boys," but young girls are required to pick up the slack. Melinda Gates wrote an article that helped me a lot; she writes that whenever she feels like she doesn't know something, she instead says, " I don't this . . . yet." I think adding the word " yet" to statements like " I feel like I don't belong," or " I don't think this can work," makes a huge difference! Happy to see this is finally being talked about <3
I love this! It's not always easy to squelch the "I don't know how to do this" feeling, but adding "...yet" gives us permission to get better at it.
This bit of wisdom resonated with me especially: "If I don’t feel like an imposter then I’m not stretching my potential." To your point, I suspect that if we're living life well, imposter syndrome never quite goes away. We just get better at dancing with it.
Two things really resonated with me:"A friend I trust has told me that imposter syndrome is simply where insecurity and privilege intersect - it is the privilege of being in the room plus the insecurity of not belonging in the room."I never thought to think of this feeling as a privilege that it means I'm headed in the right direction and stretching myself and that I GET to feel this way."Imposter syndrome is that mosquito-like persistent thought bubble that reads, “Who the hell am I to [fill in the blank].” Can other people see that bubble?"It feels like maybe we're all so focused on our own thought bubbles that we never see or notice other people's insecure thoughts.It's so amazingly reassuring to know other people feel the same way. Thank you so much for sharing Emma.
Thanks for this! What a familiar feeling. When I told the chair of my Ophthalmology department about my startup, he looked at me and said, “Why You?” I laughed and powered on, but a small part of me agreed with him. Why me? I have much less clinical and surgical experience than my attendings, and I have even less tech experience than a newbie Google intern...but! I care enough about making things better for people that I, unlike the comfortable and complacent experts, am willing to stand up and fight the status quo. So I, by power of will (and skill and brain), will have to be the one to lead the charge in the automation of eye care.That being said, I totally agree with giving your fears a name and addressing them regularly. This is the only way I know how to crush that small voice that says, “Why Me?” We got this, ladies!!!
Thank you for this, Emma! It’s so important to have these conversations, even when they’re scary and hard. 💛
This is great, thanks for sharing your story... In my experience, the syndrome 'won' and I stopped putting myself 'out there'. Now, at not being 'out there' I feel like I know I should 'be there'... and the circle goes on and on. I'm taking notes of all the coping methods you all are sharing <3
Thank you Emma. It is a privilege to read our truth and humbling to nod my head the whole way through... You are not alone. We are not alone.Thank you <3
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Hi Emma, I love your list!I quit my career in IT to become a coach for women in tech and I have some tips which will help you deal with the imposter syndrome better.This emotional rollercoaster is not healthy, and you are right, most women feel it. When we go down, it takes a lot of our energy, which we would gladly put into some productive activities instead of wondering. It's like a sinusoid - pride -> feeling not good enough -> pride.The best way to go about it is to FLATTEN that sinusoid so that you don't go down. It is difficult to work on yourself when you are down, that's why most of the work is preparation and planning - done when you are on the upper end of the sinusoid. You want to plan your thoughts and behaviors.So, plan what you are going to do next time those thoughts show up. What are you going to replace them with? What will be so uplifting you will not be able to resist it? What activities help you manage these thoughts? It's great that you journal on them - this is a fantastic way of getting rid of them when they appear, but it's just one leg of the whole framework.Mostly, we would like these thoughts to stop appearing rather than to deal with them once they pop up. Hence - working on your self-confidence on the good days, introducing healthy thought and action habits is crucial.Example of planning ahead:Let's refer to that phone call and being on your dad's plan - question - why are you on his plan? If it bothers you, then just quit it and get on your own. If, on the hand, it doesn't bother you, than be open about it and say it proudly. Which one is it?Planning: When you saying: “I pay my portion monthly...” -> this is clearly putting yourself down in the eyes of the other CEO - why would you do that to yourself? Answer yourself this: if you were confident, what would you say?Always remember: You don't need to excuse yourself for your choices. And particularly not to some stranger - that is a no no! You have every right to make your life decisions and absolutely no obligation to explain yourself.So plan - what can you say next time in a situation like this that will show respect for both the caller and yourself? How can you feel good about yourself in that situation, how to lead that conversation with empathy for both sides? Maybe a joke? Maybe feel the love for your dad when you say it, so that your interlocutor understands immediately you have tight family bonds and can have respect for that? Hope this helps, and thank you for sharing!