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Hi, I'm Marisa, founder of Quill & Co. We work with doers and go-getters ready to do something truly ambitious so that they can stand out and find brand clarity.
In this week’s episode I wanted to chat through my own personal feelings on imposter syndrome in hope’s that it helps any fellow designers going through something similar. There’s a lot of talk in creative spaces around imposter syndrome but not enough around the root of it. I just launched a brand new course in my business, that brought up all sorts of feelings of doubt so this topic is fresh in my mind today. Today I want to talk through how imposter syndrome shows up for me in my business, and personally, how the term itself has always felt off to me, and some steps both you and I can tackle this very real societal problem.
In this week’s episode I’ll chat about:
You’ve probably heard the term by now or maybe even experienced it. If you’re a designer, entrepreneur, a women, or really any person in a creative capacity, I’m sure you’re aware of imposter syndrome.
But in case you aren’t aware, imposter syndrome can show its self in many forms. From doubting your skills, abilities, knowledge to feeling like a fraud or like you don’t belong in your space. It can even lead to thinking that you’ve only gotten to where you are now because of sheer luck and not because of your talent and hard work.
For background, the whole concept of Imposter Syndrome was discovered in 1978 by Pauline Clance & Suzanne Imes, and at the time they called it “The imposter phenomenon”
In their research they found that these high-achieving women were not able to internalize their success despite all of their achievements and accolades.
In their research paper they write:
“despite their earned degrees, scholastic honors, high achievement on standardized tests, praise and professional recognition from colleagues and respected authorities, these women do not experience an internal sense of success. They consider themselves to be “impostors.” Women who experience the impostor phenomenon maintain a strong belief that they are not intelligent; in fact they are convinced that they have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”
And if you’ve ever had feelings or thoughts like this, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 70% of people have had feelings like this. And all types of people no matter where you identify on the gender spectrum.
It’s something that a lot of women, designers or not, struggle with today, including myself. I mean, I feel it right now. I feel it every time I do a podcast episode, send an email, write a blog post. Imposter syndrome shows up for me in my business by making me think that I’m not capable of the things someone might ask me to do.
One clear example was the time I self sabotaged when a big, potential client came along. I had a sales call with a celebrity alcohol brand to help with their branding, brand strategy, and brand management. It was an absolute dream job right!? I’ve never worked with an alcohol brand but it’s definitely on my dream industries. But it was big. Bigger than any other project I had the chance to work on. My mind immediately went to “Im not qualified to do this” . So I self sabotaged. On my proposal to them, even in my mindset around it. I remember actually thinking to myself “I hope I don’t get it. “
I feel imposter syndrome when people in my real life ask me about work. I am very bad at taking compliments. I get really small at the question. I give short and vague answers. I internally tell myself that no one really cares and that they’re asking only out of the need to be seen as polite.
I think that this is because I’m also not good at remembering things that I should be proud of. So when people do ask me about things I just freeze and say “oh things are going good!”
Wether this is imposter syndrome manifesting itself or if it’s just the nature of owning your own business, but there is a constant feeling of anxiety around every action I take or don’t take.
Even though I can identify with some of the feelings of imposter syndrome, the name “imposter syndrome” has never really resonated with me. It comes off as strong & medical. Like a diagnosis.
I was reading the article
**Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey, from Harvard Business Review
“Imposter syndrome,” or doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud at work, is a diagnosis often given to women. But the fact that it’s considered a diagnosis at all is problematic. The concept, whose development in the ‘70s excluded the effects of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases, took a fairly universal feeling of discomfort, second-guessing, and mild anxiety in the workplace and pathologized it, especially for women. The answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is not to fix individuals, but to create an environment that fosters a number of different leadership styles and where diversity of racial, ethnic, and gender identities is viewed as just as professional as the current model.
Calling it a “syndrome” makes it seem like the person who is experiencing it is flawed, sick, has something wrong with them. It puts the blame on the person experiencing. Instead of first questioning the environments that we live and work in.
Maybe it isn’t women’s fault for thinking they aren’t qualified or smart enough. It’s society’s fault for constantly telling women these same exact things and then when woman say that they are experiencing these things than society calls it a “syndrome”, something flawed within the person experiencing it?
The HBU articles also address the fact that when the study was originally done in the 70’s it didn’t take into account systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases.
“Even as we know it today, imposter syndrome puts the blame on individuals, without accounting for the historical and cultural contexts that are foundational to how it manifests in both women of color and white women. Imposter syndrome directs our view toward fixing women at work instead of fixing the places where women work.“
Then when I was looking more into this idea, I found a article on Medium that made an impactful analogy that I thought was important to share:
“In many ways, putting the onus on women to solve the culture that perpetuates these feelings is akin to asking people of color to identify and solve the racism that exists in the workplace.”
We’re told that it’s our fault for feeling this way. That we need more confidence or that we’re too worried that people won’t like us. We’re lead to believe that the very idea is something made up or a distortion in our minds… and not the real, actual things that we experience each day.
Which made me think, and maybe this is a little extreme, but in saying that women suffer from imposter syndrome is it really women being gaslit by society?
Maybe we could reclaim the term? Give it a new name.
Maybe instead saying “I experience self-doubt”, “I’m going through growing pains”.
I think growing pains is relevant since we often experience this fear of self-doubt when we’re embracing something new or we’ve pushed ourselves into an unknown area. We start to self-sabotage and think that we don’t belong here yet.
Imposter syndrome comes up a lot around the workplace . Wether you have a boss or work alone, I think we experience it so much when we’re self employed or freelancers because promoting ourselves is part of the job description. And that self promotion can be really uncomfortable. Woman are often taught to not be boastful. And we begin to think “I cannot possibly live up to my own hype” , “There going to see I’m not as good as my bio makes me out to be” . So we lose out on a big part of our success in our business because we don’t want to promote ourselves “too” much. Imposter syndrome directs our view toward fixing women at work instead of fixing the places where women work.
While I hate that it’s directed at women to do the fixing of this than the culture or environments to do the fixing.
Here’s some things that might help:
I know for me, a part of imposter syndrome stems from comparison. We see someone else getting our dream client, or launching a course, or whatever your goal is. And your brain deems them worthy of that success but not ourselves. We think they have done all of the right steps to have earned that. Or we think if we go after that dream client, talk on that subject, launch that course, a peer will call us out as unworthy of it.
I’ve been lucky enough to make close friendships with fellow designers who are further in their careers than me, and I want to let you know, that we are all making it up as we go. There is no secret finish line for entrepreneurs where you’ve “made it”. Nothing about me or anyone else is more “worthy” of success. There is nothing you have to accomplish, no amount of clients you have to take on, no monetary goal you have to make for you to be worthy of your success, and to own it. And if someone ever makes you feel unworthy of your accomplishments, remember it is a reflection on them, not you.
A lot of today’s episode and this topic was me talking through my feelings out loud. My word of the year is still fearless, but being fearless doesn’t come without doubt, self sabotage, worry, and dread. Every big decision or move I make in my business, a small voice still rises up and makes feel unworthy to show up in this capacity. But I’m dedicated to reclaiming imposter syndrome and to own how I can make change in my business and my design community.