When in self-doubt, focus on facts

Real Talk on “Imposter Syndrome” or why Kim is procrastinating

Hey y’all!! I should be writing a talk right now that I will be giving in four days. Instead, I am writing you so that I can avoid feeling like I am an unqualified outsider who is going to be found out. No joke. This particular invite has me feeling way out of my league because the lineup of speakers overlaps with my own rock star fan girl list of badass social scientists. I mean check out this cast of speakers:

The Science of Racial Justice speaker list:

Banaji, Richeson, Tropp, Eberhardt, Goff, Fryberg, Sekaquaptewa, Mendoza-Denton, Zárate, and so many more!!

My head is exploding.

This line up of super stars has me 100% in the lane of “I have zero business being part of this list of scholars. When the attendees get through almost two days of talks, they are going to get to mine and question the sanity of the organizers. I can hear them now, “what? This is not science. Who invited this joker?” 

My guess is that someone super generous (Denise Sekaquaptewa) on the planning team suggested that I be invited. No disrespect to the planning team, but WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? 

One more thing- Lest anyone misunderstand, this is not a brag or an attempt at a “humble brag.” This is truly what I am feeling about this situation. 

Stop telling us we have imposter syndrome

Fair enough, there are now calls for everyone to stop telling women* we have something called imposter syndrome. Brene Brown hosted a fantastic podcast episode with guests Jodi-Ann Burey and Ruchika Tulshyan on this recently. The gist of it is that “syndrome” implies some sort of disease or mental illness located within the individual. Easy to slip into blaming women for their own problematic thinking when we are using the word syndrome. The idea that a person has something called imposter syndrome clearly locates the problem within that person. This of course keeps us all in line with victim blaming, fundamental attribution error, and deficit-minded framing of the issue at hand. 

Labeling women of color and white woman with imposter syndrome seems helpful at first. If we give a name to the negative self-doubt, we may feel we are empowering women to free themselves. But in fact, this turns us away from the needed critique of the systems of oppression, social forces, and structural sexism, racism, classism, and more that cause us to experience that self-doubt in the first place.  

And yet I find this term helpful

Perhaps I am the only one, but I do not mind the term as long as we stay focused on the fact that oppressive symptoms not only CAUSE us to feel impostery, but also work to convince us this is a problem located “all in our heads.”

And I agree, STOP telling women we have imposter syndrome. My view is that this phrase can be useful for me to recognize the patterns in my self-doubt and procrastination, but other people should not force this phrase on me from the outside (because then it gets dangerously close to blaming the individual for their own problematic mindset). 

How do I/we counter the self-doubt?

Imposter syndrome thoughts can easily run wild as they are fueled by fear. For example, my (irrational) fear right now is the fear of being found out as not science-y enough, not experimental enough (methodology), not academic enough. Who knows what any of that even means. But you get my point. When we operate from base-level fear, we are in a fight or flight of sorts. My procrastination is the flight version. But what if I fought fear with logic**? I can ask myself some key questions:

  • do you value and understand data and science?
  • have you ever felt like an imposter before and then gone on to give a great talk?
  • do you have the skills to put together a quality presentation?

The answers to all of these questions are yes. When I bring myself back to facts, I can quiet the fear that drives the imposter car. 

* Many marginalized and oppressed groups may also experience imposter syndrome.
** I value logic as a scientist, so this strategy works for me. You may need another approach depending on what values/approaches speak to you most effectively.

we do the work of the bullies

Like literally right now I am avoiding working on my talk by writing you all instead! Thank you to my handy newsletter for providing a distraction from the feeling that I do not belong on that list of amazing scholars.

Truth be told, this is not a distraction because here I am analyzing the self-doubt, imposter syndrome feelings crafted by systems of oppression that thrive on me not believing in what I have to offer. Because what I have to offer is disruption to those systems. Sneaky right?

Every time we give ourselves over to “imposter syndrome” we do the work of bullying ourselves so that the white supremacist patriarchy (all forms of oppression really) can just kick back and laugh.

okay, your turn!

Feeling any self-doubt? Lack of motivation to work on a project because you feel uncertain of your capabilities? Avoiding a writing project because your self-confidence is low? Hearing that voice in your head that says you have not truly earned where you are in your success and accomplishments?

They are winning. Every time we give time and energy to imposter symptoms, the matrix of oppression wins. 

All of the above internal messages are real examples shared with me by friends and colleagues (and some are my own). If you currently feel or have felt these things, you are in strong company.

Let’s find effective ways to quiet internal self-doubt, unapologetically claim our gifts, and fully step into our powerful selves!! 

One more thing- when you claim your gifts, this does not make you arrogant, braggy, narcissistic, or whatever other label that pops up. That’s just what “they” want you to think.

Okay, okay fine. I will go write the talk.

(after I break for a snack…more procrastination?)


Learn more about the White Anti-Racism and Action course I created for (aspiring) white allies and my group coaching program for social justice academics called Choose Your Own AdventureDrop your email to get social justice updates (resources, tips, and truth-telling).