“I’m not a good writer. In fact, after a couple weeks I bet the Pittsburgh Current will not only fire me, but ask me to please never write again for anybody, and maybe even ask me to pay them for making them read my work.” Me, last month, sitting down to write my first piece for the Pittsburgh Current as a regular columnist.
“That was a disaster. I am never speaking in public again. I want to melt into the ground.” Me, three weeks ago immediately after speaking at Bethany Hallam’s County Council campaign kickoff event.
And yet, despite how terrible I must be if these things were actually true, I’m invited to speak at protests, rallies and campaign kickoffs. I’m featured on panels and hearings as a Subject Matter Expert for reproductive rights and political organizing. I’m given platforms in publications to tell stories; stories like the one you’re reading right now!
Despite plenty of external evidence to suggest otherwise, I often have intrusive thoughts that I’m a “fraud,” and that it’s only a matter of time before I’m found out as one. The name for this thoroughly unhelpful and annoying thought process is the Imposter Syndrome. The term was conceived by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 1970s. Folks experiencing this tend to attribute their success to luck, circumstances or timing rather than their inherent abilities. This is pretty isolating because people don’t want to talk about it. I emailed Charlie Deitch, the Current’s beloved editor to say I needed an extra day to write; my Imposter Syndrome was really making it difficult to write about, you know, Imposter Syndrome. How meta.
People across genders and identities experience this, although it can be amplified for folks in historically marginalized groups. I think about the ever present comments made by folks who assume someone might vote for a specific candidate, “because she’s a woman,” as if qualifications aren’t taken into account. A black woman I’ve worked with introduced me to “The Chronicle of the Problem Woman of Color in the Workplace.” This infographic created by the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for NonViolence illustrates the cycle women of color go through when white organizations make tokenized hires under the guise of increasing diversity. Things are great at first, but if the employee points out issues, they are denied or expected to fix the problem themselves. The woman who taught me about this was positively brilliant, and I hated watching her doubt herself because we live in a capitalist white supremacist patriarchal society.
Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring some badass feminists. The various young women who’ve interned for me or volunteered at Planned Parenthood inspire me constantly and I’m just grateful that I got to meet them in the beginning of their ascents, before they inevitably rule the world because they’re so smart and talented.
I’m currently the President of Young Democrats of Allegheny County, so I continue to meet energized young folks who want to make change. In the last month or so I’ve had coffee dates with three young women, two of whom are about to graduate with master’s degrees. A recurring theme in our conversations was the hesitance they felt to apply for certain jobs, or the presence of that annoying internal voice telling them that they weren’t qualified, were not experienced enough, or for some other reason undeserving. I met with one woman, H, to discuss a specific job she was interested in. I’ve known her for years and she is one of my heroes. Smart, eloquent, organized and passionate, I continue to be in awe of her. I nearly fell out of my seat hearing this familiar internalized script. It hurts my heart to hear women I admire verbalize these doubts out loud. How much greatness would our world be deprived of if they listened to their Imposter voice?
H and I talked about these negative internal scripts that play when we’re faced with an opportunity to try something new or anything that requires a level of vulnerability. “Actually, it makes me feel a lot better knowing that even you have Imposter Syndrome,” she said. It was a teachable moment for both of us, and we hashed out these false thoughts.
My Imposter voice is absolutely still present, as evidenced above. But if Imposter Syndrome thrives on shame and fear, exposing it may be the best way to address it. A friend once gave me a card that has one of my favorite quotes about fear; “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde.
We owe it to ourselves to own our successes and be proud of our strengths. We owe it to each other. If you’re reading this and any of it sounds familiar, I have some evergreen advice for you; speak up at your work meeting. Write that article. Run for office. Apply for the damn job.