A blog reflection written by Women’s Center student staff member Meagé Clements
Growing up, my mother would always remind my sister and I that we had to work twice as hard as everyone else because not only were we women, but we were Black women. Living in a society that has always had low expectations of us, a society where we are confined to various stereotypes and generalizations, it has always been important for us to excel above and beyond the expectations of others. We applied her advice, made the honor roll and the dean’s list numerous times, pursued membership in honors programs and honor societies, yet we continued to question if any of these things would even matter in the long run. Would we still be subjected to the glass ceiling and other barriers that would prevent us from reaching the top because of our gender and race?
As I approach my final weeks of being an undergraduate and I’m frantically trying to plan every detail of my adult life after grad school, I find myself returning to this question more and more. At a recent Women of Color Coalition meeting, I learned that this constant questioning and self-doubt is called “Imposter Syndrome.”
Despite earning the grades and being just as qualified, if not more qualified than many of my peers, I doubted myself and whether I truly belonged and I continued to try and find ways to prove that to myself and others. During the meeting, I found that I was not alone in this sentiment, and that this was something that nearly everyone experienced; however, this persistent self-doubt impacts women of color differently for a number of reasons.
In spaces where there aren’t many other women of color, we’re imposed upon by others’ perceptions of us being a “diversity hire” or a product of affirmative action, rather than attributing our successes to our own doing. Consequently, even when our accomplishments result from our own hard work, we still feel inadequate.
Personally, these feelings of inadequacy have resulted in me becoming a bit of a perfectionist. I remember the countless times I’ve gone above and beyond others’ standards when it wasn’t necessary. I remember all the all-nighters I’ve pulled completing tasks that should’ve only taken an hour. I remember completing entire assignments, only to start over because I felt they weren’t good enough. Although perfectionism and imposter syndrome are often discussed in regards to academics, I’ve found that these concepts have also applied to my personal life.
My experiences have also brought to my attention the ideal of effortless perfectionism, a term used to describe the pressures of being able to roll out of bed and be “flawless” with little to no effort. Having perfect skin, a perfect body, and perfect grades without even trying. These pressures are largely placed on women and further perpetuate gendered beauty stereotypes and expectations that are often very unrealistic. As a Black woman, I find myself constantly caught between exceeding the low expectations others have for me because of my race and gender and the high (and at times unrealistic) expectations I have for myself, a recipe for exhaustion and unhappiness.
After learning the hard way, I’ve come to realize that all of these things: others’ expectations, stereotypes, and misconceptions, didn’t matter as much as me being happy with myself and what I’ve accomplished. While I know these are lot easier said than done, I’ve found a few tips that I have begun to implement in my own life and will continue to work on. From a number of resources, I found the following common tips particularly helpful with working to overcome imposter syndrome and perfectionism:
Talk to yourself like you would to your best friend.
One of my sorority sisters said this to me once when I was going through a really rough time, and it has resonated with me ever since. She mentioned how we tend to be positive and encouraging when talking about other people’s accomplishments, yet we’re often hypercritical of ourselves. I’m not always the most outspoken about how I’m feeling, although this is something I’ve started working on and will to continue to incorporate into how I talk about myself.
Part of this advice includes learning to compliment yourself. Learn to shower yourself with praise, approval, and compliments like you would to your best friend. In the Women’s Center, we have ‘Leslie Knope Awards’ that the staff members give to one another, and there’s one in particular that we are encouraged to award ourselves (see below). This has been especially difficult for many of us because this often an afterthought, but it’s important to give yourself credit where it’s due and to acknowledge when you’re doing a good job.
2. Learn that it’s okay to ‘take up space.’
This is especially applicable to any women of color experiencing imposter syndrome or feelings of not belonging. It can be very difficult to feel a sense of belongingness when you are the only person of color in your class, academic program, or career. Speaking from experience, I know plenty of times where I’ve let myself fade into the background because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or because I didn’t feel that I belonged. I’ve gradually been working on finding my voice and allowing myself to take up space. I’ve learned that I do not need any affirmation from anyone else to know that I was meant to be here, and I have something valuable to contribute.
People’s opportunities and accomplishments are shaped by more than just their own merit, of course; as such, it’s important to always be mindful of how our various privileged and marginalized identities shape our experiences. That said, for women of color who often have their agency and worth erased or minimized, it can be a radical act to unapologetically take up the space that we’re often denied.
3) Just do it.
Instead of living in the fear of not being good enough, just do it. Be open to trying and learning new things, even if you think you won’t be good at it — you might just surprise yourself! Face down your feelings of doubt by ‘faking it until you make it.’ We may not always feel like the best thing since sliced bread, but encouraging ourselves to take on these challenges can help offer motivation without becoming focused on how we do (or don’t) compare to others.
I know each of these tips are easier said than done, but it’s important to engage in self-care, be kind to yourself, and acknowledge the great person that you are. I’m no expert and this is definitely something I’m going to be continuously working on. However, I can say that as I’ve practiced this tips and others, I’ve felt a lot better about myself and my accomplishments.
I’m learning each day that I deserve to be here, I belong here, and I’m going to continue to do great things.