It was a Thursday afternoon in March 2018. I was sitting upstairs in my son’s toy room. Small Legos nearly broke my ankle as I walked into the room to take my exit interview call. The cold leather material on the blue recliner made my legs cold. I reached for a blanket. Surrounded in a mess trapped inside four yellow walls and pre-school artwork, I somehow felt comfortable and calm. Yet, I still wondered, “Am I making the right decision?”
I sat deep in that feeling for a moment until another thought appeared, “Maybe this is not the right decision. But you will not know unless you try.”
So, I decided to move forward with my decision. I felt emotional, yet hopeful. I was leaving on good terms. I was leaving to pursue a dream. I was leaving to figure out myself. The call was going well. I was honest. I was direct. And I was optimistic.
“Is there a reason you would never work for us again?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I would love to work for you all again. I think if the timing and role are right, I would love to come back. I love this team. I love the culture. I love the clients. And I love your vision. I just need to figure out my own vision for myself.”
I left my role at WNS-Denali to pursue my passion for teaching and education. To stay connected with the team, I supported them as a contractor role starting the very next day after ending my full-time arrangement with them. In some ways, I feel like I never stopped working with them.
I always dreamed of being a teacher. My husband had a good-paying job, and he cheered me on as I took this leap of faith. I cut my salary by 60% to become an educator. I left my safe, comfortable position to jump into the unknown dream of mine. Life tossed a lot at me during the next year of my life. While I loved teaching -and I had the best bunch of students that Fall 2018 semester, I was falling apart mentally and physically. I had to speak at 3 funerals for people I loved dearly. I was fragile and that meant my imposter syndrome was through the roof. I do not have a master’s degree or Ph.D., which many educators in higher ed complete. I felt unqualified. I felt inadequate. I felt like a fraud. That is when the negative, inner voice of mine came with blades of fury:
“No one will respect you once they find out you aren’t qualified enough to be here.”
“You don’t deserve to be an instructor here.”
“Everyone will see right through you.”
“You blew up your life.”
Those internal, hurtful words were on repeat until I finally crashed and burned one September day. I called my therapist for the first time, started taking medicine, and began to slowly pick up the broken pieces of my life. The puzzle that never seemed to fit. Yet, I kept chasing a new job. A new dream. I was waiting for a title to fix me. I was waiting for validation from others to cure me.
“Who is saying you don’t deserve this work?” my therapist asked. “Who said you blew up your life? Who said you are not smart enough?”
I had to face the truth. I had to face the reality head-on and I said:
“Me. I am the one saying those things.”
You know in the movies when someone has a “wake-up” call in a dramatic way and the music changes and their expression is new. A light bulb sound might appear in the background. Well, that was me. Everyone around me was cheering me on. I had an incredibly supportive boss at the university too. The students adored me. I had no “real” reason to feel this way.
You see, Imposter Syndrome is defined as, “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.”
An article from Psychology Today applies more context, “A tendency toward perfectionism, fear of failure, continually undermining one’s achievements (trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro? Oh, it was nothing!) are all indicators that you might be prone. And it can be debilitating, causing stress, anxiety, low self confidence, shame and in some cases, even depression.”
You might suffer from imposter syndrome. Or, you definitely know someone who fits into one of these types of imposter syndrome suffers like me, which are wonderfully described from the Muse article:
- “The Perfectionist – Perfectionismand imposter syndrome often go hand-in-hand. Think about it: Perfectionists set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experience major self-doubt and worry about measuring up. Whether they realize it or not, this group can also be control freaks, feeling like if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves.
- The Super Woman – Since people who experience this phenomenon are convinced they’re phonies amongst real-deal colleagues, they often push themselves to work harder and harder to measure up. But this is just a false cover-up for their insecurities, and the work overload may harm not only their own mental health but also their relationships with others.
- The Natural Genius – judge their competence-based ease and speed as opposed to their efforts. In other words, if they take a long time to master something, they feel shame. These types of imposters set their internal bar impossibly high, just like perfectionists. But natural genius types don’t just judge themselves based on ridiculous expectations; they also judge themselves based on getting things right on the first try. When they are not able to do something quickly or fluently, their alarm sounds.
- The Soloist – feel as though asking for help reveals their phoniness is what Young calls Soloists. It’s OK to be independent, but not to the extent that you refuse assistance so that you can prove your worth.
- The Expert – measure their competence based on “what” and “how much” they know or can do. Believing they will never know enough; they fear being exposed as inexperienced or knowledgeable.”
It is hard to figure out which one I am the most.
Can I be all of them?
Does that make me a high-achieving imposter syndrome sufferer?
I have battled these thoughts most of my life, thinking I could outperform or outachieve my pain and trauma. I spent so many years overworking and spreading myself so thin that my body was shutting down. I felt like the next big project, the next positive campaign, or the next big race would make me love myself more; it would make me feel more worthy. It never happened. I just kept performing and imposter syndrome kept winning until I broke down. I became still. I became reflective. And I became grateful. I allowed myself to heal from both the physical pain (two surgeries in 2019) and emotional pain I had been carrying around in an oversized pack-back my entire life.
Today, I am confident you can overcome imposter syndrome by doing hard things and coming out on the other side of it all. Some tips that worked for me, include:
- Developing a mantra to say when a limiting belief enters my mind; I wear a necklace every day that says, “I am enough.” It’s not enough to wear that necklace – I say those 3 words daily.
- Reframing toxic thoughts with gratitude as they enter my mind; for example, “Thank you for the reminder that I used to be a perfectionist, but I’ve got this now. I know that progress is better than perfection.” My therapist taught me this through Cognitive Behavior Therapy (highly recommend)!
- Sharing my struggles out loud; I no longer feel shame or guilt for my emotions; they make me who I am. I love and care deeply; there is a price to pay for deep feelings. I find myself saying, “What you’re feeling right now is OK, but feelings aren’t facts. Why are you feeling this way? What can you do about it? How can you move forward?”
- Manifesting your best self when you are struggling; for me, I think about how Glennon Doyle responds to women who are struggling and email her. She simply writes back and says something like, “What is the most beautiful, truest version of a working mom who cares for herself and those around her?” You might think I am being too hippy-dippy here, but I believe in the power of visualization and manifesting your thoughts into reality! What you think drives how you act. And how you act leads you to paths for your dreams.
Nearly 2 years later, in March 2020, I was having a new conversation. This time, I was not hiding in my son’s toy room for a false sense of peace and calm in the midst of chaos. Instead, I leaned on my instincts. I trusted my gut. And I was having a conversation about re-joining the team at WNS-Denali. I signed my paperwork on May 12, making this new change official! I will start with the team full-time on June 1, 2020, as a Group Marketing Manager. I will continue to use my strengths as a coach and educator in this new role too. A job title does not determine the quality or qualifications of a person. We can all lead. We can all inspire. We can all transform.
I feel tremendous joy and relief about the idea of having one job. One team. One clear mission. Through this entire experience, I have learned an incredible amount about myself and the people I invite into my life. But really, I can summarize these lessons in three points:
- No one is ever ready for anything. So, you just must decide if you are brave enough to jump into the unknown or afraid enough to stay still.
- Sometimes, you might blow up your life. But there will be beauty in the debris that you find.
- The meanest voice is often the one inside your head. And you can learn how to re-frame thoughts that encourage you instead of tear you down.
I am sharing this story so that you know you have a comeback story within you.
You have the strength within you to do hard things.
You have muscles of resiliency that are constantly craving more use from you.
And you are not alone in your fears or aspirations for who you are becoming.
One thought on “We All Have a Comeback Story Brewing in Us: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome”
Love it and congratulations Ashley!! Amazing stuff. I look forward to hearing more of your story, the wonderful future in front of you, and how you continue to inspire others but more importantly, yourself.