It’s been a weird few months for me. The best way I can describe how I’ve been feeling is unsettled. Not only have I been reliving some of my most atrocious memories of racism, I’ve also had to deal with a number of underlying pains that I had unconsciously kept buried in order to protect my sanity.
Add Covid-19, lockdown, school closures and the pressure of home schooling to the mix; my mental strength was officially diminished. So with this in mind, what did I go and do? As per usual, I put on my big girl shoes and carried on as normal. But with everything going on, what was really normal? Attempting to be the Jill-of-all-trades was far from normality.
Let me take it back to 1 October 2019. I found myself in a new position at work after returning from a long maternity after having my second daughter. I was super excited to take on a new challenge, because I had long outgrown my previous position. I came back to work motivated, enthusiastic and ready to kick arse. I work in a male dominated industry, so being elevated into a more senior position definitely added some additional pressure, but having such a brilliant team behind me and a supportive senior manager (who also happened to be a woman), eased much of this for me.
Where things became tricky was when others around me began to show signs of questioning my ability. Within a short period of time, the doubts that others felt begun to seep into my own mental. Along came lockdown and things became progressively worse. The self-doubt I was feeling became overwhelming. Instead of questioning why I had allowed other people’s feelings and behaviours to have such a negative impact on me, I just continued in vain, hoping that either they would stop, or I would be become stronger.
As you probably guessed, neither happened! Instead I had a break down and had to take some time out. This was a first for me. I was rocked to the core because I had until this point, maintained an unbreakable persona. In reality, the situation had unearthed my underlying feelings of self-doubt. However, this situation turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I hadn’t quite realised just how much I needed this time out to gain some perspective on what was happening and why. Enter Imposter Syndrome.
Originally coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, Impostor Syndrome (IS) is fundamentally the fear that our accomplishments are based on luck rather than ability which will eventually be unmasked as a fraud by others. Research has shown that IS typically affects high achievers who are unable to accept their success. Damn! I recognised this feeling so much. But why now? Why, when I was doing so well in a company where I’d indisputably earned my stripes, was I feeling most weak?
Through my daily meditation and absence from what had become a toxic environment, I was able to gain some clarity. I discerned that due to not having anyone within my company who could offer me guidance on my professional journey as a Black Woman, I had begun to assimilate. When you assimilate, you risk losing your authentic self, therefore your self-worth. I had lost the parts of my identity in the workplace that made me Dionne – parts that made me unique and gave me confidence. This opened the door to unhappiness, a feeling of loss and an unhealthy dose of anxiety.
What also came to the surface was the part I had to play in all of this. Throughout my career, I had put an unnecessary level of pressure to be the perfect employee. Anyone who knows me clearly sees that I put in the work and strive for quality. To be honest, this is a philosophy I’ve adopted in every corner of my life, but the levels were different when it came to work. During my time out, I was determined to find out where this drive for professional perfection and my new found unhealthy self-doubt was stemming from.
Once I opened this door, the thoughts came flooding in. One particular scenario that I had buried without realising just how deep an unhealed wound was open, was an instance when I had found out that a number of my peer colleagues were being paid significantly higher than me. At the time, I was one of, if not the most, recognised high achieving member of my department. When I confronted the powers at be, the response I received was “they are really good at their jobs”. I was able to negotiate a rise, but not to the same level as those I had uncovered. This left me feeling devalued and officially inferior, all the while working to the highest standard I possibly could.
So recently when my peers begun to challenge my ability (at every opportunity), my underlying feelings of inferiority came flooding back – and I crumbled. As a Black Woman, I’ve always known that I have to work harder to be taken seriously and respected in the workplace; this is a sad fact but a true one. A study conducted by Professor Kevin Cokley, at the University of Texas at Austin, “found that imposter syndrome can add to the stress minorities already feel”. In response to the microaggressions many black people experience in real life, many of us become our own aggressors, filling ourselves with negative internal dialogue that can challenge our mental health. With IS, it becomes all too easy to begin to believe the lies both society and our brains tell us.
My time of self-reflection gave me a completely new perspective on things. Yes, I could have just left, but I refused to be pushed out. I decided that no longer would I continue to put unnecessary levels of stress and expectation on myself. No longer would I let others cause me to discredit my own achievements and the fact that I am indeed badass. No longer would I try to strive for perfection because I am only human and perfection doesn’t actually exist.
I’ve set new objectives for myself:
- I will be realistic with what I can and should be trying to achieve
- I am my own competition and bettering myself will always take prime place
- I will set unnegotiable boundaries to protect my mental health
- I will believe in myself and my successes – I’m not an affirmative action tick box, I have worked hard and deserve my success
- I will continue my daily affirmations and meditation to stay mentally strong
- I won’t let negative and intrusive thoughts enter my psyche
- I will forever remember that I am only human and am not alone in this experience. Some of the greats have also experienced IS. Maya Angelou once said “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out”
Most of us will experience self-doubt at some point in our lives. It’s what we do with it, how we cope with it, that means the difference between struggling chronically and letting it go fairly quickly. Always remember to take time out to give yourself a chance to understand why you have your doubts and you will be more likely to successfully overcome them.
Sending love and light always.