Often it is the most fleeting of words that hold the most significant power.
Imposter syndrome often runs rampant among high achieving individuals and can be evoked from intentional or the seemingly most innocent of moments. Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you will be called out as a fraud and that you are not worthy of your own accomplishments.
We want to share a personal story about how imposter syndrome can happen at work. Feelings of self-doubt and internal shame can come from anyone, especially people you deem allies or mentors. It is essential to pay attention and understand how your words, jokes, and seemingly meaningless comments can profoundly affect someone. And, it is even more necessary to recognize when these types of feelings come over you. When you realize the pitfalls of imposter syndrome, you can take away its power over you. To quote Tanya Geisler, certified leadership coach: “Self-doubt is proof of your humanity, not your inadequacy.”
It’s Story Time: A Real Look at How Imposter Syndrome Happens at Work
I entered the insurance industry at around 17 years old. At the time, I was a young, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and fresh out of high school Puerto Rican girl that thought she was ready for the world. Most of my friends were still working fast food and retail jobs, so I was beyond excited to score a role as a mail/file room clerk at a small local commercial insurance MGA. I felt so professional!
The file room shared an open floor plan with the brokerage department. These were the heavyweights of the company who were closing 6-figure premium commercial property policies. I quickly decided that THIS is where I would one day belong… and I made it clear to anyone who would listen that I wanted to be a wholesale broker one day. During my first 6 months, I listened to everything that team said and asked many questions about their work.
There was one woman in particular that I admired – she was polished, lived in a posh neighborhood, drove a red convertible BMW… she was a beast! We’ll call her “Posh.” “Posh” was in her 50’s, blond, a New Yorker, and 100% boss. I was nothing but kind and helpful to her because I literally wanted to learn everything I could from her. Regardless, she barely ever looked at me when I would deliver mail and files to her desk. I did have cooperation from other brokers, thankfully. I learned so much in those first six months that I was offered a promotion to be an Account Service Representative (ASR/CSR) and Receptionist.
On my first day at the reception desk, Posh and another coworker walked past the front desk where I sat. Immediately, I overheard Posh say to her friend: “great, what is this now, Ghetto Underwriters?” They both giggled on their way to grab their morning coffee.
My heart sank. So many thoughts ran through my head, and anxiety filled my body. How stupid was I to think I could ever be in the ranks with the likes of her? All of the feelings of “not-enoughness” and not belonging found a new home in the work compartment of my mind.
What’s crazier is that I never felt comfortable telling my bosses or anyone “higher up” about the incident because I was a young, high-school educated, Puerto Rican. When you come from my background, you sort of just know that you’re stereotyped, and I chalked it up to being something I would have to learn to accept as a WOC in the corporate world.
I continued rising through the ranks and building a promising career in insurance. While that was my first experience of workplace abuse and trauma, it certainly wasn’t my last. However, I will never forget that moment when imposter syndrome seeds found fertile soil in my head.
Tips to Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
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