Impostor Syndrome: What Is It and How Can We Overcome?

Impostor Syndrome: What Is It and How Can We Overcome?

What an eye-opening talk about impostor syndrome by Maureen Zappala in the Pop-up workshop. 

Maureen shared with us an interesting tale of her early career journey, when she had joined the NASAJet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in 1983 as an aeronautical engineer. How many of us have dreamt to be one?

She started with her “first day at work” syndrome where she was surrounded by “rocket scientists”, “movers and shakers,” and “who’s who of the industry.”She felt completely out of place. She recollected being the only woman in the group. Way to go! The thoughts in her mind were, “Why did they hire me?” only to be answered later by her mind “They needed a woman!.”

She was instructed to “Show up, shut up, and don’t screw up!”

Her story captivated the audience and put us on the edge of our seats. At the end of that first episode, one could sense the disdain and dirty looks that she got from her peers on that first day even though she felt she was competent, qualified, smart, and degreed (with great pedigree). She explained to the audience how she felt like a sheep in wolf’s clothing, a complete fraud or an impostor. That explained the impostor syndrome effect.

An interesting analogy that Maureen presented was “her first role as President of the Toastmasters club” that she assumed when she joined Toastmasters. Even though she felt like an impostor in the club, she successfully rendered her duties as President of the club. 

Her advice to the audience is to “turn down the volume” of the negative voice in the head and keep “turning up the volume” of the positive voice.

She described some of the common symptoms of impostor effects as follows:

  1. The Impostor Cycle 

We get into the loop of trying to do something new, which gets pushed down by our mind and this keeps repeating itself.

  1. The Perfectionist

This is the act of trying to be perfect the very first time. Failure isn’t an option. Perfection breeds repetition.

  1. The Superhero Complex

The know-it-all effect where a person thinks one should know all about the topic in the first try. He/she wants to do it all alone. 

  1. Charm, Insight, Humor

The person thinks he must use his charm, insight, and humor  as a disguise when he doesn’t know the answer.

  1. Fear of Failure

The act of the ceaseless mind chatter that says failure is inevitable.

She invented the Tri-C approach as the first attempt at getting rid of the syndrome with these steps:

  1. Captivate it – captivate the thoughts 
  2. Cross examine it – cross exam if our assumption is right
  3. Counter it – counter it with something that pushes us forward

She explained the cognitive distortion, where we have the bias of thinking other people know more than we do. One has to realize that you need not have a big dot all by yourself. You can leverage the knowledge by collaborating with different people in the same group and thereby enhance your own knowledge. The impostor syndrome is when you try to achieve everything all by yourself.

Impostor Syndrome, Impostor Syndrome: What Is It and How Can We Overcome?

Then she explained her “Fraud Free Framework” that she had designed to overcome this feeling. Her six R’s were 

1. Recognize it  

2. Reverse it.

3. Re-people it

4. Repeat it.

5. Repel it.

6. Reaffirm it.

Impostor Syndrome, Impostor Syndrome: What Is It and How Can We Overcome?

Maureen presented an example of overcoming the impostor syndrome through her book writing story. 

Her anecdotal tale and role-play with Jack on the phone to explain how she started writing her book “Buckeye Reflectionsabout the Ohio State (OSU) Buckeyes (basketball lovers know it!).

Her memories of the Ohio State (OSU) Basketball games captured our imagination and took us into the interesting world of sport. In this case, her conflict of interest stemmed from the fact that she studied at University of Notre Dame but was writing a book about the OSU basketball players. 

But complete support and cooperation among the authors took the book to great levels and is a best seller for the third year in a row.

There was an interesting Q&A session at the end with the audience jumping in with their own experiences and reminded a little bit of “taking the risk” even when you are not in the state. 

Her speech was well received and the audience also received a free workbook that explained the techniques of overcoming impostor syndrome.  We would have to now put all the ideas into action!

Besides workshops, we also pair members with mentors. Join our president, Renee Yao, tomorrow 12-1pm PST and learn more about how to get the most out of mentorships.

Impostor Syndrome, Impostor Syndrome: What Is It and How Can We Overcome?

— Written by Priya Shastri, VPM of Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters

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