Reversing the Imposter Syndrome

She is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Indian Nation of Oklahoma. She has a double major in Spanish and Communications from the University of Arizona. Through an internship opportunity with IBM, she discovered she had a talent for invention. Tara Astigarraga is currently a Distinguished Engineer at IBM with 80+ patents.

“I accidentally got into IBM”, Tara has said. “At some point, they’ll figure out I don’t belong here”. That mindset is one we call Impostor Syndrome. It’s when people doubt themselves and believe that others will discover they are a fraud. It’s a psychological situation that often goes unexpressed leading to a waste of talent.

Tara was fortunate enough to have a mentor who nurtured her talent and pushed her outside of her comfort zone. But many experience opposite situations when they are discouraged by others. For Tara, a diversity program at IBM was the crucible moment that gave her an opportunity. And when she earned her first patent on an end-of-life prediction system for flash memory, she began to realize that she wasn’t an impostor after all.

Those with impostor syndrome have been heads of state, beloved entertainers, creative artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, and leaders in almost every segment of our society. It affects both men and women. It doesn’t have a genetic predisposition as far as we know.

How do we reverse the impostor syndrome? It begins with a belief that everyone has a special talent that needs to be discovered and nurtured. Unfortunately, in a day when we think of education as one of meeting imposed standards, those special talents may never be discovered.

Reversing the impostor syndrome requires nurturing from mentors who know just the right button to push. Mentors who need to help nurture a mindset that failing is a natural part of the learning experience. But that would involve a movement away from our factory model of how young people are developed.

We also need those who have fought through their own impostor challenges to speak up and become role models. We also need to quit glorifying the true phonies who are so prevalent on social media.

As a society, we need to return to valuing those who achieve quietly and lift up others. We need to move away from standardizing education and the belief that one size fits all. We need to see flaws as hints of future abilities, not as weaknesses.

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“I have written eleven 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.” – Maya Angelou

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