― Kelly Lee Phipps
This month, apropos of Women’s History Month, our World Changer of the Month, Dr. Alexa Canday, is a woman who constantly broke down barriers that were put in place by others, as well as her own internal mental barriers. Despite becoming the first African American and first female pediatric neurosurgeon in the United States, Dr. Canady has openly acknowledged her struggles with imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is a real phenomenon that disproportionately plagues women and people of color. And for those of us who have dealt with it, its most challenging aspect is that it tends to resurface repeatedly over the course of our lives. Each time we face a new challenge professionally, academically or otherwise, we are at risk of falling back into the familiar cycle of self-doubt.
As a person who has personally struggled with imposter syndrome, I can speak from experience. I know the truth about myself: I am intelligent, capable, talented, and can accomplish any task set before me. Whatever it is, I can and will get it done. However, I believe what makes imposter syndrome the mental behemoth that it is, is that despite knowing the truth about ourselves, we’re constantly plagued by negative external messaging and signaling from others. As we progress through life, the “others'' can take different forms. Sometimes the others are our peers. Sometimes they are our teachers and instructors. Other times, our supervisors. Sometimes the “others'' are people who call themselves our friends. These others, whether motivated by a misplaced superiority complex, their own insecurity and self-doubt, or just plain animus, plant seeds of negativity in an effort to make us doubt ourselves and impose limits on what we can achieve. They fan the flames of self-doubt that can turn into a raging fire that will consume our joy, self-confidence and ambition; and ultimately, cause us to self-select out of opportunities.
The factors that exist that create fertile ground for the lies that feed imposter syndrome to grow are mental. The imposter syndrome battle is fought wholly in our mind. We can win the battle by refusing to internalize the lies and by choosing to believe the truth about ourselves.
How do we keep the truth about who we are at the forefront of our minds?
First, we must remind ourselves of the facts about who we are, our qualifications and what we have accomplished. We are not where we are today by some fluke or stroke of luck. We worked hard, likely harder than most, to accomplish our goals.
Next, we must be intentional about the company we keep. We must guard our hearts and our minds, and one of the best ways to do so is by truly vetting our friends and keeping around us a genuinely supportive group of trusted advisers who encourage us, exhort us and are honest with us.
Finally, we must ultimately choose who will get to decide what course our lives will take. Will we believe the lies promulgated by those who are not acting in our best interests, thereby empowering them to decide for us, or will we decide for ourselves?
I don’t know about you, but I choose the latter.
― Lauryn Hill
I remember when I first heard the song “Everything is Everything.” I was a junior in college and one of my classmates had the new Lauryn Hill album playing on her car stereo as she drove me to my dorm. I remember that even after she had pulled into a parking spot and put the car in park, I couldn’t bring myself to get out of the car until the song was over. Its genius struck me as much then as it does today. There is tremendous truth in this simple statement. Everything is literally connected to everything else. Despite living in a day and age where we find ourselves more separated and polarized than ever, with folks digging their heels in deeper and deeper as they defend their various ideological stances, it’s more imperative than ever to remember that we are all connected. As we celebrate Black History Month, it is important to recognize that cultural pride should not occur in a vacuum; nor does it need to take place to the exclusion of inclusivity. This is true for celebrations of pride for all groups. We can celebrate our achievements in a way that both pays homage to the hard-fought accomplishments of our people, while concurrently acknowledging that we need and rely upon each other as fellow citizens of humanity, regardless of our ethnicity, creed, or background. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most prolific leaders of our time, who is widely celebrated during Black History Month, understood this truth all too well. Though often lauded for the work he did to advance the cause of equal rights for African Americans, Dr. King was a staunch advocate for equal access and justice for all people. He believed in the interconnectedness of humanity and that none of us are free until all of us are free.He once shared that he told his children, “I don’t ever want you to forget that there are millions of God’s children who will not and cannot get a good education, and I don’t want you feeling that you are better than they are. For you will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be.” As Dr. King understood, what happens to the least of us, impacts all of us. We must remember the context of humanity in which we exist. We do not thrive in a vacuum. Everything truly is everything. All of our actions impact the actions and experiences of other people in an often a cyclical and unintentionally symbiotic manner. Everyone truly is connected to everyone else. The way we move, live, and breathe in the world impacts
our fellow humans, for better or for worse. We rely on each other. We need each other. And we should care about each other.
In the words of the prolific India.Arie,
It doesn't cost a thing to smile
You don't have to pay to laugh
You better thank God for that.
Stand up for your rights
Keep shining your light
And show the world your smile.”
At the beginning of each new year, humans have taken to setting resolutions and new goals that they wish to accomplish in the coming 364 days. As the year wears on, however, we often find that we have not accomplished all that we set out to achieve, at least not at the rate we expected. I think that over the last two years, it’s been more and more challenging to hold on to the optimism that each new year brings. For many of us, life feels harder; things seem more complicated now than ever.
It is true that with each passing year, living becomes more layered, more complex, and more nuanced. But no matter what issues we face, we always have a choice. We can choose hope. We can choose to look forward to the next day with optimism, gratitude and faith. I choose hope every day, even on the days when it feels easier not to.
I remember many people in my lineage who faced horrific circumstances, and could’ve given up or opted out of trying, but they didn’t. I am grateful that they did not because had they done so, I would not be here.
I choose hope because I think of women like our World Changer of the Month, Elizabeth Taylor, and how easy it would’ve been for her to give up after her husband, small child, mother and sister-in-law died. But she did not. She believed in the possibility of a brighter tomorrow. She chose hope.
So as we begin the year 2023, let’s remember that there is always hope. Let’s commit to choosing it every day.