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  • Kimberley Guillemet

“If you argue for your limitations you get to keep them.”

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.

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