"I've sat at every powerful table you can think of - they're not that smart" - Michelle Obama on beating imposter syndrome
As one of the most powerful, highly respected and celebrated women in the world, it's hard to imagine that this former FLOTUS would sometimes doubt herself in any shape or form of success.
But imposter syndrome does not really care if you are Michelle Obama or Mandisa Xaba.
Not to be confused with low self-esteem, imposter syndrome manifests itself in another manner of self-doubt. The Harvard Business Review defines it as follows:
"... a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalise their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field.
"High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, especially in women and among academics."
As an incredibly successful black women with several stately accolades to her name, Michelle Obama has been vocal about her imposter syndrome, saying that "it never goes away."
In conversation with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Monday at the Southbank Centre to promote her recently published memoir, Becoming, she recalled her visit to meet the Queen.
"I had all this protocol buzzing in my head and I was like 'don't trip down the stairs and don't touch anybody, whatever you do," BBC News reported.
A lot of black women - young and old - can relate to that "don't touch anybody" feeling Obama felt when she met the Queen.
You give yourself those Issa-esque mirror pep talks and self-affirmations before entering certain spaces around people you deem "more successful" than yourself. You ensure that you've tucked in any loud/angry black girl stereotypes you may have internalised before attending prestigious events, or sitting in on certain meetings.
Perhaps for black women, imposter syndrome also stems from inherited PTSD of generations of systematic oppression, which dictated that our mothers, grandmothers, and foremothers do not sit at the table; they serve at it.
So when Michelle Obama, and the many educated, well-spoken, driven black women like her (or "profound for women of colour" as she calls them) sit at those tables they either wonder if they're getting punked or if someone around them is going to figure out that they're "frauds".
This is one of the things former FLOTUS addressed at Southbank Centre, saying to young women, "you have to start by getting those demons out of your head. The questions I ask myself - 'am I good enough?' - that haunts us, because the messages that are sent from the time we are little is: maybe you are not, don't reach too high, don't talk too loud."
She further divulged that this is the secret that helps her navigate her imposter syndrome; "I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at non-profits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the UN; they are not that smart."
If you unpack this statement, the less literal message you can draw from it is that once you stop aggrandising the success and abilities (intellectual or otherwise) of people you interact with in your field and any other professional space, believing in the validity of your own achievements becomes easier.
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