When im­poster syn­drome strikes

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Teesa Ba­hana voices@city­press.co.za

Ifeel I should start with the fact that I have a baby face. Once you know me well it’s the least note­wor­thy thing about me, but when it comes to be­ing a leader and mak­ing first im­pres­sions, it mat­ters.

Add to that, my job hap­pens to come with a ti­tle that in Uganda isn’t of­ten paired with some­one my age. We don’t have a “30 Un­der 30” here; if you’re in charge of a com­pany or or­gan­i­sa­tion, your most likely qual­i­fi­ca­tion is se­nior­ity. So when it comes to peo­ple in lead­er­ship po­si­tions in Uganda I’m a bit of a rar­ity.

This doesn’t have too much im­pact on day-to-day work. Af­ter all, no one can tell your age or round­ness of your face from an email or phone call.

Fun fact: I’ve been told I sound 40 on the phone so I try to work with that as much as pos­si­ble. But there have been in­stances when I have been dis­re­spected be­cause I’m a woman, or young, or both. The fun thing about th­ese in­stances is you’re never too sure what as­pect of your iden­tity is be­ing dis­re­spected be­cause peo­ple aren’t al­ways ex­plicit when they de­cide not to take you se­ri­ously. Ex­cept there was that one time some­one called me “baby boss”. Oh and that other time I was told to wear skirts more of­ten. But a lot of times, there’s the more in­sid­i­ous put-down that you can’t quite place but you do know that it made you ques­tion your­self and your abil­i­ties.

Funny enough, though, an­other chal­lenge has been when peo­ple take me se­ri­ously, with no need for a com­ment or an ex­pla­na­tion. They’re like: “Direc­tor. Sure, that sounds about right.” I find that sus­pi­cious.

For me, be­ing a young woman in a lead­er­ship role means a con­stant bat­tle with im­pos­tor syn­drome. Things have got bet­ter, but in my first few months in this role I was con­stantly feel­ing like a fraud, like the de­ci­sion to hire me was a ter­ri­ble mis­take that needed to be rec­ti­fied as soon as pos­si­ble. Al­most two years in and I still feel like that some­times if I dwell on it.

There’s that quote: “Carry your­self with the con­fi­dence of a medi­ocre white man”; and in th­ese days of Don­ald Trump how can I be sit­ting around feel­ing un­der­qual­i­fied when I’m clearly good enough to be pres­i­dent of the US?

Jokes aside, we can all cer­tainly as­pire to greater con­fi­dence in our­selves. Take a mo­ment to think about the fact that if you are less con­fi­dent, you are less likely to pur­sue fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties. But I have also found that I’ve been able to keep im­pos­tor syn­drome at bay best when I fo­cus on what I’m al­ready good at. Per­haps it’s be­cause I’m for­tu­nate enough to work in the arts where a lot of lead­er­ship roles are held by women and so I have no short­age of role mod­els, but even if one was work­ing in a male-cen­tric in­dus­try, there are many traits of fe­male-cen­tric lead­er­ship styles that cre­ate at­mos­pheres of trust and col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Smile more but not too much, speak more of­ten but don’t be too ag­gres­sive. It’s dif­fi­cult to keep track of the rules in the man­ual of how to be woman. You can spend your days con­stantly think­ing about how you are viewed, or you can just go ahead and do the damn thing, know­ing that not ev­ery­one will take you se­ri­ously and that there will al­ways be things that lie out­side the realm of your con­trol.

What you can do is fo­cus on fig­ur­ing out how to be a good leader. One of the ways that I try to do this is by hav­ing peo­ple to look up to, and I have had no short­age of role mod­els from day one. Be­tween my mother, my aunts, my sis­ter and my friends, I suffer from an em­bar­rass­ment of riches when it comes to phe­nom­e­nal women who stay shin­ing de­spite oc­cu­py­ing po­si­tions in male­dom­i­nated fields, or deal­ing with ob­nox­ious col­leagues with an­ti­quated views on a woman’s role in the world. I even have a friend whose spirit I call upon ev­ery time I’m faced with a cat­caller who thinks I’ve just been wait­ing for the day a pineap­ple ven­dor will tell me I’m “his size”.

I have peo­ple I can call on specif­i­cally about work sit­u­a­tions, peo­ple to give me a boost and check me; peo­ple who I would not be able to main­tain my san­ity with­out. I know I have been stupidly for­tu­nate in this re­gard. But even with­out a squad (let’s pre­tend I used that iron­i­cally), know that you are not alone, and that the voice that tells you you’re not good enough at your job is just that, a voice. It’s not based in fact. You may con­stantly un­der­es­ti­mate your abil­i­ties but may that also mean that you con­stantly sur­prise your­self with just how bril­liant you are.

Ba­hana is direc­tor of 32º East | Ugan­dan Arts Trust. This ar­ti­cle forms part of a part­ner­ship by African youth cul­ture voice that seeks to ac­knowl­edge our col­lec­tive dif­fer­ences and sim­i­lar­i­ties.

Go to twhsg.co.za for more

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