How COVID-19 Can Help Us Beat Impostor Syndrome | The COVID-19 Experience from the NOD Team

May 28, 2020

Charles Catherine

May 28, 2020 | Blog by Charles Catherine, Special Assistant, NOD

Have you ever attributed some of your accomplishments to luck rather than to your own talent? You are not alone. This phenomenon, which is known as “imposter syndrome,” was conceptualized by Suzanne Imes, PhD and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD in the 1970s. It occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. According to a 2013 study, minority groups, including people with disabilities, are especially susceptible to experiencing impostor syndrome (Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development).

The impostor phenomenon becomes a vicious cycle. Afraid of being discovered as a fraud, people go through tremendous efforts to do a project perfectly. When they succeed, they begin believing all that anxiety and effort paid off. This constant fear can have a terrible impact on our mental health.

Like the coronavirus, emotions are highly contagious. And negative emotions are the easiest to catch. Fear, uncertainty and worry can spread to our collective psyche.

Thankfully, there are many ways to help us overcome the belief that we don’t measure up to people’s expectations. The COVID-19 crisis opens up a rare window of opportunity to practice some of these coping mechanisms and to change the way we think about success and leadership:

  1. Talk to your mentors
  2. Recognize your expertise
  3. Realize no one is perfect
  4. Change your thinking

This crisis challenges our ability to think of suffering not simply as an individual burden, but as a shared experience – an experience that we could then potentially turn into something affirmative. To all of you who are feeling unsettled, realizing that you might suddenly need technical or mental health support, to those who worry about how this might affect your productivity and your ability to keep your job, I welcome you to my world. Even when this pandemic finally ends, let’s remember how we felt during this crisis, when we were truly caring about each other, when we were ready to go shopping for our elderly neighbors, when we had dinner on Zoom with our family, when we felt connected by this common struggle. In this emergency situation, there is no room for pretense, we have a chance to show our true self and lead in a different way.

The pandemic has made the world stand still; it forces us to show another side of our personality to our colleagues and will change tomorrow’s professional environment. It could also help us redefine the qualities that we value in our leaders. When we leave the imposter idea behind, we have a chance to open up to our coworkers, be more vulnerable than we would otherwise be.

I challenge each of you to identify something that you noticed during these unprecedented times that could impact everyone if universally implemented. It could be thinking about accessibility, starting a conversation on mental health, having more flexible accommodation policies, OR rethinking the way we lead. As President Lyndon B. Johnson said: “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”

Charles Edouard Catherine joined the National Organization on Disability in 2018 as the special assistant to the president, Carol Glazer. With a background in Global Health, he served for several years as the executive director of the Surgeons of Hope Foundation. He successfully led the expansion of the organization from operating a solo program in Nicaragua to several ongoing, congruent programs throughout Latin America. A 2012 graduate of Sciences Po Bordeaux, France, Charles holds a Master’s degrees in International Relations. Charles is also a classical pianist of 25 years, a marathoner, and an elite triathlete.

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