When I was obtaining my Ph.D. at the University of Chicago during the mid 1990s, I was often wracked with self-doubt—that I was not good enough, smart enough, and certainly not theoretical enough to succeed at such a research-based institution. Even after I had received a four-year scholarship, prestigious dissertation grants, and been awarded my Ph.D., I still felt I hadn’t deserved to go there, and believed it was only through sheer luck and connections that I got in and got through.
In recent online articles and blogs, this struggle is said to be quite common among women, and actually has a name: The Imposter Syndrome. According to Amy Cuddy in her book Presence, she contends that this syndrome comes from a deep seated belief that we’ve been given something we didn’t earn and we’ll soon be found out. As a result, we waste an extraordinary amount of energy fixating on what others think about us and how those judgments (which usually aren’t as bad as we think) disrupt our sense of self.
Some of the recent research on Imposter Syndrome argues that by feeling more confident, women can internalize their success and shift from feeling lucky to taking ownership in their successes. Others contend that real external biases against women make it hard for women’s improved confidence alone to cure this syndrome.
For me, it was less about building my confidence or confronting gender-based biases and was more about finding balance between my internal sense of self and external world view. After obtaining my Ph.D., it took several years before I could stop feeling like I wasn’t theoretical enough for the University of Chicago’s hegemonic discourse world view. I had always believed that the U of C’s theoretical lens was the right way to view social justice issues I was researching, writing, and presenting on. I played along with this—Hence, I felt as if I were an imposter.
However, through 20 years of teaching experiences in both a physical context (empowerment-based self-defense classes) and an academic context (sociology and social justice courses at the university), I discovered the value of a practical and more experiential pedagogy. It is through this different paradigm that I can connect and help others transform. It was no longer about not being theoretical enough, but about how to balance that with my unique approach.
This approach is called Quiet Power. Quiet Power is an inside-out power that balances your hard and soft sides, your quiet and loud voices, and your theoretical and practical views. With your Quiet Power, you develop a sense of self that is rooted in a more balanced perspective—to break free of feeling like a fraud.
As one young woman commented after a Quiet Power training session: “Quiet Power can help me to manage and hopefully destroy my self-doubt. I can then feel motivated by my confidence and not my fears of self-doubt.”
Here’s to tapping into our Quiet Power to stand fast in the face of not feeling like we belong, and staying true to who we are from the inside out.