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Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

One of City Year’s founding stories is Ubuntu, “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” As City Year AmeriCorps members, we are dedicated to building a more just, equal, fair and compassionate world, driving us to learn from the perspective and experiences of others. We have a passion for staying resilient in the face of uncomfortable realities found present in society and the communities we now call home. We embody and recognize our “why I serve” each and every day. Through the hard days and through the great days, our why is our greatest guiding force. On my hardest days, I am softly given gentle reminders by those around me whispering kind affirmations to practice self-love; connect my mind, body and soul via yoga; or remind myself of my true divine kindness I have within. On my greatest days, I am present, joyful and reminded of who I am and the kind souls that I know I’ve touched.

Recently, City Year Detroit welcomed guest speaker, creative genius and novelist Andre Ebron to present on Imposter Syndrome. Mr. Ebron welcomed City Year Detroit AmeriCorps members and staff with a safe space creating room for vulnerability and non-judgmental understanding. Imposter Syndrome can be described as the feeling of anxiety altering one’s internal experience of success regardless of high-performing behaviors. Those who may experience Imposter Syndrome can feel “phony” or doubt their divine abilities. As he kept the door open for expanding knowledge, Andre Ebron was able to discuss how imposter syndrome can manifest in five different forms, overlapping at times, and how it presents itself more in the face of women pursuing high-earning careers.

He beautifully broke down the five forms as “The Expert,” “The Soloist,” “The Natural Genius,” “The Superhero” and “The Perfectionist.” Although each of these manifestations alters our exterior to the outside world, they all have the one commonality: our internal world not believing that we are good enough. As Mr. Ebron generated a room full of knowledge, he also asked each and every one of us a single question, “What from our past or present is causing us to feel as if we need to prove our worth by creating an ‘impostered’ exterior?” This leads to the next great question: “How can we thrive in spite of Imposter Syndrome?”

Overcoming the imposter phenomenon can begin with the belief in the power of ourselves. As AmeriCorps members serving with City Year, we collectively believe in the power of young people. If we collectively brought the same positive can do to ourselves in the same way we bring to the students we serve, we would, in turn, begin our journey to overcome our limitations to seeing our true self. Although it may be simpler said than done, we can first begin with reminders to ourselves in the same way that we are reminders to our students. For example, during this year, one of the students I work closely with has been making a great change to how they show up in the classroom— being more respectful, waiting for their chance to speak and practicing patience. Watching their growth and congratulating their small but mighty steps has been a gift. What if we used that same practice to ourselves?

In addition to beginning to practice more self-love, we can additionally seek knowledge and understanding of our internal dialogue, mental health and the large question of where it came from. As we cultivate self-compassion, we can open space to ourselves—just as Andre Ebron did so kindly for us—making space to let go of perfectionism, celebrate our success, share our feelings and even the not-so-pretty failures and most importantly learn overall acceptance. Again, a huge and warm thank you to Andre Ebron for the inspiring presentation, and thank you to the City Year AmeriCorps members who serve each and every day despite it all. You are seen, heard and respected.

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