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Michelle Obama and Imposter Syndrome

Posted by vince
Published on 18 March 2022

So, Michelle Obama has imposter syndrome.

The former first lady of the USA is just the same as the rest of us. Thank heavens!

What is imposter syndrome? It’s a sense that you’re not good enough, that you don’t belong (in a place or a position). It creates self-doubt, insecurity and generally makes you feel awkward about yourself. My first sensation of imposter syndrome was aged 10. The school football team had won the local school league, and on the last day of the summer term, the headmaster invited the team onto the stage at assembly, and he presented us with medals to celebrate our success.

Our classmates applauded rapturously, and I could feel myself going red. I was not worthy of this approbation. Instead, they celebrated me for something I loved doing and excelled at. I found this handclapping an embarrassment, and I wanted the ordeal to end.

In my professional career, I have achieved many things; training awards, and whenever there’s a presentation ceremony, I feel that glow of embarrassment caused by imposter syndrome. I come from humble origins, I work and study hard, and I go the extra mile. But still, the applause creates a horrible feeling. My head tells me I’m not good enough and not worthy of public recognition.

My daughter is a fine gymnast and dancer. She’s danced all her life and recently at Sadler’s Wells, Wembley Stadium and The Royal Albert Hall. And yet, as they call her class out to dance, she turns red (like me) and feels like she’d rather be anywhere else in the universe. My daughter dances with talented colleagues from across the social spectrum, and imposter syndrome is a common source of discussion. It seems to impact everybody no matter their origin.

Award ceremonies often show us how this affects the winners when they are genuinely surprised by the award, sometimes rendering famous actors ‘speechless’.

So, what can we do?

The first thing is to discuss it with your friends, family and colleagues. You’ll realise that this sense of embarrassment is best shared because your friends, family and colleagues will empathise – they’ll have had similar experiences themselves. So you’re not alone, and there’s no need to feel guilty.

Secondly, you need to own your success and achievements. This recognition is because of your hard work and endeavour. If you don’t value your success, neither will anybody else. Showing humility is a great personal attribute, one that people find attractive. Own and deserve your success, take it in your stride and continue to build on it.

Further down the line, it’s highly likely that you’ll have a few upsets and disappointments, failures perhaps. It’s easy to look within and start telling yourself that you were right. You were lucky then, life has caught up with you, and you’re not so hot after all. Failure is just feedback. You’ll find a way to regroup and fight back into the saddle. When you have a reputation for winning, disappointment and failure spur your subsequent success.

It’s easy to compare ourselves with others. I’m not Richard Branson, and my daughter is not Darcy Bussell. Success is relative, and it’s individual and specific to your activities. False comparisons don’t help. Focus on what we’re doing in the moment and forget about the opposition. You can only impact the world by what you’re doing right now. What you’re doing right now affects the future. So get out of your way and enjoy the moment!

So, Michelle Obama, eight years in the White House and you still feel awkward about your success. I’m sure that you’ll recognise your talent and how deserving you are one day. Be proud of your efforts, achievements, and happy memories on Capitol Hill. Indeed, it was a massive privilege that few people experience, so make the most of it and continue working on your development projects to empower young women. Making that experience count for others is your life’s mission. Accept and acknowledge yourself as a changemaker.

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