Soul Sessions by CreativeMind

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Female Leader

January 30, 2024 Debra Berndt Maldonado and Robert Maldonado PhD Life Coach Training and Personal Transformation Experts Season 8 Episode 197
Soul Sessions by CreativeMind
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Female Leader
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, we dive into the intricacies of Impostor Syndrome, a common yet rarely discussed challenge faced by women at the helm and how to overcome imposter syndrome as a female leader. Debra draws from her personal experiences in male-dominated industries to shed light on self-doubt's insidious nature, while Robert brings forth a Jungian perspective, arguing that these inner battles are not just hurdles but also calls to authenticity.

We'll explore why so many women in power deal with the nagging doubts of imposter syndrome, and the shadow work necessary to understand and overcome the unconscious conditioning that links success with self-doubt. From the seedlings of parental expectations to the societal pressures that weigh heavily on every decision, we examine the stories and complexities that shape us.

Through sharing personal experiences and insights into the gender imbalances in leadership roles and funding distribution, we will uncover why imposter syndrome is not just an individual issue but also a cultural one. We'll reveal why the smartest among us may even be more susceptible and how this ties back to our cultural and genetic makeup.

Join us as we navigate through the clutter of external validation, explore the Jungian perspectives on authenticity, and understand the psychological mechanisms at play. Whether you're a new entrepreneur or a seasoned leader, today's conversation promises to enlighten, empower, and elevate your leadership and personal development approach.


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INTRO  00:00

Welcome to CreativeMind Soul Sessions with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado, founders of CreativeMind. Explore personal growth with us through Jungian psychology, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience in a deep, practical way. Let's begin. 

Debra Maldonado  00:23 

Hello, welcome back to Soul Sessions with Debra Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado.

Robert Maldonado  00:27

Great to be here. Before we get going, I'd like to say, if you're getting something out of this podcast, please subscribe, it would really help us out.

Debra Maldonado  00:35

If you are watching us on YouTube, click the button here. Or if you're listening to us on Spotify, iTunes, or any other of those podcast services, we'd love for you to subscribe. It helps us with the algorithms, it helps drive more listeners, more people can benefit from these topics. Today, we're continuing our leadership series. This is a really favorite topic of mine. I know I say this, but often the way people approach the imposter syndrome, I think we're not going deep enough with it. I'm wanting to split on our spin. A CreativeMind Method’s spin on the imposter syndrome.

Robert Maldonado  01:18

It's a challenge for them because they don't have the tools yet. We want to give you some tools that you can work with.

Debra Maldonado  01:25

Let's be start off with what the imposter syndrome is. If you've been living in a cave and haven't been online, you’ve probably never heard of it. But most likely you have. They say women suffer from impostor syndrome more than men, which is interesting.

Robert Maldonado  01:41

We have an expert here, because you're an entrepreneur, a woman. Have you had the imposter syndrome?

Debra Maldonado  01:49

Maybe just a little bit? We all have had it. If you haven't had it, you're fooling yourself, because we all have it, men and women. It is the feeling that you achieved a certain amount of success, but you still don't feel like it's enough. Or that you're getting away with something, you're really not as great as your accomplishments. You don't belong in a group of people. When I first started as an entrepreneur, there were the masterminds, you feel like “Do I belong in this group with all these successful people?” There is a lot of self-doubt, this keeps going to the next level, like “Who am I really? Do I have the knowledge, the training, the personality to become successful?” We see these really hyper, A type personalities on Instagram and YouTube, and think “I'm more subdued. I'm a little shy. I can't do that. Who I am isn't as good as that.” We start comparing ourselves to other people. Then we also look at other people's accomplishments and think they probably don't have self doubt, they present themselves with such power. There's something wrong with me, because I'm feeling this way.

Robert Maldonado  03:13

First of all, it's all a show. Everyone has some self-doubt. My sense from doing a lot of psychological assessment and IQ assessments is that smarter people have a harder time at it because it's like this. If you're not really highly intellectual, a high thinking person, you don't have those skills. You tend to think in black and white, most of the time we just think “I'm okay, I don't worry about it.” But highly intelligent people understand that everything is more complex than it appears. They're always overthinking things, analyzing things from every angle. Do you ever experience that?

Debra Maldonado  04:09

Never. I don't know where this statistic comes from, but they say a man will go for a promotion more than a woman. She weighs whether she's qualified or not, where the man is just like “I'll do it.” They have a natural way. There’s this confidence, or perceived confidence. Maybe it's culturally, we, women, haven't taken leadership roles before. We're starting to. Women are actually becoming the fastest growing entrepreneurs in the country, in the US, especially women of color is the most popular growing, fast growing segment of entrepreneurial marketplace. We’re getting somewhere. It's not just the boys club anymore, but we still have to deal with decades and centuries of conditioning from all the women, genetically and epigenetically. Our family, with the women, culture is in our families that dictate and impress upon us these imprints of what a woman's role is, what's acceptable, what's not.

Robert Maldonado  05:26

We wanted to say that these are not definite, black and white issues. There's always exceptions to the rule. We're talking in generalities, just to have a conversation about it. But we do know that it's nature-nurture phenomenon playing. There's genetic tendencies that tend to play out in women and genetic tendencies that tend to play out in men. Then you have the cultural pattern overlaid on that, that conditions people in certain ways, or at least pushes them in that direction.

Debra Maldonado  06:07

It's not black and white, where you always feel like an imposter, but it does creep in. Here's when it creeps in the most. Those of you who have big dreams and want to go to the next level in your life, you are not settling, there's something in you. That's why the doubt is there. Because the ego doesn’t like change, it doesn't want you to go to the next level. It pulls you back and says “You're not as good as her or him. You don't have this degree, you don't have this experience. You're not as articulate as that person or this person. You’re not as creative.” We can come up with a million negative thoughts and negative judgments of ourselves that the ego comes up with to hold us back. When we think about the imposter syndrome, think about it as the nature of the ego versus you having this curse that you have negative thinking. We all have it. I've seen so many celebrities, when they get their award, there's this “I still don't feel like I'm enough. Give me ten awards, put in lead roles, I'm still not enough.” It’s the nature of the ego. We want to use it not as a way to think we're broken, not as a way to think we're less than because we have imposter syndrome now, like we're labeled with some kind of disorder or an issue. It's more of “What is really happening? How can this be an opportunity?” When you're going for your dreams, that voice of the ego gets louder, it means you're on the right track, you're moving out of your comfort zone. When we think of the imposter syndrome, it's not like “I have this thing now I have to deal with.” It’s “I must be up to something, I must have some goal that my ego is very uncomfortable with.”

Robert Maldonado  08:07

The Jungian perspective would be that it's the right thing to have. If you’re an intelligent and forward moving person, you're developing, you're still growing as a person, the imposter syndrome is the correct response to the situation, because what you're talking about is the persona. It's the masks we wear in society, and therefore it's the masks we wear at work. Often, what we're feeling is the sense that this mask I'm presenting to the world, isn’t really me. I'm the one behind the scenes, the little man or the little woman behind the curtain, pulling the levers. That’s the feeling of the calling to be genuine. It's a wake up call. It's not necessarily that you're doing something wrong. It's simply that the internal structure of the psyche is saying it's time to be your true self. The imposter syndrome is a great opportunity to begin that journey of asking yourself if I’m not this persona that I'm creating — there’s nothing wrong with it, it's simply a mask or a role I've been playing — then who am I?”

Debra Maldonado  09:44

Wouldn't you say that the imposter syndrome is an ego defense from you living your greatest life? A defense only comes up when it perceives danger. In our model, the Jungian model, we talk about the shadow. What would be the shadow of an imposter? It’d be someone who's a braggadocios person, someone who's arrogant, narcissistic, boastful. It’s like ego’s saying it's better for us to doubt ourselves than to show up like that person who knows it all or that person who's has no self reflection, they just take over the room and think they're so great. We want to look at how we integrate a little bit of that to make sure we’re expressing our power, but also being conscientious of the room and everyone else, so you're not steamrolling over everyone in the room. That's really silly. When you think about it, the psyche is doing something here to protect you, to help you fit in and adapt to the group. Sometimes, when we are in the forefront, we get a lot more attention. The imposter syndrome really plays a great defensive role for us to hide. It’s like “I’m not good enough yet, I'm gonna wait, I'm gonna procrastinate.” Or you're feel paralyzed, you're stuck at where you over give, because I'm not enough, I have to give, so you can see my value. We want to look at those — I hate to use the word “symptom”, but these expressions of it, and start to think “How can I use this to be more conscious of myself?” Again, not just be confident, build up your confidence, you're good enough, say your affirmations, visualize your success, see yourself powerful. Those are all great, but until you deal with that conflict of what the defense is, what the fear is that the imposter syndrome is keeping at bay.

Robert Maldonado  11:54

A lot of those things are unconscious, as Jung would say. But you met a lot more entrepreneurs and a lot more leaders than I have, because I was in academia for a very long time, and you were out in the world, pounding the pavement, as they say. How do people manage that, in particular, women, how did you see them manage that imposter syndrome?

Debra Maldonado  12:25

A lot of times, they try to get more credentials, “I gotta get all these certifications, I gotta get these degrees, master's degree, PhDs, I have to have a best-selling book”, all these external validations have their value. Then also money. We see in the coaching industry, a lot of people hang their hat on how much income their coaching company made. They feel their self-concept is attached to their income. They're all about “I'm a seven-figure coach, I'm an eight-figure coach, I'm a six-figure coach.” There's nothing wrong with being driven and successful and wanting money. But if you identify as that’s who you are, when things get hard or you're not in that echelon, or something happens, you’re a prisoner to that identity. What we want to do is we want to look at how to find that groundedness within myself so I don't need those external reinforcements from the outside or someone telling me “You did a great job, you're so successful”, or people buying our services. Those of our coaches or service people, if we're doing really well and people say they love our work, all of a sudden, we're not the imposter anymore. We don't want to build our ego up. That's what I see. The advice I've seen out there is a lot of building the ego up more, be more confident, say your affirmations, you can do it, you can do it, girl, you get it, girl. That’s okay, but what is really going on? We're not just fluffing up the ego, we want to feel this grounded place. No matter where you are in your business, where you are in your career, you feel 100% qualified whatever level you're at. If you're a new coach working with one client, and that client’s getting great results, you're feeling really great, you found your passion. You’re enough, look at that as more. I don't need to have a million things to make myself feel that I'm enough. If you start using those external measurements, it’ll never be enough. When I first started, with every milestone, I was like “I’m still not enough yet. I still feel this voice, when is this voice gonna go away?” How much money, how much success, how many books do I need to publish? How many stages do I need to be on? How many podcast listeners do we have in order for me to feel enough? It never is, it's such a trap. That's why it's freedom. It's really freedom.

Robert Maldonado  15:16

What you're describing is locus of control. It's what's called in psychology the external validation needed to feel powerful, okay, genuine. Whereas the internal locus of control is that sense that you're describing as well of “I'm okay within myself, I'm happy and content and feel complete within myself. I don't need those external accolades to tell me those things are great.” They can still pursue them and create them, but they're not needs, they're more like real accomplishments.

Debra Maldonado  15:58

The cool thing about doing this work, dealing with your imposter, and loving your imposter, because it’s an ego defense from that you need to deal with in order to break free. If you do it earlier in your career, the more you're going to enjoy your success when you get wildly successful. You're not feeling like you are in a house of cards and one day it's going to fall away. One question people should ask themselves, women or men, is that if you have this imposter syndrome, what will it take for me to not feel that way? It's a really good question to just sit with. You can journal it. What do I need to prove, to make me feel this way? You'll find that you can't really put your finger on it. Then you're saying this voice isn't real. It's not telling me anything real because there's no goal I can reach that's gonna make it go away. How do I deal with this? How do I live with this voice in my head and not push it away, but understand its nature?


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Robert Maldonado  18:05

I imagine the pressure for women as they climb up the ladder and become leaders in their own industry. The pressure just builds up. The higher you go, the more the pressure. What advice would you give to women who are in these leadership roles? Where do they start?

Debra Maldonado  18:31

Obviously, everything we should start with shadow work. Again, if you're hitching your whole identity to that external persona, you're going to have a dark night of the soul. I remember being in a mastermind years ago, people were telling story after story about how they built up great success, then this thing happened and destroyed everything, they had to build it up again. It was a great story. That's the dark night of the soul. We all need that to readjust and reframe. Many of you who are listening, if you had that happen to you, it’s because your ego got — I hate to use the word “inflated”, because it sounds very judgy. But it's more like you're focused externally too much, your inner world is being ignored. It's like your unconscious, it tries to wake you up and say you can't keep living like this. It's really powerful. People were like “So that's what it was.” You start with shadow work, which is: what is unconscious that this persona is trying to compensate for? Why do I need this success? Who am I trying to prove it to? Is it my parents, my mom, my father, to finally get their approval? Where is that coming from? It’s about examining that versus “I need to fix this imposter syndrome.” It's showing “Let's open it up.” So shadow work, then going deeper into your true nature. Shadow work would be the first step. Understanding what conditioning was created around this, how you can free your own self from the ego, from taking credit for all your great work, your true self can be fully shining. Your true self is naturally bright and brilliant and wonderful. If you operate from that place, you don't have to worry about achieving so much to feel good enough. That little voice is just my ego. You keep humming along “I'm on this path now.” Your self concept becomes so much bigger than that little persona.

Robert Maldonado  20:54

There's a tendency to pathologize these challenges in leadership. What would you say about that?

Debra Maldonado  21:07

We all have to deal with it, no matter what kind of childhood or events we've had in our life, who let us down. We all have a story, everyone has a story. Sometimes one of the biggest challenges I've seen, even in men, is the idea that their father had such high hopes for them. I worked with a lot of men earlier in my career that never felt enough, because the father would be like “You're great, but you have to be greater.” It’s like the father was trying to be positive and wanting the son to be successful, but it actually worked. He's never satisfied. Don't you think parents project onto their kids? I didn't make it, so you're gonna make it. Then you feel like you have to carry the burden of making up for your family. There's so much complexity to this.

Robert Maldonado  22:03

Jung calls it the unlived potential that the parents project onto the children.

Debra Maldonado  22:08

Or they got successful, but they're so attached to it, their identity is, they want the kid to do it their way. I've seen such an opportunity for them because they got to do the work because they were like “I can't keep up.” We hear a lot about burnout, people saying “I'm overwhelmed”, especially entrepreneurs. It's because of chasing this mirage that one day you're gonna get the ticker tape parade, everyone's gonna say “She's good enough”, or “He's good enough”, you're gonna be on the top of the mountain. There’s no stops at the mountain. It's just all a mountain. It's a never-ending mountain, if you are from the ego.

Robert Maldonado  22:54

A lot of these corporate cultures, even though if you're an entrepreneur, a lot of the banking system, the funding, the investment bankers, those kinds of people are the good old boy clubs. As a woman entrepreneur, you have to go in there. What challenges do you see these entrepreneurs facing?

Debra Maldonado  23:25

Not even entrepreneurs. When I first started in the 90s, I worked in a lot of dot-coms. It was when the internet was new, it was the Wild West, there was tons of Silicon Valley money all over the place. I worked for this company, it was a bridal registry. Every single person on the leadership team was a man except me. None of them listened to me. I'd be like “This doesn't seem right.” They’d pick retailers that I was like “A bride wouldn't want this.” It was that good old boys club. I know firsthand how it feels. I was not super confident, I was younger. I wish I was the way I am now back then because I could have probably stood up for myself more. But I think what happens is, as women, when we're around a lot of powerful people or people that are trying to take control, or are aggressive or assertive, our role says many times it was more about smoothing and not causing friction. We ended up sitting back. There's a book by Sheryl Sandberg called Lean In. Culturally and psychologically, a lot of women aren't taught to speak up. It was challenging. There's women that are in industries that are completely male-dominated, like real estate, finance, banking, even entrepreneurship. Most of the online marketers are men. Ladies, we need to stand out more, we need to deal with our imposter syndrome so we can really do our great work. They have proof that the micro loans they give to people in Africa or developing countries, women actually pay the money back more than men, they're smarter with the money. There's also a research about women entrepreneurs, how they're more fiscally responsible than their male counterparts. There is such a great opportunity for us, we should be proud of being women and who we are. Not to debase men, because it's not their fault. It's a cultural thing that we're all caught up in. But don’t think that because of the imposter syndrome there's something wrong with me, I have this baggage on my back that I have to cope with. It's like “Let me open up the bag. Let me see what's inside. Let me dispel these myths I'm telling myself.”

Robert Maldonado  26:15

Finally, we know most of the funding goes to male-owned businesses. Only a small percentage goes to women. What can we do it just as laypeople to correct that?

Debra Maldonado  26:25

Only 6% go to women. Start a VC fund for women? I think what we need to do is show more proven results for women to be successful. My mission is to help new entrepreneurs start with our coach training and also our new leadership program that's coming later this year. I really have this passion for women, having those experiences early in my career, taking control and realizing how we’re so much better than we think we are. Let's go out and show the world what we're made of, our magnificence. Support each other too, women supporting women. We can do this. There's so many new startup companies run by women, that's a growing market. I think the tide is changing, we're gonna show them what it's all about. Seeing the numbers, that's the only way these VC firms will look at it. They look at the numbers, they're gonna see a trend. That's what's going to change.

Robert Maldonado  27:48

I think Jung would agree, because he was always about balance. If there's an imbalance in something, the tendency is to balance it out. Having women bring ideas to the world of entrepreneurship would be the remedy.

Debra Maldonado  28:05

Gina Davis, there's a great documentary called Now Everything's Going to Change, something like that. She talks about the inequity of women in the film industry. Actresses don't get speaking roles. If they do get speaking roles, their lines are very small compared to men. Even if you look at cartoons, there's mostly male cartoon characters and one token woman. Women weren't given as many lines, they did the research. But also the lines were about their boyfriend or their relationship. It wasn't smart women talking about high concepts. She's on a mission to change that. Reese Witherspoon has her own company producing films and movies for women. There's opportunities there, we just have to get out of our own way and step into our rightful part in the creative process of the world. The world is going to be a better place. Again, I don't think we should blame the men. It's a cultural thing. It's unconscious. It's not like there's men going “We got to suppress women.” There may be some of them. But it's mostly a cultural agreement. Hundreds of years of organization of society has led to this. I was reading a really interesting story this morning about a woman, I can't think of her name, but she wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit. She was born in 1860-something, she was a single woman. No one would take her book, so she said “I'm going to use my own money. I'm going to take my savings and print it.” She printed twenty books or something, and they sold out immediately. Then finally she got publishers who have been rejecting, because even back 150 years ago no one was publishing women. She's an inspiration, I was so inspired by her story. She ended up marrying the publisher of the book. Her parents didn't like it, she came from a wealthy family, but her parents didn't send her to school. It was a different world. We have in our recent history a lot of unconscious cultural conditioning that's been passed down to us. It's not just on us. It's not that we're insecure, or have an insecure personality. It's more that we're riding on a sea of cultural conditioning. How do we rise to the occasion, break free, and own our power?

Robert Maldonado  30:51

A lot of those biases are passed on unconsciously. People don't even realize they're making these decisions based on cognitive errors and biases.

Debra Maldonado  31:06

I was gonna say the last question to think about is what you’d need to have in your life to finally feel like you're not an imposter. Ponder that question. Or what would make me feel more confident? Notice how your mind wants to go externally and look at your behavior, your results to define yourself. That’s ego. We want to have this place in Eastern philosophy and Jungian psychology, we talk about the self, which is that part of you that's transcendent, it's not the ego. It's not this body, but this transcendent self. Find a way to connect with that. When you come from that place, you're unstoppable. That's my message today. I feel so motivated about this. I still deal with it. I hear my voice. Everyone I know always has that little nagging voice. We can't get rid of it. It's not a sign something's wrong. It's a sign of us going “Let me investigate. Let me use this as an opportunity.”

Robert Maldonado  32:12

You heard it here, folks. If you have the imposter syndrome, celebrate.

Debra Maldonado  32:19

It doesn't mean it's permanent. It doesn't mean it's real. That's the most important part. Thank you for joining us today for this conversation that's very deep and interesting. We’ll see you next week with another great episode of Soul Sessions. Before we go, I do want to remind you, if you're watching us on YouTube, do us a favor, click the Subscribe button. It helps us a lot. If you’re listening to us on Spotify or iTunes, we’d love to have you subscribe so you can get the rest of the series on leadership.

Robert Maldonado  32:57

See you next time.

Debra Maldonado  32:59

Take care. Bye bye.

OUTRO 33:01

Thank you for joining us. Don't forget to subscribe to CreativeMind Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Session. See you next time.

Introduction to imposter syndrome
Jungian perspective on imposter syndrome
How women manage imposter syndrome
Advice to women leaders with imposter syndrome
Challenges + solutions for breaking the barrier