Stop beating yourself up over mistakes. As my two year old toddler belts out from the movie Frozen “Let it go.” You are human. Learn from it, apologize, and let it go. If you won’t remember it in a year, let it go.
As a part of our series about how very accomplished leaders were able to succeed despite experiencing Imposter Syndrome, I had the pleasure of interviewing Leilani Carver-Madalon,Ph.D.
Dr. Leilani Carver-Madalon is a Communication Strategist, Leadership Expert and Professor who seeks to empower others through pragmatic communication strategies and effective leadership tactics. Leilani is an Associate Professor of Strategic Communication and Leadership at Maryville University. Before earning her Ph.D., Professor Carver worked for eight years in prestigious communication roles in varying industries, such as Finance, Mobile Technologies and Consulting. She was awarded Maryville University’s Woman of Distinction Award and selected to deliver a TEDx talk entitled: Scripts that Ignite your Power. Additionally, Dr. Carver-Madalon has lived and worked abroad in both Taiwan and China and has taught university courses in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Switzerland, England, Australia, France and Italy. She has been conducting interviews with diverse female executives in Europe and in the States. Based upon her research findings, interviews and her own experiences, Dr. Carver-Madalon is now writing a book on leadership and empowerment.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
When I was in college, I switched my major nine times… officially. I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career and my first eight years out of college involved working for lots of different organizations from a huge corporation whose corporate campus had its own zip code, to a small, environmental nonprofit where shoes were optional, to living in a remote area of China where I was one of eight foreigners working in a city of four million. I switched careers, not jobs but careers, three times by the time I was 30. I felt unmoored and I worried a lot . If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to be present in the moment and enjoy these diverse experiences because all those adventures helped shape me into a better person and provided the knowledge and foundations to get me to where I am today. Even now as a professor, I am still very curious. A friend of mine jokingly calls me intellectually promiscuous.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
There have been two times in my life when I have taken huge, strategic risks. The first was when I had been working for a huge corporation and my whole team was laid off. I had been working with a wonderful Project Manager from China and she asked if I had any interest in teaching English in China. I had never been to China, did not speak Chinese, did not know anyone in China and was not a teacher. I moved by myself to China during SARS. I was so scared and I did it anyway. I felt like a total imposter trying to teach English those first weeks.
My second big risk was when I was when I quit a great job to go back to school to earn my Ph.D. I accepted a Graduate Teaching Assistantship and while I would not have to pay tuition, I would only be making around $10,000 a year. I was not married, had a small amount of savings and did not have a backup plan other than trying to find another job. It was terrifying and I felt like an imposter as a graduate student and wondered if I was smart enough to earn a Ph.D. I worried that I would fail out of the program. That first year, I won an Outstanding Teaching Award and proceeded to win a teaching award every year I was in graduate school.
My “take away” is that I would have never found my vocation if I had not been willing to take that strategic risk. Risk is necessary. Also, not letting yourself dwell on fear.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Maryville University stands out because of our value placed on technological innovation and our true focus on being student centered in everything we do.
Maryville University is an innovative and technology forward university as evidenced by our Apple Distinguished School designation. Regarding devices, each student is provided an iPad and an Apple Pencil so that hardware is consistent and professors can create curriculum knowing that all students will have access to the same device. While this is helpful, the exceptional part is that professors are continuously trained in learning technologies throughout the year and we have two weeks of intensive technological trainings (one week in Fall and one week in Spring) dedicated to learn best practices in teaching and learning on our many systems, as well as discipline specific apps. We are learning cutting edge technologies such as VR/AR and how to incorporate new technologies effectively to promote student engagement and learning. Additionally, we can request specific apps to use in our courses to advance learning. We are constantly asking how we can use technology to better serve our students both in our classes and in their careers.
This technology focus was invaluable when the pandemic struck and we needed to pivot our on-ground classes to a synchronous, virtual learning environment. Professors and students were both able to utilize technology to continue interactive teaching and learning. This pivot was able to happen almost immediately.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have had, and continue to have, many wonderful mentors.
I never thought I would be a professor. I would not be in my dream job without my academic Fairy Godmother, Dr. Tracy Russo. Dr. Russo saw my potential before I did. I was working full-time and taking Master’s Degree classes at night, much like my grad students do now. Dr. Russo saw my potential before I even had considered it. She is the one who asked me if I had ever thought about being a professor (I hadn’t). I hope to be that kind of mentor, one who sees the greatest potential in people, sometimes even before they see it themselves.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome. How would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?
Imposter Syndrome is an experience where an individual feels like a fraud intellectually and/or professionally. Researchers Clance and Imes originally discovered the Imposter Phenomenon (often now referred to as Imposter Syndrome) in 1978 when analyzing high achieving women, although both men and women may experience it.
People who are experiencing Imposter Syndrome feel like they are not good enough, like they don’t belong and/or that they are a fraud and it is only a matter of time before they will be found out.
You can find out if you have Imposter Syndrome by taking the following test which was created by Clance, one of the original authors.
What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?
Imposter Syndrome limits people because they never feel like they are truly successful. Underneath the façade there is often a lack of confidence.
Another potential downside is that someone may not go for what they really want. I see this happen a lot with some of my students who play small. This is often the effect of perfectionism and/or the fear of failure. If they only do what they are good at then they do not have to risk failure. So, instead of going after their dream job, they go after the safe job. They play it safe and then end up regretting it.
How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?
One of the problems of Imposter Syndrome is that you are very busy trying to prove your own intelligence or competencies that you are often not very focused on others. It is incredibly difficult to be fully present with another person or persons if you are afraid you will be exposed as a fraud. With Imposter Syndrome you are so wrapped up in yourself, you miss authentic, deep interactions with others.
We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?
I still remember the first time I stood in front of a university classroom and was responsible for the education of 25 college students. My biggest fear was that a student would ask me a question and I would not know the answer and all the students would know that this was my first time teaching a university class and I would be exposed as a fraud. The irony is that now that I have been teaching for 15 years, I now love when a student asks me something I do not know because it gives us something to explore and learn together. My job is not the holder of all knowledge but as someone who teachers others how to learn, critically think and apply that learning.
Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?
Yes, I have mostly eliminated that imposter feeling. The more experiences I have, the more confident I am in my abilities and my expertise. However, I do see my students struggle with this frequently.
I will say that with COVID-19 and working from home (with little or no childcare) and being a mother can bring in some Imposter feelings. I was a guest on a professional podcast and in the middle I hear my toddler (who we are potty training) shout “Mommy, I have to go potty NOW!” from the other side of the door. What do you do? I can’t just leave her out there and I have no idea where my husband has gone (he was taking an emergency work call).I had to ask to pause the podcast. They were very understanding but it made me feel like a fake for a moment. I had to remind myself that being a mother is a very powerful role and that we are in a pandemic and are having to manage multiple roles at the same time.
I have (mostly) eliminated my Imposter Syndrome by working on increasing my confidence. Additionally, I stopped trying to please everyone and/or worrying about pleasing everyone.
I often use a visualization exercise to help me in my decision making and to boost my confidence before a speech and/or event. I visualize that I have a boardroom of people in my head and that I am the Chairwoman of this board. This board serves to give me constructive and positive feedback. The people I love and respect (and who love and respect me) sit on this board. In my head, I check in with them (or if it is a really big decision/event, I check in with them in real life). I realized about ten years ago, that I had mean girls sitting on my board and they were giving unhelpful critiques constantly. These mean girls were people I did not like or respect… so I fired them. None of my real friends would call me fat, tell me I’m stupid or berate me for a minor mistake. Now, I only listen to voices who are wise.
In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Use Power Scripts.
We all have scripts, things we say repeatedly to ourselves. Some scripts are empowering and some are disempowering. Positive self-talk is so important. How you talk to yourself matters and if you are saying things to yourself that you would not say to a friend, stop saying them to yourself. A few years ago I found myself in a professional funk. I had lost my joy for my work. I kept telling myself that I needed to keep doing my job. I finally realized that I had let a prestigious title hold me in a job I did not enjoy. I started telling myself “Leilani, follow your joy” instead of “I have a great job and should be grateful for what I have.” I ended up stepping down from my position and started following my joy which has led me to interview successful women in London, Paris (before COVID-19), begin writing a book and also led to a TEDx Talk. I am energized and back to loving my work. One hack is to use self talk in the third person as there is evidence that it makes it more powerful. I pick a self-mantra for every year and have for the last eight years. In the past they have been… Leilani is powerful. Leilani is peaceful. This year is Leilani is Blooming. Right now, I should be teaching in Paris, but due to COVID-19, I have been self-quarantined at home since March. I am new ways to grow as a person and professional while being planted.
2. Create a “Brag on Me” List
Write down all of your accomplishments… everything… degrees earned, babies birthed/adopted, animals loved, friendships maintained, cities/countries traveled, cars purchased, money donated, hours volunteered, miles ran, software learned, pounds of kale eaten… whatever makes you proud of yourself. This is your “Brag on Me” List. Then, every month look at it. I started a list in college. Some of my fun adventures have included: Tried every type of dumpling at my favorite dumpling restaurant in Northeast China, attended two Presidential Inaugurations and an Inaugural Ball, visited 48 of the 50 States, went sailing alongside mother and baby whales in the WhitSunday Islands in Australia, surfed the South China Sea, and danced in a holy waterfall in Cambodia. These are just a few of the fun adventures that are on my brag list. When I become discouraged about all that I have not yet accomplished or if I feel like a fake, out comes the list and it reminds me of all I have accomplished.
3. Encouragement Email Folder/Box
Sometimes you need to hear how great you are from someone else. Create an encouragement box/email folder with notes, emails, letters of all the wonderful things people have said about you. I have this one email from this student from 12 years ago that I thought HATED me as he glared and crossed his arms the entire semester. It turns out that he thought I was the best professor he had ever had. I go back and read it when I feel discouraged. I read a lot of these emails and notes when I am feeling down. I also have a physical box of thank you letters, physical notes, and letters. If my house is burning down, besides first grabbing the living people and creatures, I want to grab this box.
4. Let mistakes go.
Stop beating yourself up over mistakes. As my two year old toddler belts out from the movie Frozen “Let it go.” You are human. Learn from it, apologize, and let it go. If you won’t remember it in a year, let it go. I teach my students to never email angry. This is because I have a little bit of a temper and will shoot off an angry email that I later will deeply regret. I did this just two months ago when I was Zoombied out, overtired and in a cranky mood. I sent off a heated email over something silly. And the next morning, I regretted it and sent a thoughtful apology email. Then I laughed at myself. Five years ago, I would have beat myself up over it for weeks. Now, I made a big sign on my laptop and I moved on.
5. Get a mentor and be a mentor. Mentorship reduces feelings of imposters syndrome.
I had a baby at 41 years old and was struggling with balancing motherhood with everything else on my plate. Everyone else seemed to do it so easily. I did not understand until I found a mentor who explained that no, it was ridiculously hard but that it would get easier (never easy) because I would figure it out. She also said motherhood was adding another full-time job to my life. Mentors help you feel less alone, help provide resources and champion you. Get a mentor and be a mentor to someone else. I feel so passionately about this that I helped started a women’s mentorship program at Maryville University. It has been hugely successful and there is nothing more rewarding than to hear how our students, staff and faculty have been empowered.
6. Celebrate Yourself.
Do not wait for others to validate or celebrate you. One thing I have recently learned is that people who often win awards may have asked others to nominate them or have even written the nomination and have asked others to submit it for them. This blew me away as I would never have thought about doing this. Yet, this seems to be part of the awards game. It is often things like this piece of knowledge (which I received from a mentor) that help keep the imposter feelings away. Celebrate yourself when you hit those cork popping moments. Share with others what you are doing. Others cannot know your value if you are not sharing it with them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Right now I cannot think of any movement more important than the valuing of black lives.
The litany of horrific murders (with no justice), the huge economic disparities that are only widening and the disproportionate deaths from COVID-19 should be a blinding beacon that our current culture and systems are in need of great repair.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Dr. Brene Brown because she is my academic celebrity hero because her research is so impactful but she shares it with everyone in a delightful and vulnerable way that is intended to make lives better.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!