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“Own your greatness.” With Candice Georgiadis, Drs. Lisa and Richard Orbé-Austin

I think with our book we hope to inspire a movement in which amazing people, who have long denied this amazingness, can feel free and have the tools to “own your greatness.” So many truly fantastic and inspirational people struggle with Impostor Syndrome and hide in the shadows of their lives fearing being found out. […]

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I think with our book we hope to inspire a movement in which amazing people, who have long denied this amazingness, can feel free and have the tools to “own your greatness.” So many truly fantastic and inspirational people struggle with Impostor Syndrome and hide in the shadows of their lives fearing being found out. We are so interested in helping these phenomenal people to claim their strengths, accomplishments, abilities, skills and complexity and encouraging them to live out loud and in the beauty of the possibilities of their lives and their dreams.


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 Drs. Lisa and Richard Orbé-Austin.

Drs. Lisa and Richard Orbé-Austin are licensed psychologists and executive coaches with a focus on career advancement, leadership development and job transitions. They are the founding partners of Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting, an executive coaching and organizational development consultancy. Their individual and group coaching work focuses on high potential managers and executives. Drs. Orbé-Austin’s consultancy works with Fortune 1000 companies, non-profits, and educational institutions in supporting their employees, senior leadership teams and boards to address bias, diversity, equity, & inclusion concerns, leadership development, effective communication, team cohesion, and managing conflict management. Their practice also consults to universities on the reorganization & evaluation of their career centers to enhance their efficacy and metrics, in order to improve service delivery, data analysis, and student career outcomes.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin earned her doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Columbia University, and Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin earned his doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education. Their views about career advancement, job transitions, leadership, and diversity & inclusion are regularly sought by the media and they have appeared in outlets such as The New York Times, NBC News, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Refinery29, Fast Company, Business Insider, and Insight Into Diversity. Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin has also been honored as a Top Voice on LinkedIn in the area of Job Search and Careers. Drs. Orbé-Austin have been invited and keynote speakers at various national and international conferences. They recently gave a TEDx talk entitled “The Impostor Syndrome Paradox.”

Their book, Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life (Ulysses Press, 2020) was released in April 2020.


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’?

People are often confused about why we, as psychologists, would be focused on the areas of career development and organizational culture & change. However, we are both counseling psychologists and what many don’t know about the field of counseling psychology is that it birthed the early pioneers in the field of career development. In the 1950s, early counseling psychologists innovated and created career testing and developed the first theories around career development as many of them were working in VA Hospitals to help veterans returning from WWII with vocational rehabilitation.

As counseling psychologists, we received significant training and supervision in career development, theory and practice especially during our doctoral programs and post-doctoral work. So, it’s actually not that strange for counseling psychologists to be steeped in knowledge about careers and organizational dynamics.

We actually met while working in a college career center during our graduate school training, and initially I (Lisa) was not that interested in career development because I felt very uninterested in a “test and tell ’em” approach to career fit. I felt that this approach did not provide room for actually engaging the client holistically and connecting their career choices with their identity and identity has always been my passion. In meeting Richard, I learned to see the “the personal as professional and the professional personal.” As I fell in love with him in seeing his whole self, he showed me how he thought of career as so inextricably linked to identity development. His genuine passion for the field of career really ignited a vision for me of the power of combining career development and psychology theories to apply it to our career & executive coaching work. When we launched our practice over 13 years ago, career & executive coaching were key components of our service offerings although not the sole focus of our practice. The Great Recession hit a year after we opened our practice and the therapy clients dried up and we were only getting new referrals for our career coaching practice and our main focus on career was born. It has proven to be a central force in our practice and that we sometimes categorize what we do as career therapy.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

(Lisa)

I will tell you two of the most central stories to my own career development and pathing. Since the age of 6, I had wanted to be a pediatrician and entered college as a biology pre-med major. College science and math destroyed me, and I was on academic probation with a 1.8 GPA. I remember sitting in the dean’s office and him kindly telling me that I needed to figure something out or I would be dismissed from the college. I remember quickly cycling through my first-year experience and scrambling to find something that I was good at to switch my major and it was English. When I went home during Spring Break to tell my parents, my father was furious. He told me “why would you do that? You already speak English.” My parents didn’t go to college and were incredibly fearful about my future. It was a very difficult time. My father insisted that I get a 3.7 GPA next semester, or he would pull me out of school to go somewhere locally. I got a 3.9 next semester and really thrived in my English classes. Until my senior year in a prose writing capstone course with a visiting professor, I was writing a novella as an assignment for the class and she HATED it. Every class when it was my turn for review, the feedback was excruciating — she had the entire class in a chorus of contempt for my work. It really was so upsetting it made me reconsider my plans for graduate study in writing and turned my career world upside down once again. There I was again, after graduation, reviewing my college experience to try to figure out my next steps. I had been a Resident Advisor in the dorms and loved the experience helping freshmen with that difficult adjustment to independence and college life and thought maybe counseling might be an option. My father put me in touch with a psychologist at his EAP for an informational interview and she happened to be a counseling psychologist, who had been an English major. So that encouraging and informative conversation got me to apply to a master’s program in counseling psychology. Interestingly enough, when I was moving into my apartment to start my master’s program, I stopped into a bookstore to see if that professor had written anything recently and her newest book was a story almost identical to that novella that she criticized so voraciously. I remember my sister was with me and she was like “what are going to do about it?” and I felt a sense of peace and that I was very happy about the pathway that my life was taking.

From those experiences, I learned about how important taking inventory of your interests, skills, values and motivators is when you are in a career crisis. I did it in a very rudimentary way, but now, in looking back, I would have told myself to see a career counselor and get some career testing. I would have likely felt a little more assured about my decisions and confident moving forward than I did feel.

I think additionally I learned that sometimes you don’t get the things you want for a great reason that can sometimes be hard to see in the moment.

(Richard)

One of my last experiences working for an institution was as a Chief Diversity Officer for an educational institution. I didn’t apply for the role. I actually was working in another department in the college, but I was asked to take on the position by the college’s president. Although I was trained in issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, it was my first opportunity to make transformative change at an executive level. I quickly realized that my role was about more than content expertise. It was about navigating some challenging political waters, especially as I tried to negotiate making changes in recruitment and hiring, in collaboration with colleagues over whom I had no legitimate authority or oversight. Although I was CDO, the faculty and other administrators did not report to me. My instinct and commitment to build solid working relationships and giving myself time to do so, made me realize the importance and mechanics of influence without authority.

In a few short months, I was able to overhaul key processes, meet with a countless number of college stakeholders, form a Diversity Council, and make impact in ways I didn’t imagine would be possible at first. This experience has informed my executive coaching and consulting work, because we can oftentimes forget the human element when trying to make change, and it is something that I always emphasize with my individual and organizational clients. So being able to always give time to relationship building was my key takeaway. I was able to get things done because of the relationships that I had built, not because I had legitimate authority to do so. The other part of the experience, which I appreciated was that at the time, I was not actively looking to change roles. But I was open to the opportunity, and as a result, was able to take on a role which was very impactful, but not necessarily in my plans for my career path. So, another takeaway is to be open to opportunities, and give yourself the chance to explore roles which may be a stretch and outside your comfort zone, but well worth the experience.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our company stands out because we have a very holistic and tailored approach to our work, and we are very agile & versatile. On the career and executive coaching side, our backgrounds as psychologists, in addition to our extensive knowledge of various industries, allow us to provide both content expertise and to utilize psychological principles in discussing and effecting behavior change & leadership development with clients. We are able to diagnose the barriers, whether internal or external, that may be preventing progress and change from being made, and to intervene based on the specific needs of the client.

As it pertains to our consulting practice, we believe strongly in tailoring our approach and plan to the unique needs of the organization. We take time to really understand the consulting needs, and often help the client to articulate the specific outcomes they seek. We also have subject matter expertise in a variety of areas, which make us very agile in meeting the concerns of clients.

A quick story: We were working to provide an impostor syndrome training to an organizational client at the beginning of this year. However, once the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, we realized that the organization and its team members could also benefit from some stress reduction and leadership during crisis training. Rather than having to seek another consultant for this emerging challenge, this type of work was in our portfolio of training offerings, and we were able to quickly develop a training specifically designed to address the stressors of that particular workplace.

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?

There are so many mentors, friends and family that have helped get to where we are today. But we probably have to thank our parents, Ana, Francisco, Marguerite and Guy, the most. They are amazing people — immigrants, whose first language was not English, who didn’t go to college and yet were able to provide us with an incredible sense of security, fostered our love for learning and showed us the value of hard work.

(Richard) I also want to thank one of my first mentors Dr. Robert Fullilove, who was the first Black male psychologist I ever had the opportunity to meet, when I served as his intern during my college years, who inspired me to pursue my doctorate and to have a true love of giving back to the Black community as an activist-scholar.

(Lisa) I want to thank Dr. Vanessa Bing, a Black psychologist, who inspired me to think big about my practice and what lay ahead for me when I was trapped in a very difficult work experience. She helped me to believe in my dreams and always encouraged me to move forward even when I didn’t see models for what I wanted to do.

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?

Impostor Syndrome is a phenomenon in which a person, typically a high achieving one, has difficulty internalizing her accomplishments, is constantly afraid of being exposed as a fraud, and overworks to compensate for this concern. They can also self-sabotage as well, as a result of the performance anxiety. People with impostor syndrome believe that they are successful due to luck, a mistake, a relationship or sometimes even because of the impostor syndrome itself.

What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?

Impostor Syndrome prevents people from advancing their career and increasing their leadership. Since they attribute any success to luck, mistake or someone liking them, they often feel that they should not attempt to find new roles or ask for more opportunities/promotions, because if they do, they fear that they won’t get it because they aren’t as capable as others or if they do get it, they fear that they will be exposed as a fraud or as incompetent. Therefore, it can limit their career mobility and opportunities to take on leadership roles or to seek better-fit options.

How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?

Often individuals with Impostor Syndrome can be more distant and withholding with others, because they are concerned that if people learn who they really are, they might be exposed as a fraud. They also may be used to taking on the roles (e.g., the expert, the go-to, the helper), which make it difficult for them to ask for assistance or to feel like they can make a mistake. As a leader, people with impostor syndrome can tend to micromanage and overwork their team members, if their team members falter, they see it as a reflection of their own incompetence as a manager. In addition, they may also be reluctant to delegate tasks. People with impostor syndrome also may have difficulty making decisions because they struggle with perfectionism, which can leave others feeling confused about priorities and how to move forward with their work.

We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?

(Lisa)

Soon after getting my PhD, I had fallen into a job that had very little to do with being a psychologist. I had become professionally lost and wasn’t clear what I wanted for my future career. I had a boss who was all the forms of toxic that you can imagine. I had learned that I was being underpaid significantly compared to my counterpart. He was publicly humiliating me in meetings as well as a variety of other difficult things that were going on. I put up with it for months because my Impostor Syndrome (i.e., my Impostor Syndrome Automatic Negative Thoughts) kept telling me “you can’t do any better than this,” “who’s going to hire you with your current skill set,” and “every boss is likely to be this bad.” I felt paralyzed by these thoughts. Then, one day in a meeting of the senior staff (all women), there was music playing in the background. One of the women asked, “What’s that music that’s playing?” And he said, “It’s music to soothe the savage breast.” In that one moment, the light went on and I realized how I was letting my Impostor Syndrome put me in these types of situations because I felt that I didn’t deserve better.

(Rich)

I never realized that I had impostor syndrome until writing this book. I always felt very confident and was identified very early on in my educational journey as the “smart one.” However, this label made me want to protect this status, and made me feel that I needed to be perfect. If I made a mistake, it might mean that I was not as intelligent as people believed. It also made me hesitant to take risks, for fear of being exposed as a fraud or not as bright as others had labeled me.

Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?

(Lisa)

After those vile words, I went straight back to my office, called Richard and told him that I was quitting. I cleared my office that weekend and resign on the spot that Monday — no two weeks’ notice, no nothing. He threatened me and told me that I would never work in education again. It was frightening. But in 2 weeks, I had a part-time job in education making more working 3 days a week than I did at that full-time job.

I had to fight very hard back then to reframe my thoughts, trust my community (i.e., friends and family) to help me be more strategic and focus on my own dreams, and to not engage in Impostor Syndrome behaviors that diminished me. It still comes up today especially in high visibility or high stakes situations, but when it comes up the tools that I have developed are much more automatic and accessible now and require less energy from me.

(Rich)

Yes, when I got to college, I was able to see that making mistakes was part of healthy development. It is about learning from those mistakes. One of my most challenging, but enriching, experiences was taking an Organic Chemistry class. It was one of the hardest classes I ever took in college. I put in maximum effort and felt that I learned a great deal. However, at the conclusion of the course, I did much more poorly than I would have imagined and needed to retake the class. Despite this result, I really loved the experience of learning, and subsequently went on to get an A the second time around. I adopted a growth mindset, which enabled me to recognize the power of taking risks and learning from mistakes. This enabled me to take on roles and have experiences which benefited my journey as a leader.

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.

Own and acknowledge that you are suffering from impostor syndrome and figure out where it came from.

  • Many people with impostor syndrome suffer in silence because they are embarrassed or ashamed. When I (Lisa) was struggling with it in various parts of my life, I didn’t share it. It was both the combination of fear of exposure and being dismissed that plagued me. It’s also important to figure out how it got started, which usually is connected to your early childhood experiences because it helps clarify the “why” and the “what” around your current triggers for your Impostor Syndrome. For example, if you had a parent that was hard to please and focused on your accomplishments as the sole area of connection, this might connect to why you chose withholding bosses and feel very driven by trying to acquire their positive feedback.

Identify your strengths and accomplishments and speak them to yourself and others.

  • In our work, we have noticed that people with Impostor Syndrome struggle to be able to name or even consider their unique skills as real, viable, worthwhile strengths. They often dismiss skills, like interpersonal ones, as not really an actual skill. We want people to recognize that skills and accomplishments come in all forms and that a denial and minimization of them serves only your Impostor Syndrome.

Counter the Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) and let this change your narrative.

  • ANTs are those creepy, insidious thoughts that occur when we are triggered by our Impostor Syndrome. We tend to believe our thoughts, especially when they are negative. For example, you make a small mistake in a big presentation and the thought you have is “That was horrific. Everyone noticed. It blew up the presentation.”
  • We love this quote by Amit Ray “You are not your thoughts. You are the observer of your thoughts.” It reminds you that you need to question your thoughts and not take them at face value. Ask yourself “where’s the data” “are there other points of view,” “what’s the value of holding this particular thought” and “how is this thought serving me?” Once you can recognize it as an ANT, then you want to counter it and develop a thicker, more accurate narrative. From the example, the thickened, countered response to the ANT might be “I made a mistake. It was minor. I got a lot of great feedback on the presentation. I will correct the issue for the next time.”

Build a Dream Team of particular people with skills sets that can help.

  • Struggling with this alone only feeds the impostor syndrome beast. You need to have a solid team around. We always talk about having members of your team that fill the following roles: Mentor, Cheerleader, Grounder, Big-Picture Person, Action Planner, and Impostor Syndrome Expert.
  • These people can be fantastic sounding boards, have significant experience and informed viewpoints, serve to help you make strategic choices about how you deal with triggering situations, and help you take the long view.

Prioritize your self-care.

  • When you have impostor syndrome, usually taking care of yourself comes last because the focus is usually on others and obtaining their positive feedback. As a result, our self-care suffers, we struggle with burnout, and have little energy to really do the central things to fight our impostor syndrome. So, hard-book your self-care, find self-care activities that are rejuvenating (and not numbing) and choose activities that holistically care for the physical, mental and reflective aspects of yourself.

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. 🙂

I think with our book we hope to inspire a movement in which amazing people, who have long denied this amazingness, can feel free and have the tools to “own your greatness.” So many truly fantastic and inspirational people struggle with Impostor Syndrome and hide in the shadows of their lives fearing being found out. We are so interested in helping these phenomenal people to claim their strengths, accomplishments, abilities, skills and complexity and encouraging them to live out loud and in the beauty of the possibilities of their lives and their dreams.

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!

Former First Lady Michelle Obama. We have loved Mrs. Obama’s candid remarks about experiencing impostor syndrome and have often shared them on our platforms. We think she has done so much for normalizing the experience of impostor syndrome for women, and especially for BIPOC women. We would love to speak to her about her process of dealing with it, what particularly triggers it for her and what tools she uses to neutralize its impact on her career. It would be thrilling to discuss our book with her and have a conversation with her about impostor syndrome and what we can all do about it individually, but also collectively in really addressing work cultures and the environments that reinforce and promote it.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@drorbeaustin (Lisa’s IG & Twitter)

@drrichorbeaustin (Rich’s IG)

@drrorbeaustin (Rich’s Twitter)

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