• Adeola Abebi

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to sit in meetings across the country and work alongside seasoned researchers and renowned neurologists. After a recent lunch meeting about future research opportunities in the field of public health and neurology, I asked myself a humbling question; “How did I get here?”


A few years ago, I heard the phrase “Imposter Syndrome” for the first time during a Culture of Health Leaders Convening for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Amidst various discussions around equity, diversity and inclusion the concept of imposter syndrome continued to arise. It wasn’t until this past week however, that I finally made the connection.

Beyond the Webster's definition, you may be wondering what Imposter Syndrome is. I encourage you to watch this recent clip from my Forever First Lady, Michelle Obama.

In prior blog posts I’ve mentioned my responsibility as a black, female, millennial in my field with regards to paving a path for the generations behind me. I’ve acknowledged and demonstrated gratitude to the many giants who have and continue to pave a path for me. I haven’t however, shared the ways in which I navigate the behind the scenes and often internalized juxtaposition of being both a relatively new face on the scene while also being an expert in my field. This internal battle has caused me to give myself one too many “Don’t screw this up” pep talks.


So what does this have to do with Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)? For many years, the goal of a diverse workforce was to ensure that everyone had a seat to the table. The very concept of this can at times be the breeding ground of imposter syndrome, especially when you consider the implications of tokenism. Thankfully, an equity lens has since been applied, resulting in the development of EDI committees and EDI officers throughout corporate America. I Stan! My mother who works within the pharmaceutical sector recently attended an EDI lecture with their Chief Diversity Officer. The lecture closed with a powerful statement,

“You’ve invited me to the party, now ask me to dance.”

While imposter syndrome is very much an internalized experience, we do owe it to each other and to ourselves to visualize not only our own success but the success of those around us; a rising tide lifts all boats. As someone who serves on multiple non-profit boards and advisory councils, I find that when my thoughts, experiences and insights are acknowledged and appreciated, all feelings of imposter syndrome are assuaged. Beyond giving myself a pep talk before big meetings, here are 4 ways in which I’ve managed to overcome the idea of imposter syndrome:


  1. Serve on Corporate and/or Non-Profit Boards - acknowledging that the theme of my blog is from Board Rooms to Happy Hour, this recommendation just makes sense. Beyond that though, I’ve learnt so much about human behavior and governance from just observing and learning the way in which Boards operate. The very first time I attended a Board Meeting, I was 26 and was asked to present to a roomful of corporate leaders on what my ideas were for an emerging health initiative - it was both a daunting yet fascinating experience for me. Over the years, I observed and studied Boards like they were case studies so that should the opportunity arise (which it did) for me to serve on a Board, I’d be ready to confidently contribute in a meaningful way.

  2. Visualize your success - it’s a new year and a new decade! Hello 2020! ‘Tis the season for Vision Boards. I’m a huge fan of Vision Board Parties, not only because they create a space for you to visualize your success but also because you can share your vision boards with everyone in the room. Having people hold you accountable for your vision, increases the likelihood of you actually committing to your goals. Visions/Dreams written down become goals. Goals written down into steps become plans. Plans backed by Action become Reality. To further support this I recommend sharing your Vision Board with your Personal Board of Directors (Read more about developing your PBOD here)

  3. Challenge yourself to provide at least 1 meaningful recommendation at every meeting - this is my favorite game to play when the feeling of imposter syndrome starts to creep in. I found that whenever I had the guts to provide input from my perspective/experience it would be well-received and typically led to additional discussions and questions which allowed me to further demonstrate my expertise in my area of knowledge. So if you have an opinion, share it and watch the floodgates of inspired thought open.

  4. Apply for a Leadership Development Program or Fellowship - as many of you know I recently completed the Culture of Health Leaders Fellowship with The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Read more about my experience here). They are currently accepting applications across many of their programs, and having worked closely with both Culture of Health Leaders and Health Policy Research Scholars, I highly recommend starting your application today!

Remember, just like everyone else at the table, you’re there for a reason so make it count! Plus if they invite you to Happy Hour after then at least you know you did something right!


With Gratitude,



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