Patricia Alvarado is a psychotherapist and owner and director of the group practice, Alvarado Therapy & co-founder of Latinx Healthy Minds providing mental health programs for Latinx professionals.
Imagine this — you landed your dream job in your home city. The pay is great, the location is perfect, and you are feeling excited and motivated. As you go up the elevator you are quickly ushered into the first morning meeting. You begin to settle in and as you look around, you realize that you are the only Latina in the room. At this moment, you begin to notice the stares from others and suddenly, what was once confidence and excitement is quickly turning into doubt and despair.
This is an experience that many Latinas face while navigating new and often challenging territory in their careers. These types of experiences can bring up feelings of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, low self-esteem, and feeling like an outsider. With this guide, the hope is to provide you with insights surrounding imposter syndrome, perfectionism, and self-doubt while sharing thoughtful coping strategies that allow you to approach things with care and compassion. You’ll also learn how to navigate various spaces while promoting positive mental health and well-being when challenging experiences arise.
As a Latina within the mental health field, many of my clients are Latina professionals. One of the major topics that comes up often within my work is imposter syndrome within the workplace. Imposter syndrome refers to the idea that you are a fraud, not actually smart, and that you have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Imposter syndrome can lead to feelings of inadequacy and incompetence which can be detrimental to your self-esteem. When imposter syndrome is present, you may feel like an outsider or simply that you cannot connect with others and it can be quite challenging to feel happy and fulfilled. Due to this, you may notice that other thoughts and feelings are simultaneously coming up such as comparing yourself to your peers or the never-ending feeling that you will fail.
Perfectionism is something that you may have noticed within your upbringing and it is now presenting itself within the work environment. Pressures begin to rise when you are the only Latina in the room and you want to make sure that you get things right. It could be that there is a sense of responsibility present, the responsibility to make your family proud and the responsibility to not disappoint anyone. You may find yourself less inclined to ask questions and consistently live in fear and stress. The lack of mentors becomes a concern while more and more people turn to you for questions regarding race and ethnicity. You may find yourself overextending yourself and disconnecting from things you once enjoyed to prove that you belong. Through this, comparisons to others are at the forefront as the question of belonging circles in your thoughts.
Lastly, a major component that affects Latinas is the intense feeling of self-doubt that comes from imposter syndrome and perfectionism. Self-doubt creeps in as negative thoughts settle in and suddenly we begin questioning our worth and value. You might notice yourself being hypervigilant, having difficulties with sleep, or working late hours to ensure you are doing the right things. Stress and anxiety begins to feel normal for you, finding yourself in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze. You may begin to believe that you do not deserve to be in the spaces you find yourself in and begin to wonder if you were a “minority hire.” This can lead to increased depression, feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and shame.
Imposter syndrome, perfectionism, and self-doubt are only three of the many thoughts and feelings that Latinas experience as they navigate new and uncomfortable territory within their careers. As the awareness of these feelings is present, it is important to explore coping skills that can help you push through these feelings and allow you to confidently step into your light.
The first and most important thing to recognize is self-compassion. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Practice self-compassion by talking to yourself as you would to a friend facing similar challenges. Remember, be nice to you. Second, I encourage you to reflect mindfully. Regularly take time to reflect on your accomplishments and the progress you’ve made. Acknowledge the hurdles you’ve overcome and consistently give yourself hugs. Next, connect with other Latinas. Reach out to other Latinas in your field or community. Sharing experiences and coping strategies can create a sense of camaraderie and support. Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone. Also, set realistic goals and expectations. Understand that you don’t have to be perfect. Set achievable goals and celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Every little thing matters. Lastly, create boundaries. Learn to set healthy boundaries to prevent burnout. Prioritize self-care and create time for activities that bring you joy.
Self-compassion, reflecting mindfully, connecting with other Latinas, setting realistic goals and expectations, and boundaries can allow you to notice what you need in various situations. It can help you push through each day and week. However, there are a few other things that can help you continue your wellness journey such as:
Journaling: Write about your experiences, emotions, and achievements. Journaling can help you process your feelings and gain perspective.
Use these prompts to get started:
- Identify challenges you’ve encountered while navigating challenging experiences. These could be related to communication, cultural differences, or self-doubt. How did you overcome these challenges? What lessons did you learn?
- Celebrate your achievements, both big and small, that you’ve accomplished. Reflect on the skills and strengths you’ve demonstrated. How did these achievements contribute to your personal growth?
Positive Affirmations: Create a list of positive affirmations that remind you of your worth, strength, and resilience. Put them on a post-it note where you can see it and repeat them daily. If they are out of sight, they are out of mind – so keep them in sight!
Here are a few examples to get your thoughts going:
- I am deserving of success, and I work hard to achieve my goals.
- I honor my emotions and allow myself to feel and heal.
- I am resilient, and I rise stronger every time I face adversity.
- I am proud of my unique identity and the perspective I bring to every situation.
Practice Mindfulness: Engage in mindfulness exercises like meditation, deep breathing, or grounding techniques to stay centered and manage stress. Notice how you feel during work, after you get off work, or on your commute home – notice these feelings judgment free.
A great way to practice grounding is by bringing in your five senses. You don’t have to notice each one every time; instead what works for you.
Try this to engage your five senses:
Notice 5 things you see around you
4 things you can hear
3 things you can touch
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
This allows you to get back in your body and pay attention to any discomfort. As you do this, don’t forget to breathe. Just notice the natural rhythm of your breathe as you do so.
Seek professional help: If your struggles become overwhelming, consider speaking to a mental health professional. Therapy can provide you with tools to manage stress and navigate challenges so it’s important to find someone who is the right fit. As you begin your search, speak to at least 3 therapists to determine who might be the right fit. Understand what matters to you, whether it be gender, expertise, or race/ethnicity. Look for keywords within their profiles surrounding imposter syndrome, perfectionism, and self-doubt to determine if they have experience with similar concerns that you notice within yourself. Above all, this is your process so don’t be shy to ask questions. In searching for a therapist to help with this specific issue, is there something in particular they should look out for when searching for the right person? Any specifics about finding help for this particular situation is helpful.
As you navigate new spaces within your career, remember that you have the power to shape your experience and contribute positively to any space you enter. Embrace your identity, honor your accomplishments, and advocate for yourself. By focusing on your well-being and using these coping strategies, you can foster resilience, empower yourself, and continue to thrive in your career and life journey.