By Kristi Lisbon, Sr. Relationship Director, RPO at Aspiran
I looked up the origin of the quote “Fake it till you make it” and have found many references dating all the way back to Aristotle who is quoted saying: “if a person would act virtuous then they will become virtuous.”
For centuries, we have promoted the idea that we should “fake it” if we lack the skills or qualities we need to succeed (or believe we lack them). I believe that “faking it” drives self-doubt and promotes thoughts that we are not capable or competent versus instilling confidence.
Imposter Syndrome is when a person believes that their success is not earned or validated. According to a study released in 2022 by KPMG, 75% of women in executive roles experience imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. I have experienced this feeling of doubt in my career – worrying that someone is going to tap me on the shoulder and say: “We’ve figured it out. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
But the truth is, I do, in fact, know what I’m doing, and so do you. We must remind ourselves that we are strong and competent and have made it this far because we have earned our seat at the table.
Many of us invalidate the fact that we have worked for opportunities and we are capable. The opportunities have not been given; they have been earned. I will admit that I am still a work in progress – I believe we all are! However, I have learned to stop and cope with the negative thoughts before they become debilitating.
Here are 3 tips that I use to recenter myself when the feeling of imposter syndrome creeps in:
1. Lean into your experience and knowledge. You have made it to where you are today because you’re capable and have demonstrated your value through your experience and knowledge. When you’re unsure of yourself or nervous, take a moment to reflect on experiences you’ve had that led you to this point in your career, such as projects you’ve completed, relationships you’ve built, or your education.
Also, it’s okay to not know everything. Learn where you can find the resources to get the knowledge and tools that you feel you might be lacking. These are the two most critical foundations of success – using your knowledge and knowing where to get knowledge.
2. Find a cheerleader AND someone who calls you on your BS. Talk to someone you can trust, whether a mentor, colleague, boss, friend, or family member. It helps to verbalize your fears with someone with your best interest at heart, talk through why you’re having these feelings and how you can manage them. Speak to someone who will shut down these negative thoughts and support you.
I want to note that this is not to encourage you or suggest we should seek validation from others to build confidence. This is simply an opportunity to share and discuss some of the struggles or challenges you might be feeling to someone there to listen, support you, and help you create solutions.
3. Stop the negative self-talk – even to make a joke. You know when you were little, and you stuck out your tongue or made a face and your mom said, “If you make that face long enough, it will stay that way.” Negative self-talk is the same. If you say or think negative things about yourself long enough, you will start to believe them.
Questioning your capabilities does not make you incapable. It makes you human. As women, we have been programmed to believe that boasting or leading with pride are negative traits. We have seen our ancestors hide in the shadows and purposefully not take credit for all they have done.
We must stop believing that confidence and pride are bad traits for women and that we do not deserve promotions, leadership roles or accolades. If you feel imposter syndrome sneaking up on you, take some time to step back, assess what might be causing it and find tools within yourself and your community to help push forward.
It leaves many in our community with bittersweet emotions that the year we celebrate 30 years of Pennsylvania Women Work, we also send off our friend, facilitator and mentor, Nieves Stiker. She will retire after nearly 30 years of involvement with our organization.
As we look back on our organization's three decades, Nieves is at the center of many memories, stories and milestones. Earlier this month, we met in a studio with some of the members of our community to capture the impact of our last 30 years. Nieves joined us, along with some of her past program participants.
Standing in the spotlight surrounded by a brilliant white backdrop, Nieves stood arm in arm with two of her former students. As the cameras rolled to capture their scene, one of the women, with tears in her eyes said, “Nieves, you changed my life.”
This sentiment; this connection; this transformation is just one of the thousands Nieves has created during her time with our organization.
In 1995, Nieves began her involvement with New Choices and Pennsylvania Women Work. An immigrant from Chile, Nieves brought a unique perspective and an incredible understanding to her work with our organization.
While many parts of New Choices have remained the same at its core, the needs of women in the 1990s – when Nieves began her involvement – were significantly different than those today.
“We prepared students for non-traditional careers for women – I had a construction class, and we even taught how to change a tire and faucet to help women going through a divorce fend for themselves,” Nieves said. “We had a strong focus on computers and literacy.”
New Choices continued to adapt and change over the years, and Nieves adapted and changed right with it to continue to meet the needs of local job-seeking women. Eventually, Nieves became the director of the New Choices program, where she strongly advocated for her students and built partnerships.
Though she enjoyed her role as director, Nieves missed her personal connection to the participants and ultimately decided to return to teaching the curriculum she felt so connected to.
For more than ten years now, Nieves has continued to change lives through her facilitation. In addition to New Choices, Nieves taught PA Women Work’s GROW curriculum, a trauma-informed program that supports women preparing to leave the criminal justice system as well as women navigating substance sobriety. She has also facilitated our Communicating for Success program using curriculum from DDI.
“In the GROW program, the students I have are going through a lot. There is a lot of resistance at first.” Nieves went on to explain that watching her students grow, transform and work toward personal successes as they continue through the program gives her a deep sense of gratification in her work and mission.
In every class she facilitates, Nieves brings a special way of seeing past all the distractions and barriers people put in place to shield themselves, and connects with each participant on a deeply human level to help them realize their potential.
“Failure is an opportunity to learn; you did what you did with what you had at the time,” Nieves tells her students. “The important thing is understanding what you learned about yourself, what you’re going to do about it, and then you forgive yourself.”
Over her 28 years with PA Women Work, we estimate that Nieves has reached more than 7,000 job-seekers on their path to a more meaningful career and prosperous life. During this time, Nieves has been many things to many people. She was an instructor, friend, mentor, ally, coworker, supporter, director, and volunteer. But most of all, she was an inspiration.
“I have hundreds of cards and notes from students saying ‘you changed my life’,” said Nieves humbly. “I didn’t change their life; I was simply walking with them when they changed their life.”
Thank you, Nieves, for many years of service to Pennsylvania Women Work and to the people of this region. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement!
By Ana Kay Yaghoubian, Director, Building for Success, United Way of Southwestern PA
Growing and sustaining networks of women is empowering and one of the best ways to overcome some of the disadvantages women have traditionally faced in the workplace. Building a network often depends on attending networking events or reaching out to people we’ve never met face to face. Networking in any of these situations can be intimidating, especially for more introverted folks.
Fortunately, there are many ways to build your network, including options that don’t involve having to wear a nametag! When I came to Pittsburgh from the Washington D.C. area, I met so many amazing women who made networking easy. While it didn’t happen right away, eventually I found folks I connected with and felt more settled. As I grew my network, I was impressed with the things women in Pittsburgh did to support each other, especially when it came to sustaining a network over time, which can be the most challenging part.
Being involved with the PA Women Work community has helped me find another excellent resource of women who want to support each other in Pittsburgh. Being a great ally to other women in your network is important. Whether your network is big or small, be a great ally and supporter to the women in your circle. Even a small amount of time and effort can have many benefits for you and others that can last for years to come. But what does being a great ally to one another mean?
Below are a few things you can do to grow and sustain your network of women:
While there are many social networks to choose from, if you don’t have a social media profile yet, LinkedIn is a pretty good bet for finding many of the people you see professionally. Spending a few minutes on this channel daily or weekly can keep you in the loop on opportunities to support and grow your network. I find an easy way to reach out to new people is connecting on LinkedIn shortly after an in-person or virtual meeting, showing appreciation for their participation, or just saying it was nice to see them.
Signing up is simple! (Link to sign-up page). You’ll be paired with a mentor/mentee and spend three sessions together…so PA Women Work does the work to connect you with someone in your field who is capable of helping you achieve your goals. I’ve met some fantastic women this way and learned so much in the process!
While you may have some things in common, you can always learn from someone else's experiences. This type of mentoring is excellent for sharing challenges and brainstorming solutions. Those in the same professional arena might know of resources you don’t; someone in a different industry might have a totally different perspective or an out-of-the-box solution.
All these suggestions add up to women supporting each other to reach their goals. There’s no one right way to do it, but there are steps we can all take to grow and strengthen our network while accomplishing our own career goals and advocating for others.
I’ve made some great friends that started as people I met while networking, which feels like icing on the cake! Pittsburgh has a great ecosystem of strong, talented, and accomplished women, and don’t forget, you’re one of them!
By Darcie Orr, Manager, Procurement | CPSM | MBA, Duquesne Light Company
I was 38 years old when I walked into my first classroom at the University of Pittsburgh to begin my Master’s degree. It had been nearly two decades since I wore a cap and gown and walked the stage at Penn State for undergrad. How had I gotten here? What was I thinking? Then I thought of my mom, and I took a deep breath, knowing that if she could do it, I could do it.
My mother graduated from high school in 1969. Women couldn’t take out a student loan at that time without their fathers cosigning it. Unwilling to let her take on debt for schooling that she “didn’t need,” my grandfather refused to cosign a loan. So, my mom worked hard to save enough to pay for one year of tuition (and room and board) following high school. After her first year in college, she went back to work. She continued this cycle of one year of working, and one year of schooling until she met my father. They decided to get married and buy a house, and her dream of graduating from college ended…temporarily, anyway.
Fifteen years later, when my sister and I were in elementary school, my mom decided to finish her degree. Remarkably, nearly all of her (ancient, as she called them) credits transferred to California University (now Penn West). Not wanting to take on debt (old habits die hard, I suppose), she used her skills as a seamstress to pay for school. She took on hemming, mending, and occasionally making a wedding dress and socked away the cash to pay for the six credits she took each semester. Taking classes during the day, while my sister and I were in school, she was typically the only “adult” student among a sea of students who were 20+ years younger. It took her six years to finish what would have been her last two years of a four-year degree, but she did it.
What are my takeaways from this invaluable life lesson?
Getting back to me and my cold sweats as I entered my first classroom in nearly two decades - how had I gotten there? I graduated from Penn State, got a job, and never intended to return to school for a graduate degree. Until one day, I was asked to participate in the hiring process for my peer position at work.
What you need to understand about me is I’m competitive. If I did 15 minutes on the stair climber yesterday, I want to do 20 today. If someone did 20 minutes today, I want to do 25 tomorrow. So, as I was reviewing stacks of resumes, I realized that most candidates had an MBA – something I didn’t have. If I ever wanted to leave my current employer and seek a position elsewhere, I’d be competing with candidates with their MBA, (blasphemy!) and they’d have a leg up on me (GASP)!
I called our HR department that very day to see what tuition reimbursement was offered. I hired a tutor to help me prepare for the entrance exam. I was accepted and registered for my first classes. There I was, a student again.
As I began to prepare to go back to school, and then once I entered the classroom, I was terrified. I felt so out of place, which got me thinking about my mom. If she did it, I knew I could do it too.
You are never too old or too far down the road to continue learning. If you are considering going back to school for any level of degree, I encourage you try to do it!
Below are some helpful tips I gathered along the way throughout my time as a nontraditional student:
I finished my MBA in May of 2020, so there was no pomp and circumstance (literally). However, on the very last day of my very last class, with only 20 minutes or so remaining in the Zoom meeting, I got a knock at my door. I answered it to find a flower arrangement sitting just outside it. The card said “I knew you could do it! Love, Mom.” And for that, I say thanks, mom, for the courage and inspiration.
By Liz Gryger, Manager of Participant Learning and Development, PA Women Work
Whether you are searching for a new job, want to succeed in your current job, or are working toward other goals, we all have things we need to get done. Sometimes, the list of things to get done feels overwhelming. It might be a long list and it’s challenging to find a place to begin, or it might be a short list but procrastination is setting in. In either case, not making progress toward goals will not get you where you want to be in life.
So, what do you do about it? Read on for some tips that have worked for me and some clients we serve.
1. Define your goal: What is the success you want? What is the future you envision? Why is this important to you? Take some time to think through this, write it down in words, and draw a picture of your future success. I'm not an artist and can barely draw stick figures, but sketching out my future vision unlocks personal inspiration. Make your goal SMART -- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound.
2. Mark key dates on your calendar: Figure out what you need to accomplish by creating deadlines for yourself. Mark key dates on your calendar, to motivate yourself and holding yourself accountable to progress. Sometimes life gets in the way, but make adjustments and keep moving forward.
3. Identify your potholes: Living in southwestern PA, we all know potholes can get in the way and cause real damage. What are the things that are getting in your way to accomplishing your goal or getting your tasks done? In your job search or career progression, there might be skills or knowledge you need to acquire for the job you want. Maybe your own fear is getting in the way. Whatever it is, identify what is holding you back and follow the next few steps to push onward
4. Overcome the potholes.
5. Keep negative thoughts at bay. “Every cell in your body is listening to your thoughts.” Deepak Chopra. Your thoughts can determine your actions. When you find negative thoughts creeping in, practice holding them at arm's length and examining them for truth. Reframe them into something positive.
6. Enlist others. Find at least one other person to enlist as an accountability partner. Someone who will check in with you to see what progress you are making towards your goal, problem-solve barriers getting in your way, and encourage you.
7. Reward yourself. Encourage yourself with rewards along the journey. Did you set a goal to spend 2 hours researching and applying to jobs? Once you've reached that goal, reward yourself with a walk outside, a favorite podcast or book, a chat with a friend, etc.
8. Be kind to yourself. My daughter used to have a sign in her room that said: "The hard things in life are hard.” So true! What do you do for self-care? Perhaps it is one of the activities listed under 'reward yourself'. Perhaps you practice a hobby, meditate, exercise, or connect with the important people in your life. Whatever it is, don't forget to take time for YOU!
9. Remember your 'what and why'. If you feel your motivation lagging, go back to your future vision. What is the future you desire? Why is this important to you? Reminding yourself can give your renewed strength and energy to move forward.
If you find yourself feel stuck or facing an overwhelming mountain, give some of these tips a try. And if your job search isn’t going your way and you’re unsure where to begin, reach out to us! We’re here to help.