We spoke with Nicole Ellis, an on-air reporter and filmmaker for The Washington Post, about how she has overcome imposter syndrome throughout her career.
How has your relationship with imposter syndrome shifted over the years?
I think that my relationship with imposter syndrome is changing and will continue to change as I grow. As I have matured professionally I realized that imposter syndrome isn’t necessarily about my ability. It’s more so about insecurity and about sticking up for yourself. For having faith and stock in your ability, and perspective on what you can do as a means to sort of overcome imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome really isn’t about whether or not you are capable. It’s about learning to assess, evaluate and invest in yourself. I feel like the true test isn’t necessarily whether or not you’re good at something. It’s that you’re still doing it.
Is there a connection between creativity and imposter syndrome?
There’s something inherent about anything new that it’s truly foreign, right? Doing something creative means you’ll always have self-doubt. You’ll always be doing something new.
When you leave school and there’s no controlled environment where you can fail safely, it’s scary. I think that’s where imposter syndrome stems from.
And I think particularly for people of color–especially in places and spaces where you might be the only person on your team that looks like you–it’s easy to feel like there’s no map. That there’s no key for you to figure it out. And I think for me, the way I work through that is constantly and consistently checking myself for me. And not letting anyone else’s perspective inform my perspective. What also helps is learning to have a broader set of resources so that I can assess myself healthily.
How do you break out of imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is about learning to speak up for yourself and being headstrong about what you can do and what you want to do. Living in that passion–like, growing in that creative space of being sort of unbound with that passion–is what will help you grow and help you ascend. It will help you make the most out of each opportunity and open the door to the next one.
I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned so far. That approach pushes me to find my own voice and be more and more unapologetic about it.
Have you ever received any good advice related to this topic?
Something my mom always tells me that I’m constantly reminding myself is “The worst thing anyone can say is ‘No.'”
And that’s not the end of the world, right? That kind of just gives you an answer. The scariest thing with imposter syndrome is constantly feeling like you’re toeing the line but it’s actually okay to cross the line. Because then you have an answer.
Is there anything we didn’t touch on that you’d like to mention?–Imposter syndrome or otherwise?
I mean, my question would be like what are you doing, or institutions doing to diversify leadership? I think that, that is pivotal and I don’t know if many people are answering that question. And that’s a big question.
I feel like there are tons and tons of examples of how much having a diverse workforce really does inform how we create, especially in journalism and design–whether it’s diversity by race, gender, sexuality and education level.
In entertainment we’re seeing something that almost feels like it should have been common sense a long time ago. Like, if you have diverse directors and diverse writers, you’re gonna garner stories that are more textured. Giving voice to that is something that I would love to see more of. That kind of diverse portfolio of work is also what makes a creative entity, or a journalistic entity, attractive to broad audiences. It’s having people that can speak to the perspectives of the population.