Reframing imposter syndrome as a South Asian creative
You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.
By Padmini Dey, Guest Contributor
The past year has pushed many of us in creative directions we could have never imagined for ourselves. A burgeoning amount of BIPOC creators, myself included, have been increasingly turning to social media to explore their creativity, express themselves, and find a sense of online community during a time in which it is so necessary and appreciated.
As so many have gone public with their passions on social media, the excitement of doing so has also been accompanied by confronting feelings of uncertainty, self doubt and second guessing one’s existence in these online spaces. In other words, a whole lot of imposter syndrome. As a newfound content creator, I’ve felt this mix of emotions, too. So much so that even calling myself a content creator as I began to write this piece felt strange and vulnerable. And as I speak to more and more fellow creators, it’s become apparent that almost everyone is collectively experiencing this at some level.
Imposter syndrome: a collection of limiting thoughts that create a story of not being good enough.
It’s a story that isn’t rooted in truth, but has become a conditioned way of thinking over time. At the core of imposter syndrome is a fear that you'll be exposed as an ‘imposter’ due to thoughts that you aren't good enough, you don't belong, something has already been done, or that your voice doesn't matter (to name a few). These thoughts and feelings can stem from any experience that contributes to your sense of self worth: your upbringing, seeing a lack of representation in your environment, feelings of alienation at a young age, and so much more. That being said, something important to emphasize is that:
The thoughts and voices that accompany imposter syndrome are just that — thoughts and voices.
Some days the voices are louder, making it more difficult to step back — and that’s okay. At the end of the day, the thoughts and emotions that accompany imposter syndrome are conditioned reactions, impulses, and behaviors that have been shaped over years, often even decades. In exploring my own imposter syndrome, something I’ve been reflecting on a lot is my upbringing, specifically the ways in which my external environments shifted the way I viewed my potential and who I am at my core. As we all know:
Our environments shape so much of who we are and what we believe about ourselves.
For me, growing up and adulting has been an ongoing process of unraveling these belief systems and unlearning what doesn’t serve the person I am growing to be, especially when it comes to beliefs about myself as a creative. I’ve been journaling and thinking about this a lot as I’ve started my own creative journey, or rather, rekindled it.
As a child, I grew up in the Bay Area with a single father who was disabled and kept himself extremely busy, spending the day trying to create a steady income through fixing and selling electronics on eBay. I spent a lot of time alone and relied heavily on art to pass my time throughout the day. We didn’t have cable — and there was only so much PBS I could endure on a daily basis.
At one point, I went through a phase where all I would do all day was draw the trees outside our one bedroom apartment in San Leandro. I would bring colored pencils with me every time we went hiking to draw the scenery around me, including Half Dome in Yosemite on our annual trip. When my dad got a video camera, I made a storefront out of cardboard boxes and made a skit all about a lemonade stand. I created elaborate forts with bedsheets, pans, and other household items, to the point where it drove my poor father absolutely mad. All of this to say that I was a lonely, only child and art was my escape and joy.
I stopped drawing and making art early in life, some time around 1st or 2nd grade. While I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, it started once I was surrounded by peers and began to draw comparisons between myself and others. The main shift within me was that:
I started to conflate being creative with talent and skill level.
It felt like if I wasn’t considered ‘good’ at creating, I just wasn’t a creative person. I envied those that could draw life-like buildings and won all of our school wide art competitions. At such a young age, I didn’t realize that being creative for the sake of being creative was valuable for the joy and fulfillment it gave me.
Additionally, the communities and environments I was surrounded by outside of school also contributed to my relationship with creativity. I grew up in ones where creative expression wasn’t seen as a bad thing, but also wasn’t actively encouraged and fostered. Creative pursuits were seen as a potential extracurricular to pad my college applications if it was something I could excel at — otherwise it didn’t make much sense.
All of this was compounded by the lack of representation that existed within the creative industries while I was growing up.
While representation has expanded over the years, very few South Asian creatives were visible to me in mainstream media while growing up. The beautiful community of South Asian and BIPOC creators on TikTok — creating some of the most niche and iconic content ever — was not the norm growing up. Within the small group of South Asian creatives I grew up seeing online (mostly on Youtube) the representation often felt monolithic and lacking in intersectionality. There were other Bangladeshi American creators, but representation is so much more than shared heritage to me.
Representation means centering intersectionality and giving visibility to even more stories, backgrounds, identities, interests, and ambitions within the community.
The past couple years, my heart has soared watching the South Asian Gen Z community take to TikTok to express their multifaceted interests, identities, and existences unapologetically. It has been such a refreshing and beautiful departure from what I grew up with and to be a part of that group of people is beyond anything I could have ever imagined for myself.
That being said, I have my fair share of moments where I second guess the amount of vulnerability I express publicly on the internet through my content, especially surrounding mental health and my own personal journey with it. What has been particularly difficult to navigate is how disproportionately white the mental wellness space feels and how out of place I often feel within it.
When I started creating content, I struggled with feeling as though I needed to create content similar to what other fellow South Asians were creating in order to be a valid part of the South Asian creative community. And because I didn’t see many South Asians in the mental wellness space,
There were a lot of subconscious mental barriers I was creating for myself that often left me to talking myself out of the content I wanted to make.
While navigating these emotions and pushing through has been nothing short of paralyzing, isolating, and confronting — there is so much that imposter syndrome has taught me that I will always be grateful for. With this in mind:
I encourage you to take imposter syndrome as a sign that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Yes, you heard me right.
Personally, I tend to experience imposter syndrome most when I am trying something new in a space that feels somehow foreign — where I feel out of place and under-qualified.
During these moments, I’ve realized the fear and doubt arising within me is a sign I am putting myself that much closer to something I deeply desire for myself.
And while this is undoubtedly confronting and uncomfortable to navigate, this collection of thoughts and emotions has challenged me to lean into self compassion and self acceptance to understand my self worth outside of external factors such as work, school, titles, people in my life, etc.
For better or for worse, throughout school and my corporate career, I’ve always worked hard and been someone who was dependent on the metric systems and individuals I was working/studying under to ascribe value and worth to myself. This wasn’t always something I was actively aware of — I became most conscious of this during the last year when I started to explore my creativity on TikTok and found myself doubting every single thing about the videos I was posting. Unlike at my corporate job, there was no boss or mentor to tell me how I was performing or provide advice on the direction I should be going. Suddenly, all of the external systems of validation I had become accustomed to my entire life were gone and I had to be the voice of validation for myself. It’s the imposter syndrome I was feeling that pushed me to reckon with just how much I’ve relied on external validation in almost every aspect of my life to understand my self worth.
Ultimately, I view imposter syndrome as this force that strips our minds down and lays bare conditioned patterns that hold us back.
photo credit: Padmini Dey
Learning to ground myself in a sense of self worth beyond external sources of validation has been an ongoing, non-linear journey. And if it weren’t for imposter syndrome, I wouldn’t have leaned into this journey to the extent I’ve found myself doing this past year.
Here are 5 ways to navigate imposter syndrome.
There is no right way to navigate imposter syndrome, and I’ve found that coping with it often leads back to nurturing our minds holistically. By no means have I conquered imposter syndrome; it’s something I continue to navigate on a daily basis and these are just some of the techniques and practices I’ve picked up over time. I also don’t think it’s possible to ‘conquer’ imposter syndrome as throughout our lives we will constantly be pushed into new, uncomfortable scenarios that challenge our relationship with our self worth.
1. Lean into self compassion. Self compassion provides a care system to nurture ourselves as we experience these emotions and allows us to show ourselves grace and space as we navigate and ground ourselves in our self worth. Tara Brach’s framework RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture) is a practical guide to implementing self compassion as soon as self-critical thoughts arise. Check out her website for a breakdown of these phases.
2. Find ways to create space between yourself and your thoughts. This can be anything that lets you slow down your thoughts and connect to your body. A few that have helped me are journaling, reading, spending time outside, going for a drive, having a bath, and doing some form of movement. These are just a few examples — it can be anything that helps ground you and create space between yourself and the racing thoughts that accompany imposter syndrome. This isn’t meant to erase or suppress these feelings, but rather to create the space to observe these thoughts with clarity.
photo credit: Padmini Dey
Lately, I’ve especially loved journaling. The act of doing a brain dump of everything going on inside of my brain creates actual, physical space between myself and my thoughts. Reading the thoughts back on the paper helps me see clearer the patterns in my thinking and recognize the stories my mind is telling itself out of habit (especially since it feels like I’m actually reading a story on paper).
3. Affirmations. According to the book Change Your Mind Change Your Body by Wendy Higdon, just as our minds are able to wire our brains to believe limiting stories about our potential over the course of our lives, we can rewire our brains to do the opposite. This is where affirmations come into play. Here are a few that I wanted to share with you all.
- “I am not my thought patterns, my thoughts are a set of conditioned reactions, impulses, and behaviors created over time, through experience. There are no words or thoughts to describe my infinite potential. I am abundant and have the power to change my patterns at any moment.”
- “I give myself permission to dream without limitations and imagine my wildest dreams, because I am worthy and capable of each and everyone of them.”
- “I am enough and I am worthy today, tomorrow, and everyday. My worth and value are not conditional on my productivity or how others perceive me — they are wholly in my existence.”
- “Please stop keeping your dreams in the dark. They are important. They will help so many people. The first of which is you. Just start — we’re waiting for you. —Rea Earth Meditation
4. Familiarize yourself with an abundance mindset. It’s the belief that there is infinite potential within us and in our surroundings. In the midst of imposter syndrome, I often catch myself in a spiral of limiting, scarcity focused thoughts that drive me to believe I am not good enough, that someone else is better than me, and that there isn’t enough space for me to thrive. In these moments, centering myself in abundance and affirming its existence has helped me gain valuable perspective on some of my most self-critical and challenging days. This infographic sits on my desktop as a reminder when I need it most.
5. Embrace collective healing. Share what you’re going through with those you trust, love, and feel safe with. Allow their presence and faith in you to remind you how wonderful and capable you are. There is power and strength in leaning into the emotions we're feeling, and that’s exactly our intent here: to hold space and heal together, in community.
About — Padmini (she/her) is a Bangladeshi-American who is a digital media planner by day and explores her creativity outside of work by creating content surrounding mental wellness, identity, and healing. She is not an authority on any of these subjects, but loves to build community around sharing the reality of her own journey to help others feel less alone in theirs (especially those in underserved BIPOC communities). You can check out her content on TikTok and follow her on Instagram @padzdey.
Cover photo credit: Padmini Dey, @padzdey