By: Anyiné “Angie” Galván-Rodríguez
My closest friends and I know Petra very well. In fact, she has been in our lives since we were young but never really got to know her until adulthood. From time to time, Petra is the topic of conversation, specially when we call each other to share good news about big promotions, new personal journeys or exciting opportunities we may be presented with. We regularly try not to mention Petra but she often seems to come up. At times it is inevitable. You may be wondering at this point, “Who in the world is Petra and WHY are we talking about her?”. Actually, you too, may know Petra but she probably disguises herself under another name or gender. You see… for a long time Petra did not have a name until three years ago when I decided to name that little inner voice called self-doubt. Yes! Petra is that voice in your head that always makes you doubt yourself in the most inopportune moments. Petra is like that mean auntie or “tía” that always questions you about your relationship status and asks you, “So do you have a novio yet?” Sometimes she may even put the icing on the cake with, “Oh dear, tú como que estás más chunky since the last time I saw you”, to remind you of the added pounds that crept up on you last time you hopped on the scale. I mean no offense to all the real life Petras in the world but your name embodies a mean Latina auntie you want to dodge at every family party.
Petra is like that mean auntie or “tía” that always questions you about your relationship status and asks you, “So do you have a novio yet?”
Many of my friends and I are products of black and brown families from humble beginnings that wanted the best for us. We pretty much tried to excel, while jumping through many hoops, dodging microagressions and avoiding being a stereotypical statistic while trying to make our families proud. Through resilience and hard work, we all managed to do very well in school, graduated college and beyond. We didn’t do too bad for ourselves. Some of us are leaders in the field of education, social work, pharmacy, school counseling, community activism, a doctor in one of the top programs in the country and to top it all off… a leader in labor union organizing. She is making major moves for workers in the south! They all truly make me proud. I call them my A-team. However, often times when we touch base about our recent accomplishments, big or small, Petra always arises. Petra expresses herself through us as we share how we may not be good enough for that promotion, for that opportunity that was presented to us or not worthy of the praise given to us by our peers. Petra can smell fear from miles away. Fear of failure and disappointment and she truly thrives in it. So after so many years of talking about this little annoying voice, I decided to finally give it a name. I told my friends that from that moment on we will call that voice that makes us doubt ourselves Petra. Each of them laughed and agreed the name was perfect.
Petra can smell fear from miles away. Fear of failure and disappointment and she truly thrives in it.
A year after I named my self-doubt inner voice “Petra”, I went to a conference and learned that in the field of psychology, research shows that high achieving black and brown students in higher education often suffer from the Imposter Syndrome. The term is also known as what psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, identified as the Impostor Phenomenon. This Impostor Phenomenon happens among a wide range of students regardless of ethnicity, race or gender. However, recent studies have proved that there is a high percentage of students of color that feel they do not belong in higher education or high achieving positions. This may cause anxiety and even depression among students. So there she was! Petra under a more academic alias. She even had a last name! As soon the conference was over, I called one of my best friends and yelled “Petra is REAL. Like …psychology academia term REAL. I am not crazy” and I talked his ear off about the Imposter Syndrome. My friend confirmed, “Angie, I believe you but you’re still a little crazy”. We both laughed and decided we will still keep the name Petra. It felt more fitting than the Impostor Syndrome.
A year after I named my self-doubt inner voice “Petra”, I went to a conference and learned that in the field of psychology, research shows that high achieving black and brown students in higher education often suffer from the Imposter Syndrome.
My friends and I are now very familiar and well aware of Petra. We check Petra when she arises in conversation and even give her a shout out to recognize that she is real. Yet, just because she exists, we try not to allow her steal our joy. Petra, the Impostor Syndrome or whatever we may want to call that mean little voice inside our heads that leads us into self-doubt may be real for many of us. Sometimes it can make us feel debilitated and not worthy. At times, Petra may even prevent us from savoring big moments in our professional, personal or social lives. However, just like that mean auntie you try to avoid at the party, we can learn to love Petra and take what she says with a grain of salt. Maybe just like that mean auntie, what Petra says may still be grounded in love and hoping you do find the right person or shed a pound or two to be healthier. Maybe Petra is just trying to push us to be the best version of ourselves. In either case, the reality is that Petra may not be going anywhere any time soon. The good news is that now we get to call her out for what she really is. We can anticipate when she is coming around the corner from the kitchen, walk away before she takes over the conversation and take the moment to savor our slice of Tres Leches cake. Because Petra or no Petra, the party must go on!
More about the Impostor Syndrome:
Click to access ip_high_achieving_women.pdf