Imposter Syndrome, Where I've Failed, and Rethinking Mentorship

Wednesday, June 10, 2020 / 10:58 PM


“What does real mentorship look like in the workplace?” That’s a question that’s been coming up more and more frequently as media organizations confront an existing problem that’s now become impossible for leaders to ignore: Journalism has long-suffered from a lack of diversity, and as I talk with friends and former colleagues about this, there's one thing that it seems we all agree on: It should not be controversial to say that that needs to change. 

But how does it change? What can be done? 

A few years ago, I asked my Facebook network for their thoughts on mentorship, which I then featured in a video and blog post: "The Thing About Mentors..." At the time, I talked about why I didn't feel like I was the right person to be anyone's mentor: imposter syndrome mixed with the realization that I didn't have a mentor.

I'm not sure how true the latter is right now. If you asked me who my mentors are today, I could name you a handful of people – some who I speak with frequently, others who I don't talk to regularly but who've advocated for me and have continued to do so. The common thing that all of the people I consider mentors have is that they're all people of color, and most of them are women. 

Which leads me to the first point in why I didn't feel qualified to mentor people in the past: imposter syndrome. It's something that's followed me throughout my entire career, no matter where I've gone or what I've done. Whenever someone praises my experience, I think about the time a male Asian American colleague suggested I need to look a certain way in order to be taken seriously. When I sit down to create projects or initiatives, I immediately start second-guessing myself and recall the time a white colleague told me the name “NBC Asian America” was too long, and so I should “pick an Asian word” to rename it to instead. 

When I'm asked to moderate a panel or speak at an event, I'm reminded of how a white male executive I was at a high-level meeting with asked me to get him coffee, not realizing I was one of the people asked to be at the table to discuss the critical subject of diversity and inclusion. 

And when someone asks for my advice, I remember the time a white editor inexplicably re-edited a story I had been editing and introduced inaccuracies to the reporting. When I asked them about it, they suggested I read the subject matter’s Wikipedia page to “learn more,” to which I pointed out that the top citation and links on the Wiki page were to articles I’d edited for years and a documentary I had supervised.


That's all to say: I believe I have failed in my understanding of how to be a better mentor to others because I allowed my own self-doubt and my anxieties about imposter syndrome to dominate, and I'm sorry. I also somehow got it in my head that I couldn't be a mentor for someone if I didn't have my own shit together – which I now know is not true. 

I've spent nearly a decade in this industry professionally, and about half of it in management. I believe I have done my best to support my colleagues – and especially my staff and interns – but I know that I could have done more: there were times I found myself in offices with executives or with HR managers, advocating on various issues and concerns, only to find myself in a losing battle. Instead of pushing harder or fighting louder, there were times I gave in because I felt exhausted – which is selfish. Battles against inequalities and injustices aren't won by sitting back, and I vow to do better in the future.

Going back to my initial questions: How can we change what mentorship looks like in the workplace? As some of my friends pointed out back in 2016 around my first blog about mentorship, it's a relationship that requires an investment as well as an understanding that it's a two-way street. So what kinds of opportunities can we create to ensure that people of color can not just feel safe, but feel supported? 

I wish I had the perfect set of solutions for this. I know it's not something that can be solved by one person overnight, either. For many companies, it will take buy-in from an executive level all the way down and I hope that if those conversations aren't already being had in a newsroom, that they're starting now. It is not enough to celebrate diversity on the surface without actively trying to cultivate and retain the talented individuals whose voices help create that diversity. 

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