Episode 17. Imposter Syndrome in Sewing

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Imposter Syndrome in Sewing The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

In this episode, we're talking about imposter syndrome. We define the term, talk about how it shows up in our sewing practices and discuss how our identities intersect with imposter syndrome. For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-17-imposter-syndrome-in-sewing/ If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective


Patterns & Designers mentioned

R11087 by Simplicity

Adrienne Blouse by Friday Pattern Company

Watsonia Pants by Mood

M8021 by McCall’s

Multi-Sport Skort JALIE 2796 by Jalie


The Imposter Phenomenon, International Journal of Behavioral Science, 2011, Vol. 6, No. 1, 73-92, written by Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander

The Imposter Phenomenon: Recent Research Findings Regarding Dynamics, Personality and Family Patterns and their Implications For Treatment, American Psychological Association, written by Pauline Rose Clance and Joe Langford

An Examination of the Impact of Minority Status Stress and Imposter Feelings on the Mental Health of Diverse Ethnic Minority College Students, American Psychological Association, written by Kevin Cokley, Shannon McClain, Alicia Enciso and Mercedes Martinez

“Ditching Imposter Syndrome” by Clare Josa, Business Insider

Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome, Harvard Business Review

How to Overcome “Imposter Syndrome”, The New York Times

Imposter syndrome in Asian Americans

Asian American Women Aren’t “Imposters” But Society Makes Us Feel That Way, Yahoo! News

How Asian Shame Can Perpetuate Imposter Syndrome, Psychology Today

Young, Asian, Full of Potential.. And Feeling Like an “Imposter”. Why These Adults Struggle to Celebrate Their Success, South China Morning Post

Imposter syndrome in Asia

Commentary: My Imposter Syndrome was a Weakness, Until I Turned it Into My Strength, Channel News Asia

Imposter Syndrome – Not Just a Feeling, India Bioscience 

Personological Evaluation of Clance’s Imposter Phenomenon Scale in a Korean Sample, Taylor & Francis Online 

Show transcript

Nicole: Yeah, I try to limit myself to one 8 ounce, 8 to 12 ounce… 12 ounces is technically two cups. So, I dunno…

Ada: Like a cup and a half, a cup is eight ounces.

Nicole: So a coffee cup is six ounces.

Ada: What? My life is a lie.

Nicole: Yeah. I dunno.

Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fibre and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado, Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese-American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan Skincare – that’s C-H-U-A-N – and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method. Most importantly for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.

Nicole: And I’m your co-host, Nicole. I’m based out of Chicago, Illinois, the original homelands of the Council of the Three Fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m Filipinx-American, and I’m a woman, and a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @nicoleangelinesews.

Ada: Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?

Nicole: I’m not working on anything right now. But I’m contemplating, like, a vintage-y make? Like, some kind of vintage-type make, so maybe you can help me, like, figure out what to do. And I can’t promise that I’ll agree with you or ultimately end up doing either of these. But okay, let’s talk it out, let’s talk it out. So, I do have a vintage 1982 Simplicity pattern – it is a button down dress. Sorry, it’s a dress with a button down collar. So like, the bodice is a button down. And then, it’s not quite an A-line, like a swishy skirt, more with different sleeve options and it’s knee-length. So it’s fairly modern, like, “timeless” is probably a way that you can use to describe this particular dress. And it would be the first vintage pattern that I’ve ever worked with. So, I trace, I’d be on team trace for this one. But, back in the day, patterns only came in one size, so I got lucky, and I think this one… I think I must have found just a cache of patterns and like, looked what was approximately my size…

Ada: Okay.

Nicole: And then figured out which ones I liked from there.

Ada: Okay.

Nicole: I’m not sure what fabric I’m going to use but like, a challis of some sort, I’m sure. So that’s look one.

Ada: Okay.

Nicole: Vintage, actual Simplicity pattern. Look two is something that… So, a several month, maybe a couple of months ago, I was at my mom’s house and looking through old photo albums. I found some really cute pictures with my mom from the early 80s, which is functionally, like, fashionably, functionally, the 70s, still, like, 1982.

Ada: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Nicole: And there was a really cute outfit of my mom wearing a high waisted wide leg jean, but it wasn’t like flowy wide leg, just like a straight cut jean really, and a striped wide neck top.

Ada: Like a boat neck?

Nicole: Eh… Okay, so it’s like, it’s kind of, like, the Adrienne blouse.

Ada: Oh, okay, so like a scoop, shallow…

Nicole: Yeah, with a pu… Like, a puff sleeve, like a… A puff sleeve. So, the top I would take that and make and use the Adrienne blouse and probably just cut it straight across. You know, the Adrienne has, like, a slight curve.

Ada: Yep.

Nicole: And I do have a stripe knit that is similar to what my mom was wearing in that picture. And then, I do have a pair of high waisted, wide leg, Lyocell, tencel, denim-look pants. So they’re made from Lyocell, but the colouration is darker denim. And it was, it’s the Mood Watsonia pants, but I never finished it. It’s from 2020 Have you ever sewn with Mood patterns before?

Ada: I have attempted and I have never finished either.

Nicole: Yeah, so I only finished my first Mood pattern. I think I talk about it in an earlier episode. But, because I find the instructions to be difficult for someone who’s a beginner, and when I was trying this, I was still a beginner.

Ada: Yeah.

Nicole: And I just struggled with the instructions, I got frustrated with the fitting, and so I was just like, no, not gonna finish these.

Ada: But you already cut it out.

Nicole: It’s already sewn up, for the, like, it’s already pants. I just… I, like, I need to install… It even has a faux fly and everything, I just need to put in the actual waistband. I suspect that the fit is probably not great. I think the pockets are even installed but I just got so mad at it, I was like, no! So anyway, so I could do… It’d be a TNT, right, it’d be my Adrienne blouse, I have the fabric and then I would just finish those. I mean, that’s mom’s outfit. My mom jeans outfit, so I don’t know. Vintage Simplicity dress, wide leg pant. Adrienne blouse.

Ada: Which one would you get more wear out of?

Nicole: Shit. I dunno. Um…

Ada: Because I don’t think I see you in that many pants.

Nicole: Yeah, well, it’s because you only ever see me from the waist up on the podcast.

Ada: That is also true.

Nicole: No, you’re right, I don’t actually wear pants a lot. That’s true. I’d like to get, well, you know why I don’t wear pants though?

Ada: Fitting?

Nicole: Yeah, yeah, ready-to-wear fit issues. So I’ve never been a pants person. I do wear things below my waist but they’re not pants, like, you know, and I do already have it cut so I don’t know. I think, if you asked me, I’d probably get more wear out of the dress but that would be if I was in the office five days a week, which I won’t be.

Ada: And like, tencel, Lyocell, kind of, swishy pants are comfortable.

Nicole: They are.

Ada: Even if they are like, you know, they have a true waistband, they’re not elasticated. I am a fan of the elasticated waist.

Nicole: No, I think they are elasticated, so…

Ada: Oh, oh.

Nicole: Even more compelling. 

Ada: Even more.

Nicole: I don’t know why I haven’t finished them. I really don’t.

Ada: Well, I can see why because you go in being, like, free pattern, like, this will be great! And then, the instructions are not clear enough for beginners, so then you’re not inclined to want to keep going, which I think is a shame.

Nicole: I…

Ada: Yeah, I think on pure outfit looks, I’m personally a fan of the mom outfit, and because I tend to wear pants more than dresses. But again, I think it’s like, the reverse problem of you? Finding dresses that fit me from ready-to-wear, like, either the top is too small, or the bottom is too big. And so for me, I haven’t really been into as many dresses until I was able to make them.

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: Yeah, I don’t know. But I guess, I resonate style-wise more with your mom’s outfit.

Nicole: It’s also… It’d be fun to do a side by side.

Ada: Yeah.

Nicole: And it seems like it’d be easier.

Ada: I mean, does she still have that outfit, can she wear that, like, can you do…?

Nicole: Oh, no, I don’t think so. I could probably make her the same outfit, though. Anyway…

Ada: Ooh! Halloween!

Nicole: Twinsies… Could be my mom…

Ada: You could be your mom for Halloween.

Nicole: Well, now that’s a really compelling thing. I haven’t done, I haven’t done Halloween in years, so I think, yeah, that’s fun. I think we’ve made the decision. We’ll see if I get it done by the time this episode comes out. Probably not. And if not, then listeners, you tell me what you think would be fun to work on.

Ada: Just stay tuned for Nicole’s… Nicole, Nicole can make pants, we believe.

Nicole: How about you, Ada, what are you working on?

Ada: I am working on more sportswear. I picked up… I really liked the pattern that I was working on last season, I wanted to have, like, more variety though, so I picked up another one. And it’s a Big Four pattern, so not size inclusive either – it’s a current Simplicity pattern and the number is R11087, which is different. I know that’s different from like, the S numbers, I don’t know how the two systems are different but that’s how I found it. I know there is like, an actual, like, S number. It is a polo short sleeve and long sleeve version, shirt and dress polo with like, a mandarin collar.

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: And a zipper in the middle instead of just, kind of, an open placket. So the other one I have is the placket, which was great for learning how to make a placket, and this one is good for practicing zippers. It’s just… The way that the zipper… They tell you to get a regular zipper but then they want you to install it like an invisible zipper, which I didn’t realize until I had gone halfway through the instructions for the zipper.

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: And I was like, why am I not just doing an invisible zipper, this is dumb.

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: So my first toile is in the… It is firmly in my scrap bin right now, scrap pillow. Because…

Nicole: RIP.

Ada: RIP. The fabric I was working with was, like, not a great polyester. I just, kind of, found at the secondhand store, I found like, a yard, so it’s just enough. It was a cute print, but I’m not super heartbroken over it. It’s just… The mangled zipper and mangled collar issue. So, also, it had like, it told me to cut the back piece in like, two, instead of one and I was like, why is there an extra seam here? Seems kind of weird? So, we’re gonna try it again, and probably go more slowly and probably ignore more of, most of the instructions.

Nicole: It’s nice to have the skill to be able to do that, right?

Ada: Yeah. Now I’m like, I don’t feel bound by this piece of paper.

Nicole:Yeah, I tend to do that with, with Big Four, certainly more than indie. Like, I’m like, this is wrong. And sometimes I’m wrong, like, a lot of times I’m wrong. But, yeah.

Ada: Well, even, I did a skort. I also did a skort from them, and I think it was the same collection. And I did a skort from them, and I compared it to the skort that I had made previously, that was, I guess, technically indie, also Jalie. And even though the Jalie instructions weren’t the clearest, to be honest, like, they were very sparse, they were still better than the Big Four, so…

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: Like, with a skort, instead of… You have to put the pant legs together, but then you have to put the pant legs into the skirt. And so, there’s like a, you have to have… Put one inside the other and then sew it around the waistband. And the way that the Big Four pattern had it, I was just like, no, who would read this? Like, what human being would read this, and say, this makes sense?

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: So… That one, that one, we are also working with. So, unfortunately, more fitting and practice to do on those, but I’m treating it as a learning opportunity.

Nicole: Well, I believe in you, good luck.

Ada: Haha, thanks!

Nicole: Before we get started on today’s topic, I do want to cover a bit of feedback that we received in Part 2 of our Mindful Fabric Selection episode. We got a message from Koss, who goes by @withorwithoutice on Instagram, regarding a sewing fabrics, notion and pattern store called Merchant and Mills based in the United Kingdom – you may be familiar with them. Koss brought up an incident that occurred back in May 2020 with this particular store. When the sewing community rose to support the Black Lives Matter movement, Merchant and Mills were asked to release a statement on anti-racism. They responded by saying that they needed some time to write one before releasing it. Unfortunately, nothing ever came out of this, despite several folks following up on the issue, including Koss and their friends. On the flip side, Merchant and Mills were able to respond fairly quickly when they were accused of fatphobia upon releasing a new sewing pattern just a few months later. They apologised immediately and quickly re-released their pattern in an extended size range. After we received Koss’s message, we checked out Merchant and Mills’s Instagram account at @merchantandmills. All we found was that #blackouttuesday black square, ah, posted with no statement on anti-racism to follow, and a post on Merchant and Mills becoming a member of the Better Cotton Initiative, an organisation committed to sustainable cotton production. We just wanted to share this piece of information with you, much like what we’ve done in the past with other stores, fabric companies and pattern designers, like Mood Fabrics. And of course, this goes with the theme of episodes 3 and 4 which is Mindful Fabric Selection, beyond sustainability. Now, it seems that Merchant and Mills works with different fabric manufacturers to stock and sell under their name. Now, protip, this means that you may be able to find their fabric elsewhere without the, quote unquote, Merchant and Mills branding on it now. For instance, you can buy their exact oil skin directly from some of their partnering mills in the UK for a fraction of the cost. So with a little bit of luck, time and research, your money could go elsewhere and you could save a few bucks. Thank you, Koss, again, from @withorwithoutice on Instagram, for sharing this bit of information with us. And, now, onto today’s topic.

Nicole: Today’s topic is on imposter syndrome and its intersection with sewing. It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot, and it’s also a controversial topic, but we’ll get into that later and we’ll try to give you… We’ll try our best to give you a well-rounded insight to the topic. First of all, it’s not a mental illness, although it may occur in individuals with depression and/or anxiety. It’s not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM-5, because it’s the current version. The DSM-5 is a book that is used as a tool to classify and diagnose mental illness and individuals in the United States. Even though it’s not considered a mental illness, it has been extensively studied and documented by psychologists and behavioural health institutions.

Ada: And imposter syndrome is often a term that is used especially when referring to women in the workplace, but there’s definitely ways that it can manifest in your sewing practice too. So, we’re going to talk about how that might show up for you or your sewing. And we will also briefly explore what the intersection is between being of Asian descent and having imposter syndrome, what that looks like.

Nicole: So, what does imposter syndrome actually look like? Generally, individuals who have it believe they have fooled other people into thinking that they’re more competent than they are. They also believe that their achievements are due to external circumstances such as luck, rather than any of their internal qualities, such as their ability, intelligence or skill. And lastly, because of these beliefs, many people with imposter syndrome have a fear of being exposed as an imposter. Now, fun fact, psychologists actually think the term, quote, imposter syndrome, should be renamed “perceived fraudulence” to highlight that this fear is unjustified, because the word “imposter” implies that the individual who feels this way is actually a fraud, which they are obviously not. I’m just thinking of Hamburglar, you know, like, like, just that someone putting on a mask and they’re deliberately doing it but perceived fraudulence, you know, puts the focus on the actual feeling and, and the… Rather than the acts of the person. And, like we said earlier, imposter syndrome does get linked to depression and anxiety a lot. But there are other phenomena that you should look out for such as overwork, perfectionism, fear of failure, discounting, praise, and fear and guilt when you are actually successful. All this makes me feel really seen right now, I gotta say.

Ada: I can already see a lot of ways that this can show up for someone who sews, right? It can show up as emotional burnout, especially for many of us who actively post about our sewing practice online, because we might feel like we have to be perfect all the time. And perfectionism can show up when we’re making toile after toile after toile, in hopes of getting perfectly fitting polos or skirts or even pants. I think trousers are like, the most popular one where, where we’ve seen a lot of that on Instagram, for example. Or, perhaps when we fixate on the imperfections in our makes when we finally do actually build up the courage to share them widely. On a related note, we might see a pattern of procrastination over time in our sewing practice, because, you know, not doing anything is a way to avoid failure, which can then be followed by a frenzy of overwork in order to keep up the appearance of perfection. And as an attempt to kind of try to like, prove that we belong in the sewing community. And I think some of that same fear of failure can also hold us back from attempting a challenging pattern or from cutting into our beautiful fabric, right? We are all guilty of sitting on or hoarding fabric that we are afraid to mess up for a project and just, kind of, coveting it for a while in our stash.

Nicole: That is a whole other issue I have to deal with. I can think of some, like, so many things that I’ve saved for the right project. And you know, along with the overbuying and being more mindful that we talked about in our sustainability episodes, it’s so easy to buy fabric, but when it comes to actually using it, I do sometimes stop myself because I’m afraid of like, whatever I’m going to make won’t turn out as beautifully as I want it to in my head and sometimes it doesn’t, but we won’t know until we try and it’s better than just sitting on the shelf right?

Ada: And there’s no Control-Z on sewing. Like, once you’ve got the fabric, you can’t undo that cut of fabric.

Nicole: No, and I guess that’s what makes it scary to move forward with actually going because, because you’re worried about failing at it, which is certainly characteristic of imposter syndrome. And another way that the sewing world and imposter syndrome can collide is that feeling of guilt over time spent sewing. That time could have been better used elsewhere, which may be because you don’t think your skills are good enough to warrant taking the time to sew. And this reminds me of the conversation that we had last season on sewing and self care. If you haven’t listened already, I encourage our listeners to go back and check it out – it was season one, episode four – and we talked a little bit about the supposed indulgence and taking time to sew for yourself as self care and why it’s okay to make room for self care and your daily practice.

Ada: That was a fun episode. Erica, who is also a member of the Collective, compared her sewing practice to the indulgence of eating chocolate cake. I enjoyed that metaphor. I think when you lose your sewjo, that can also tie into imposter syndrome. So for those not in the know, sewjo is a word that many folks in the online sewing community like to use, when describing the motivation to sew regularly – so, sewing plus mojo, sewjo. And if you’ve lost your sewjo, it essentially means that you’ve suddenly lost that drive that keeps you sewing, or keeps you working on sewing-related things, like cutting out patterns or planning out makes. And I guess I believe that some people lose their sewjo because of all the emotional stress that we can get into when we think we have to get to a certain level of sewing, right. And social media doesn’t really help here because we can be caught up, like Nicole and I have discussed, in the latest trending pattern on Instagram and being influenced there or feeling like we have to make something exactly the way that we saw it or, kind of, getting into that comparison, right. And I am for one, grateful to have Nicole and the rest of the Collective to bounce ideas off of, it has certainly helped me level up as a sewist. But, for example, over the last few weeks of summer, there were quite a few, not even the last few weeks of summer, all throughout the summer, there were quite a few new dress pattern releases in the indie pattern world and I sent them to Nicole. Like, should I buy these? And it felt like everybody I knew was making them because pattern testers were posting them and people were whipping them up as soon as they came out. And I’m sure plenty of beginner sewists have looked at these trends and might feel stressed out over not being able to sew a specific pattern. But that kind of stress sucks all the joy of actually sewing.

Nicole: Yeah, totally. And I remember feeling the same way when I was newer. I have a lot of patterns that I was like, I must have these because everyone else has them! And, fabric to an extent. And it’s just like, you know, this, the pressure that we put on ourselves, or I put on myself, to do it, to make these things that other people were making… It wasn’t… It wasn’t good for me. So, we have to stop comparing our own makes with other people’s makes, so… Who knows how much longer they’ve been sewing, you know, or how much time they can devote to it? And also, just because we can’t see the imperfections in other people’s makes, it doesn’t mean that they’re not there. It’s just a tiny Instagram post, and that tiny screen that you’re probably looking at on your phone, you know, isn’t going to capture the sort of details that we have, when our own makes are right in front of us. So now that we’ve covered the ways that imposter syndrome can show up in our sewing practice, let’s talk about who’s more prone to imposter syndrome. Now, imposter syndrome has been definitively correlated with individuals from families with high expectations of achievement in combination with little or inconsistent praise or affirmation of that achievement. And sometimes for individuals with overprotective paternal figures. Now, listeners, Ada, does that sound familiar in any way?

Ada: A little bit.

Nicole: So, to our Asian listeners, I swear, I can almost hear you nodding in my recording space. Like, ethnic minorities, especially women and Asian Americans are definitely more prone to experiencing imposter syndrome because of these characteristics. Now being in a new setting can also invoke that feeling of imposter syndrome. Like, we see this happening a lot in academic areas, it’s frequently documented among grad students. And if you’re not in academia, you’re not off scot free. Individuals may feel it in their relationships – like in this case, they often feel like they’ve tricked their friend or partner into liking them or spending time with them.

Ada: And it’s present in all genders, right, and it doesn’t seem to discriminate. So, likely, imposter syndrome is frequently seen as a female phenomenon because males are less likely to discuss or disclose, you know, feelings like such that we’re talking about with imposter syndrome. And when they do disclose those feelings they get a lot of or they get more applause or recognition. So for example, at my last company, one of our co-founders, co-CEOs, who is a straight white male from Australia, who happens to also be a billionaire, admitted to having imposter syndrome and got applauded for his candour during an all-hands are townhall meeting with the company. And meanwhile, women and firms have been discussing and dealing with these feelings forever, and you don’t really see us getting all that applause? To which I say, down with the patriarchy, like eff that! And…

Nicole: He’s so brave. 

Ada: Right. He’s so brave, right? What could possibly go wrong? He has a billion dollars. I don’t know. 

Nicole: So relatable.

Ada: Anyways, according to the research that we did for this episode, around 70 to 80% of women in academia and executive jobs have reported feeling some form of imposter syndrome. And some studies show that there’s equal prevalence among men, while some studies do not. But again, I can’t really help but wonder how different factors play into the sort of data that we’re seeing, right? Our researcher for this episode, Cindy, brought up that there is a societal expectation that women will experience some form of imposter syndrome. Therefore, there are two to three times as many studies on women and imposter syndrome, specifically, and very few, if any, focus on men and imposter syndrome. Additionally, I would say women in high levels of academia or corporate America are more likely to be continually reminded that they are the exception and not the norm. So on a related note, it is usually harder to find mentors for them with a similar background, which could mean that these women feel less supported and thus are more prone to feeling imposter syndrome.

Nicole: Okay, I want to start looking at the intersection between our Asian identities and imposter syndrome, but that’s a lot easier said than done. Now, imposter syndrome is not classified as a mental illness, like we said earlier, which means that there are very few empirical studies about it. So in our research, we only found casual surveys that are not necessarily statistically significant, and they were primarily conducted by asking a single population whether they experience imposter syndrome. Instead, a better approach would have been to survey a wider population and then compare incidence rates, if you’re into statistics, but, like, it, but it’s true, you know, the studying data in this way is proven to give better results when studying pretty much anything. And the studies that we found that were conducted with undergrad and college students always lumped all Asians under an Asian American category, quote, unquote, then most studies that primarily were focused on women had no breakdown between race. So again, we have some thoughts to share from our researcher, Cindy, who does want to call out that these are heavily based on anecdotal evidence only. She does see a lot of correlation between certain family situations and the quote unquote typical Asian family background, at least based on anecdotal evidence from Asian American friends. And as a reminder, the circumstances in which individuals may be prone to imposter syndrome include being in a family with high expectations of achievement and combination with little or inconsistent praise and affirmation of achievement, or being in a family that has an overprotective paternal figure. Now, these family situations often have authoritarian and patriarchal parenting styles, little affirmation from the authority figures in the family but high expectations simultaneously. Now, when you combine that, with Asian Americans having a relatively high depression and suicide rate, along with the lack of representation in many fields, this seems like a perfect recipe for imposter syndrome. When we looked into the state of imposter syndrome in Asia, a lot of articles we found during our research for the episode, again, were anecdotal. We found a couple of articles from China, Singapore and India that seemed to indicate that imposter syndrome is somewhat discussed in Asia. And if you’re interested, head over to our show notes and check them out. Now, the discussion still is skewed toward female and it’s discussed to a lesser extent in Asia compared to how much it comes up in the United States and other Western countries, and probably because the concept of a career woman in Asia is even newer.

Ada: Right, and if you’ve noticed that I’m uncomfortable with this topic, we will get into why. We finally reached the part of the episode where I can talk about why I struggle with explicitly calling it imposter syndrome. I want to start by bringing up a relevant Harvard Business Review article that was published in February of this year called, “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome”. It is definitely an interesting read and I highly encourage all listeners to check it out – it will be linked in our show notes. Even if you don’t identify as a woman or you’re not a person of colour, the article… It basically challenges the concept of imposter syndrome, right. The writers state the imposter syndrome is a label often applied to women but it’s problematic because it completely excludes the effects of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia and other biases. So, the concept of imposter syndrome takes a fairly universal feeling of discomfort, second guessing and mild anxiety in the workplace and pathologises it, or slaps a label on it by calling it a condition or syndrome which we have stated multiple times, it is not officially in the DSM-5, it is not recognized by professionals as an official condition or syndrome. Now in the article writer’s opinion, the answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is not to fix individuals, but to create an environment that fosters a number of different leadership styles and where diversity of racial, ethnic and gender identities is viewed as just as professional as the current model, which basically kind of sums up all of my feels. I feel like most of the time that I’ve heard about or read about imposter syndrome, it is coming from a very white lens, and so it’s hard for me to or can’t really relate to mostly cis white men and women being like, it’s so hard for me to believe I’m good enough, I must have imposter syndrome. Like, I am very well aware of the sexist and racist BS that I have had to put up with and continue to deal with every day of my life. And so, I’ve had so many other things going on, that I’ve never felt compelled to add my own, you know, self doubt on top of that, and if anything, I’ve worked in enough toxic workplaces and teams now to be able to quickly identify when coworkers or management are trying to inflict that self-doubt upon me for various reasons, right. And it’s going to sound cocky, like, I will sound like, I am a little too self assured. But at this point in my life, I know I am good. I know I’m smart. I know I’m hardworking. I know I have potential, right? I have proven this, time and time again, to myself and others. And am I awkward at accepting compliments around these things, or compliments in general? Yes, but I would say that that awkwardness comes more from like, culturally being raised to be humble and be gracious and not to be boastful. And so, that is why it’s awkward for me to even say these things. Like, I know, I’m not perfect, I’m always learning, I’m always trying to improve. And I’m always trying to be grateful for the privileges I have and aware of the privileges that I don’t have. And so, like I said before, when at my last company, the two co-founders and co-CEOs, both of whom are straight white men who are billionaires, were complaining and one of them was saying that, you know, he had imposter syndrome, they had faked their way to the top. Like, my instant thought hearing that was like, how am I supposed to relate to this? Because I’ve never even been able to have the privilege or luxury to be able to fake my way to or through anything like that, like, I always have to have some sort of backup. And I know not everyone will kind of identify with this or agree with it. So, Nicole, I’m curious, like, how do you feel about imposter syndrome?

Nicole: Yeah, so I read that Harvard Business Review article when it was first published, and at the time, I don’t think I really fully processed that perspective, because I so deeply related to the core of what imposter syndrome was. Like I’ve discussed on the podcast before, how I’ve been diagnosed with depression, and then later on, anxiety, so when I heard that there was a name for what I was feeling, it felt like validation because inherent to imposter syndrome, and a lot of depression and anxiety, is self blame for what you are experiencing. So to know that it’s a phenomena that occurs for whatever reason, when we talk about, do we blame ourselves? Is it a systemic societal issue? It just helped me to identify it and say, oh, I am not – and I don’t use this word lightly – I am not crazy, like I am not, what I’m experiencing is a real thing. So in revisiting the article for this episode, I understand that the article is like, what it’s saying about imposter syndrome isn’t an individual pathology, but a problem that arises as a result of systemic issues of racism, classism, sexism, all the -isms.

Ada: All the -isms.

Nicole: Yeah. But I do think it’s still on me to work through my issues and trauma that relates to it, but I get it now. Like, it’s both shitty and incorrect to place the blame and the burden on those dealing with these types of feelings, rather than addressing or taking a look at the systemic problems that contributes to why people feel this way. And I remember when we started talking about planning for this episode and Ada, you brought up your feelings about imposter syndrome in this regard, like, everything that you just said. And I had to go back to the article and read it and digest it. Like, I did, it took a few reads, but I get it. And Ada, you’re totally awesome and good and capable, and all those things, so you don’t have to qualify it as sounding cocky. And I was thinking when I was, we were preparing for this, I was like, isn’t, doesn’t “cocky” have something to do with like, male something? Like, male, like…

Ada: Chickens?

Nicole: Right? Like, like a, like a, like a cock, like, you know, not, not the actual chicken, right? Like, it’s… And you know, I also think, you know, objectively, like… I’m great at a lot of things, I…

Ada: You are! 

Nicole: Thank you. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of therapy and a lot of love to realize it – self-love, love from others. And I have to say it out loud. I have to say, I am great at public speaking, like, podcast notwithstanding, I think I’m pretty damn good at it. I am an excellent writer. You do not want to get on my bad side, if you’re writing to me and expect something written back. I also kick ass at invisible zippers.

Ada: Ooh.

Nicole: It’s my superpower. And I have to say it all out loud. But for me, it’s not faking my way to the top, but it’s really, I just have to convince myself that these things are true. I know them to be true, but I have to hear them. And if other people aren’t gonna say it, like, I gotta say it and I really, I just wish I were more like you, Ada, where I’m like, I have no, you know, or maybe you do, but like, more confident in your, your abilities and it’s like, whatever society is telling me, you know, it’s all BS. Like, I am actually good at what I do. And I know where I need improvement and all that and, uh, and I thought of the word “cocksure”, like, like I’m talking to you about “cocky” and I was like, you’re so cocksure. And I love it. And it’s kind of a, an old timey word, but it feels right.

Ada: Yeah, you wrote that, and I was like, today, I learned a new word. It’s been, if you think, if you think about it, it’s been a while since you’ve had to learn any new words. So, thank you for being my walking thesaurus and dictionary. And also, you are fantastic at public speaking, I have seen the videos, you sent me one. You are a fantastic writer and you do kick ass invisible zippers, and I would say all… Sewing with knits, like, you…

Nicole: Getting better.

Ada: You’re pretty, pretty good at sewing with knits. I mean, sewing in general, but yeah, I would say, I look at your knits and I’m like, I wish I had the patience to do that.

Nicole: You do, you just would wanna… Just whenever you feel like applying it, you will get it, I’m sure.

Ada: Yeah. No, I mean, I think, I think everything you have shared is valid. I think everybody, regardless of if you have depression or anxiety, or not, experiences self doubt at some point, I guess my problem with it, is like, when we internalize it so deeply, because it is the topic du jour, right, in mainstream media, and we’re being told by Harvard Business Review, and all these other places, like, you are a woman in the workplace, you should have imposter syndrome because 80% of the people do. Like, what if you are that 20%? That’s not nothing. And I do think that it’s, if you experience any type of self doubt, it is worth inspecting and digging into where that’s coming from, like, is it coming from you and your experiences and your environment? Or is it coming from external factors in the situation that you’re placed in? And I want to say it’s like an evolution, right? Like, it’s constantly something that can be changing, especially if you are in different situations, right. Between work and life, and sewing even, right.

Nicole: Yeah. So next up, we want to share with you some of our specific stories and examples relating to imposter syndrome. So, you got our general feel about both, about imposter syndrome from the both of us. And I just want to talk about how Ada and I both deal with this, you know, concept of imposter syndrome. And you know, it may be a bit of a problematic label, as the article mentioned, we talked about. But it doesn’t mean we haven’t questioned ourselves and our ability to succeed at life. For me, imposter syndrome shows up at work a lot, particularly when I first started my previous job, uh, previous being the one I, like, literally just left, and I’m in between at the moment of recording, but I will be at my new job when this comes out. Now, I just left legal marketing, where I had become somewhat of an expert to go into immigration practice. There was a very specific electoral event that happened in 2016 that pushed me from wanting to just casually do pro bono to being more full time and immigration. And switching fields didn’t come easy – there was a lot of work and studying to do, and I had to lean on other people’s expertise, but sometimes it would be really hard. Like, I would be hard on myself, I’d be like, why don’t you know this? And in hindsight, I just didn’t. And it was okay. Like, why would, why would I be expected to be an immigration expert when I hadn’t been practicing or studying. And then the time came for me to teach other people. So my, my previous job I’d spent working on supporting other people’s legal practice. So I was the expert, and then I would provide mentorship and technical legal assistance on substantive immigration law issues and practice issues on that. And so I did training, I trained other people and I, at the very beginning, I was freaking out because I felt like I was only one step ahead of the people I was teaching. And I would rehearse and I would work overtime to get whatever I was, you know, presenting on perfect, whatever perfect is. I really had to reframe my thinking. First, when it came to legal practice, I realized, okay, it wasn’t actually great to know everything off the top of your head. Being an expert doesn’t mean it’s all in here. Yeah. And you never need to crack open a book or a statute or regulation or blah blah blah, and I think that’s where law school gets it wrong.

Ada: Hahahahaha.

Nicole: You have to memorise a lot and yes, there’s a lot of critical thinking involved, but like, the bar exam is memorisation.

Ada: Yeah…

Nicole: That’s what they make you do. And I know, asking questions, looking up stuff, actually makes you a better lawyer, doesn’t make you an inadequate one. But being in the position I was at I felt like I was inadequate, like, I was not a good lawyer because I felt so behind on things and that I was still teaching myself. And therapy helped me a lot with this. There was a time in my life, before I started that new job, or, I had just started therapy because it was necessary for me, like, just, period. It was necessary. And with the help of my therapist, I figured out that I needed to focus on like, what I am, and not what I’m supposed to be, whatever that looks like. And one fallback that I like to fall back on is that, like, I don’t know if this is necessarily helpful or healthy, but when things became really difficult for me to understand, like, I felt stupid, like, I just felt like, why am I not getting this? You’re a lawyer, why are you not getting this? And I think all of us have had those moments where we, we beat ourselves up for not being again, what we’re supposed to be, quote unquote. And I… One thing that helped, again, I don’t know, like, good, but I would tell myself, I don’t lie so I don’t fake my way to the top. I don’t lie, and I don’t misrepresent who I am when I go for jobs. And the person that hired me, believed that I could do this, and so….

Ada: That’s why they hired you.

Nicole: Yeah, exactly. Even if I don’t feel it, even if I’m sitting there, like, uhhh, I don’t know! I would be like, okay, she knows who I am. And I, she hired me. And I have to remember that and that if she because she thinks that I could do it, I can do it. And therapy helped with that, too, you know, a lot and, and I think that it’s… Whatever your feelings of therapy, like, it has helped me a lot, and I think that I’m always an advocate for having a third party to help you sort through your shit. And it’s always a very good thing. In my sewing practice, I felt imposter syndrome bubbling up when I was selected to be a Fabric Mart Fabricista. So it’s one of those relationships where the store sends you fabric for free in exchange for a blog post on their website. And when I was selected to be part of this network, and then took a look at who else was selected to be part of a network, I immediately felt the pressure, like, I needed to go above and beyond. And, you know, the act of taking a look at who else was around me was that imposter syndrome. Like, that’s how it showed up, because there were so many people that were selected, that I was a fan of. That I was like, they are amazing, they’re… I love their work. I love their skill. I love their style. And suddenly, I was part of this pantheon of sewists. And I was like, oh, no, this was a mistake. Like, I am not like these people, men and women, like, they’re them, and I’m me, like, you can… For listeners, like, my hand goes up for them, my hand comes down for me. And I felt like the only way that I could earn my spot, quote, unquote, was like, go all out. So my first post went out in February, and I made three dang outfits, three whole separate outfits, three different patterns. Three photography sessions, three times the writing, it was a lot. I mean, it was too much. And that’s, you know, I’ve scaled it back, but that’s really a classic way that it’s shown up for me. It’s like, I don’t belong here with these people. They’re amazing and I’m not. But the truth is, I am.

Ada: You are. Those outfits are amazing. If you haven’t seen them, you should go check out Nicole’s grid. They’re on your grid, right?

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: Yeah. Scroll back on her grid, they’re fantastic. I will say, like, on, on those notes, first of all, coming from a marketing background, like, I guess, I would want anybody to know who listens to our podcast that when you see these sponsored posts, and people are just receiving content, like free fabric for content, that is actually, like, the cheapest way that companies generate content.

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: And this is coming from someone who used to pay people to write content and get paid to write content. And, so, guests and kinds like that are the cheapest way, because if you think about it, like, the fabric costs are max, what, $50, $75, $100?

Nicole: Yeah, that’s the retail value, is what we get. But whatever their wholesale is what, what cost them.

Ada: The wholesale value… Yeah, it’s probably half that if not less, based on my understanding of, kind of, wholesale rates. And so, for them, it is a very, very cheap way to get content and it’s usually quality content, because people are trying to do a good job with their makes and, and post really well because they feel some sort of obligation. And it’s… To me, I’m kind of, like, I hear your story and I’m like, but you’re, like, everybody who’s doing that is fantastic. And I have many thoughts and feelings about, like, marketing in the sewing industry, which is for another time and another topic. But, to be selected, I mean, I think that means that you… They saw something in you, right, that they wanted your content. Which brings me to, kind of, you made a comment about like, why don’t you know this? And I had a job, a few jobs ago, where I was the only marketing person for a startup that went from 25 people to more than 100 in the time that I was there. The only marketing person supporting up to, it went from a sales team of like, five, to like, a sales team of 50. And I was expected to, by our CEO, generate thousands of leads on less than $10,000 per quarter.

Nicole: Wow.

Ada: Which, yeah, on a math, what basis, like, is pennies on the dollar?

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: It’s, and it’s specifically, that niche was literally 10 to 50 times cheaper than what bigger players were doing. And at the time, I just didn’t know that that was an unrealistic expectation. And so, I was basically like, the director of marketing, and I was 24, 25, looking around being like, I’m working 100 hours a week doing all these things, like, why can’t I do it all? Well, because, A, I like, wouldn’t have known all of it, because there was no one there to teach me, and I was learning on the job – Googling as I went, talking to people and building my network. But I didn’t realize until I got to the next job where I had a team to support me and I had other teams that I could lean on, that I had been put up to completely unrealistic expectations that were inflicting self doubt upon my own skills. And then, when I told those people that I was working with, all the things that I had done at my last job, they were like, holy cow, you did all that by yourself. It was definitely very validating. But I can understand why if you’re in the moment, like, looking back, I understand why in the moment, I was like, struggling, to be honest, just really struggling.

Nicole: Well, and that’s, that’s what the HBR article was talking about. Right?

Ada: Yeah.

Nicole: Like, it wasn’t you, like, it wasn’t you, it was the system that set you up to, to fail, number one, and then caused you to believe that it was your fault, or it was your issue and not really the way that the position and the expectations were set up. So that’s messed up.

Ada: Yeah. And so, I think it was like, having that perspective of being in both situations that really caused me to question, I guess, imposter syndrome. But back to sewing. I think when I hit, like, 1000 followers on my sewing account, I was like, whoa, like, people actually want to see what I’m posting here? Because I’m posting a lot of mistakes, let’s be honest. And, my sewing Instagram, my sewing account, sewing finsta for the young and hip people out there who know what I…

Nicole: I don’t know what that means.

Ada: A finsta is like, I think it’s short for fake Instagram. It’s like, not your true account where you post your real life stuff or whatever. Not that I think anything on Instagram is really real life. But, you know, my sewing account started really as like a different place where I could curate a separate feed of sewing content, and share my own makes and my learnings to give back to the sewing community because I’d picked up so much from other people’s experiences. And basically, I wasn’t really trying to build a following, which I find completely ironically, because I am trying to build a following on my business account and it feels like it’s just going really slowly and it is a constant uphill climb and struggle. And I know, different audiences, different focuses. And for those of you who follow me on both, I am eternally grateful, seriously. But anyways, am I happy that folks have found my sewing Instagram and chosen to join me in my sewing journey? Yes, I also credit a lot of this growth to, like, I can trace it back to specifically larger sewing accounts – Leila, Gillian and Lisa, specifically, who shared my content and amplified my call for help when we were starting the podcast. So, with all of these new followers, did I feel like at some point I should constantly be posting or being on Instagram? Kind of, sometimes. I do try to be mindful, I think, of my own screen time between fun and work and like, not only my laptop screen, but both my work phone and my personal phone. So honestly, I’m not really fussed if I don’t post on my sewing Instagram for a few weeks. There are now times where I will wear a make that I have not photographed, realise I have not photographed it and be like, whatever, next time I’m gonna put it in the wash, because it’s dirty and I’ll photograph it later and it’ll go on the feed at some point. But, do I get stressed when I don’t post on my business account? Absolutely, because I know that is a hamster wheel that you kind of have to keep running on. I think for me, the best thing that I’ve done is, for my own mental health – physically separating things. So, I mentioned I have a work phone and a personal phone, so I am not ashamed to admit that I bought a refurbished iPhone solely for the purposes of managing my work social media, because it is like, a significant time chunk of my day, every day. And not only is that iPhone actually better than my Android phone for creating content, but it is also only connected to WiFi. So I can’t check on it all the time, like, if I go outside and I’m not connected to WiFi, it’s not going to update, can’t do anything. I can also physically put it away or ignore it whenever I want, and I think setting that boundary really helped me feel less pressure to be constantly posting on there and constantly updating things. And, it’s like a little bit of like, church and state separation, you know, for lack of a better term. And I know buying a refurbished iPhone or second phone isn’t within everyone’s reach. But if you can afford one, or if you have an old phone lying around, or you just need an idea, like, every person I’ve told that I do this to, they’re like, oh my gosh, that’s, that’s such a good idea, because they do think when it’s all just on one place that we already spent a lot of our time looking at, it is very easy to kind of get sucked in and then like, get caught up, I think, a lot of the time, especially on sewing Instagram, because there’s always something new in someone, like, making something amazing.

Nicole: Hmm, I like that. And yeah, I’ve definitely been caught up on sewing Instagram with regard to, like, feeling… Yeah, just, we talked about earlier about comparing. So, I don’t know if it’s necessarily comparing for me, I think it’s looking at someone and wanting to do what they do. That sounds like comparison. But yeah, I just think…

Ada: Or, like, have what they’re making.

Nicole: Yeah. And then you know, what ends up happening is that, like, I endlessly scroll, and then I get unhappy with myself and I spend a lot of time on it. And you know, and the, the behaviour of following others on Instagram and other social media platforms is totally ripe for breeding imposter syndrome. Like, it encourages acts of comparing yourself and then also questioning why people are interested in you, which is a little bit about what you said earlier. But there’s also, I think, some opportunity to combat the systemic issues regarding imposter syndrome on social media, like, there’s some good to social media. And you know, you can do things like increase representation of marginalised identities on the platform, like, on the whole, and through concerted efforts by, ideally, companies and institutions, but communities and individuals holding each other up. And, on an individual level, you know, positive feedback, validation, compliments can go a long way toward helping people overcome their own insecurities. And to go back to the Harvard Business Review article, there are systemic issues that need to be addressed to really break down imposter syndrome. Though, for my part, I think we can and should recognise its effects on the individual, like, work on it in our own lives and also do things that support others who might be feeling this way. And it’s also a big reminder for our listeners, like, we don’t want to pretend we know, know it all.

Ada: Absolutely not.

Nicole: Like, pretty much about nothing, but like, you know…

Ada: No, you know invisible zippers. Come on.

Nicole: Yeah, I do know invisible zippers. And, you know, but, you know, we don’t have a comprehensive framework on how to tackle imposter syndrome, but if that’s what you’re looking for, you know, instead of anecdotes you can identify with, there is a New York Times article called “How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome”, that’s worth looking into that will be in our show notes.

Ada: Right. And, so, in this episode, we hope we have helped you better understand what imposter syndrome is and what it looks like both in sewing and the work world, I guess. But also, I hope we’ve given you a little bit of food for thought about the problematic nature of the term itself, right. Take care of yourself, don’t be so hard on your most recent make or your most recent makes, and we’ll see you next week,

Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Next week we will be joined by Joy Mao, who is a fibre artist, who owns a small batch studio and is also an artist-in-residence at W.O.W. Project, which is a women, queer and trans-led community initiative that uses art and activism to grow and protect New York City’s Chinatown’s creative culture in a time of rapid change. If you liked our show, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and will allow us to give back to our all-volunteer team who work so hard to provide you with new content each week. The link to our Ko-fi page is ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective. And you can also find the link in the show notes on our website, and on our Instagram account. Our Instagram is @asiansewistcollective – that’s one word, asiansewistcollective. And you can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would also appreciate it if you could rate, review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Nicole: All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website. That’s asiansewistcollective.com. And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments, or even voice messages, if you want to be featured on future episodes at asiansewistcollective@gmail.com. This episode was brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Cindy Chan, produced by Mariko Abe and edited by Henry Wong. Thank you so much to our other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.