Conquering Imposter Syndrome with Capital One Engineering Manager Mikela Wright

Mikela Wright is a motivational speaker, Software Engineering manager at Capital One, and creator of the ASPIRE© method, a process to navigate feelings of imposter syndrome.

Here is what Mikela had to say when we asked her about conquering Imposter Syndrome:

GenHERation®: What is Imposter Syndrome?

Mikela Wright: Imposter Syndrome is an internal experience of self-doubt and perceived fraudulence despite being successful or receiving positive feedback. Simply put, it’s a conflict between how you view yourself and achievements compared to how others view you. This feeling is commonly experienced by high-achievers and highly successful people but not limited to these groups. Downplaying your accomplishments, saying achievements are from luck, fearing of being considered a phony, and questioning your belonging are examples of how Imposter Syndrome can feel.

Personally, I have had multiple experiences of this phenomenon. My first experience of Imposter Syndrome was in college, then sporadically throughout my career as a Technology professional with a non-computer science background. A stand-out experience was when I was assigned to lead a major technology effort—cloud data migration. I was excited about this big opportunity yet questioned if others perceived that I knew all of the answers. “What happens if my lack of knowledge on this topic is revealed?” “How did I get here?” “Can I lead teams this way?” Despite having past success in leading complex projects and being viewed as a high-performer, my internalized questioning led to Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is more common than realized. At least 70% of people are projected to experience Imposter Syndrome at least once. A lot of these individuals doubt themselves privately and feel as if they are the only one feeling that feeling. Pluralistic ignorance is what this experience is called, and it is when you do not realize others are experiencing the same feelings you are as well. Two of the best examples of highly successful people who suffered from Imposter Syndrome include Maya Angelou and Albert Einstein. Despite their great accomplishments, there was this sense of questioning “how did I get here” and feelings of inadequacy despite success. It is important to me to share the message about Imposter Syndrome to highlight the fact that people of all genders, races, and ages can experience it and that you can experience it multiple times throughout your life.

GenHERation®: What are three ways you can attempt to conquer Imposter Syndrome? 

Wright: The ASPIRE© method has been the most impactful method for me to conquer the Imposter Syndrome. The ASPIRE© method highlights six steps to help you work through your feelings and identify a solution to shift your mindset from feeling like an imposter to feeling like an asset. I created the ASPIRE© method from research and taking a problem-solving approach to combat Imposter Syndrome. This process has been the most impactful because it is a repeatable step-by-step process to guide one’s mind toward achieving something. This is helpful since Imposter Syndrome has different patterns and can reoccur. Two other ways that help conquer Imposter Syndrome include listing and reflecting on past accomplishments and collecting positive feedback from peers and mentors. A bonus is to give yourself grace.

GenHERation®: When you are the leader of a group or an organization, how can you create an environment that discourages Imposter Syndrome? 

Wright: As a leader, it is important to realize Imposter Syndrome is an internal experience. All individuals may not be forthcoming about how they feel. It is the role of leaders to raise awareness and provide professional development opportunities to help build confidence for their teams. Leaders can also provide mentorship and create a neutral place to have conversations about Imposter Syndrome to share feelings and provide guidance. Studies show that once individuals are aware of Imposter Syndrome, they are more comfortable talking about it. I encourage leaders to seek feedback from others as well because this will encourage peers to do the same. Giving real-time positive feedback about strengths can lead to less feelings of self-doubt. 

GenHERation®: How can you best navigate discomfort (i.e. you are the newest member of a team)?

Wright: Whenever you join a new setting those feelings of discomfort always come. Remind yourself that you belong to be there because you were selected to be on the team to add value. Be kind to yourself and give yourself grace. A great way to break the ice is by asking questions. Ask your team members and manager: “How do you envision us working together?” “What role does my work play in your work?” “What value can I add?” Asking these types of questions can help give perspective on what your working relationships will look like and how you can get involved. It all starts with both managers and team members understanding expectations because a guessing game on both sides only creates self-doubt.

GenHERation®: What steps can you take to become your most confident self in all facets of your life? 

Wright: Having a growth mindset has been helpful for me. Looking back, I had this mindset early on before it was even branded. This mindset is all about believing that your talents can be developed, not believing “you either have it or you don’t.” Life is fluid and I believe the first and second try at something are always growth opportunities. It is also important to realize that failure and rejection are life lessons. By visualizing the outcome you want, you can focus on the task at hand. When you fail or receive rejection, it does not mean that you must change your goal, but rather your path to reaching that goal might have to change. Do not let change impact your confidence. If you do not know how to navigate something, ask for guidance from an expert. Building confidence comes from seeking advice and realizing you do not have to walk into the journey alone. 

GenHERation®: How do you define success? 

Wright: Success to me is striving for progress in spite of perfection. It’s all about learning and perception. My definition of success is accomplishing a goal or reaching a feeling that is true to myself. When something rings true to you and everything aligns it is the best feeling of success; peace. My version of success is dynamic and flexible, and it must resonate with being the best version I am capable of becoming. During shortcomings, perception is key because there can be success in failure. We are continuously learning, collecting information, and discovering new likes and dislikes. I may not nail everything perfectly all the time. I can learn from my mistakes and seek that feedback. Success is aspiring and not giving up.

GenHERation®: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given? 

Wright: I have a few. The first piece is advice I gave myself in college: “I rather fail at being myself than fail while trying to be someone else.” My second piece of advice is from my dad. He always told me to “stay focused on the task at hand.” This piece has been a consistent driver in my life, instilling that notion of “mind over matter” and to focus on what is in front of you. Lastly, one of my mom’s favorite scriptures, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” I try to be as realistic as possible, but by knowing that I can truly do all things I put my mind to, I can and will always aspire to be something positive. 

Mikela Wright is a motivational speaker and Software Engineering manager at Capital One. She leads software engineering teams in Enterprise Data and Machine Learning, and works closely with Customers to build innovative FinTech and Accounting solutions. Mikela has expertise in executing enterprise cloud transformation strategies, architecting data security and engineering pipelines, and leading software development.

As a technology leader with a non-computer science background, Mikela’s unique career journey inspired her to create the ASPIRE© method, a six-step process to navigate and combat imposter syndrome. She is a speaker and advocate in empowering others to build confidence and overcome self-doubt while pursuing their passions. She’s spoken at various conferences including Grace Hopper, Black is Tech, Women Who Code, America on Tech, and more.

Recognized as a Blacks in Technology Emerging Leader award recipient, Mikela is actively involved in initiatives that expose STEM to underrepresented communities, technology recruiting efforts to increase representation, and launched an enterprise mentoring program that serves nearly 200 Black technology professionals and allies.

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