During the 2021 Adler Vancouver Commencement Ceremony, held on November 20, graduate Makeda Henry addressed 2020 and 2021 graduates with her speech about Imposter Syndrome and overcoming perfectionism. Makeda Henry received her Master of Arts in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Adler University Vancouver. Read Henry’s entire speech below.
Hello, Class of 2021.
It is a privilege that we are all here today. Firstly, I would like to say that I am grateful to live, work, and play on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqeam Nations.
I am honoured to be the commencement speaker for this year’s graduating class. I would like to thank parents, family members, friends, and the Adler Community for your commitment to our success.
When I started Adler two years ago, Dr. Crossman told us at orientation that “you will be a different person at the end of your program.” I thought this meant I would be brave, that I would be confident, and that I would have all the knowledge in the world to step out and be the exact thing I came here for – an IO psychologist. The truth is, at the end of Adler, I had more questions about what my next steps were and who I was. I asked myself so many times, am I ready, and why don’t I feel like I belong in the world Adler has prepared me for.
When I got the call to be the commencement speaker, truthfully, I said I needed to think about it. I sat, and I thought, and what came up for me, is why me? And am I really good enough?
These feelings that I’m sharing with you are what we call Imposter Syndrome. A feeling shared by many. According to Harvard Business Review (because references are important), Imposter Syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. This was a term that many of you and I used over the past year.
The first time I heard this term was at the beginning of my second year. I had an aha moment because finally there was a term to describe how I felt almost daily. I also imagined that my peers had these exact feelings, resulting in me organizing a workshop called ‘Overcoming Imposter Syndrome’. But, I’ll give you an example of when I experienced this.
It took me approximately a year or more to write my thesis, but I did most of my writing in the last 3 months. When I started, I thought that I had nothing good to put on paper. It did not matter how much research I did. I just felt like what I had to say was never good enough. I am sure you’ve all experienced moments of doubt. Maybe you have asked yourself, Will I be able to write policies? Will I be able to provide meaningful counselling? Will I be able to make organizations better? And, I am even capable of making an impact?
My imposter syndrome had to do with my perfectionism. In fact, perfectionism is one of the five types of imposter syndrome. I overcame these feelings because of constant reminders from both my friends and myself that “Done is better than perfect”. This mindset created a fuel that led me to finish my thesis on time. It was also the reminder that there is no such thing as perfect but also that what makes my work valuable is me. There is no one else who is me.
Though we may have had more questions about our worth as we got closer to the end, despite the constant battle we have, we are here today—all of us sitting in our gowns, wearing our caps and hopefully feeling proud. We have been through practicums where we had to throw ourselves in and learn to swim. We’ve had to write papers where sometimes we didn’t know where to begin, but we got to the end. And many of us have stayed up late at night or woke very early in the morning to do the things we weren’t so sure of. My point is that we are doing better than we think. All of this work that we have done shows that we are capable and that we are enough. All of that work and more is what has led us to be here today.
To finalize, I would like to say that while this is an ending to an era, it is also the beginning of the great things that we will do. Our doubts can often get in the way of the things we hope to achieve. However, my hope is that we remember why we started. My hope is that we take a look at ourselves and see how qualified we are even though we are still learning. Adler himself believed that these feelings of doubt are actually motivating factors to success. And so, my last hope is that we use our doubts to fuel our actions but also to remember that what makes your work valuable is you.
Today is a big day for each of us. Take a deep breath and take your accomplishments in. You have earned it, and you deserve it.
Thank you and congratulations!