The Empress Has No Clothes

Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success

Joyce Roché (Author) | Alexander Kopelman (Author)

Publication date: 05/07/2013

The Empress Has No Clothes

Helps readers suffering from unfounded feelings of not being good enough-known as the imposter syndrome-reclaim their lives

  • Helps readers suffering from unfounded feelings of not being good enough-known as the imposter syndrome-reclaim their lives
  • Written by a business world pioneer who candidly shares her struggles and coping strategies
  • Features interviews with top executives in organizations such as Eileen Fisher, Citigroup, BET, Pepsi, Tupperware, the WNBA, and Starbucks who have suffered from the imposter syndrome

Joyce Roché rose from humble circumstances to earn an Ivy League MBA and eventually become the first African-American vice president of Avon. She was later president of a leading hair care company and CEO of the nationally prominent nonprofit Girls Inc.

But she never felt she deserved her success. In fact, the phrase "the empress has no clothes" kept running through her head. She was nothing like the emperor in the Hans Christian Andersen story-she was certainly not a fraud. And yet that's how she'd always felt.

Roché discovered there was a name for this: the impostor syndrome. In this deeply personal memoir she shares her lifelong struggle with the imposter syndrome and offers advice and coping strategies based on her own experiences and those of other high-achieving leaders who have suffered from it.

As she tells her story, Roché, as well as her friends, identifies the situations and circumstances that can trigger these irrational feelings of inadequacy. For her, being from a working-class background, being black, being a woman, and often being younger than her professional peers made her feel she had to try that much harder to prove herself. But insidiously, the more she achieved, the more inadequate she felt. She was never able to enjoy her success; she just fell into a vicious cycle of ever-increasing work hours and an ever-decreasing personal life.

The imposter syndrome constricts people's lives, makes them waste time and emotional energy, and can even damage their health. The hard-won advice this book offers may never entirely silence the voice of doubt, but it can quiet it enough so that, like Joyce Roché, you can finally live a life of joy, zest, and true fulfillment.

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Overview

Helps readers suffering from unfounded feelings of not being good enough-known as the imposter syndrome-reclaim their lives

  • Helps readers suffering from unfounded feelings of not being good enough-known as the imposter syndrome-reclaim their lives
  • Written by a business world pioneer who candidly shares her struggles and coping strategies
  • Features interviews with top executives in organizations such as Eileen Fisher, Citigroup, BET, Pepsi, Tupperware, the WNBA, and Starbucks who have suffered from the imposter syndrome

Joyce Roché rose from humble circumstances to earn an Ivy League MBA and eventually become the first African-American vice president of Avon. She was later president of a leading hair care company and CEO of the nationally prominent nonprofit Girls Inc.

But she never felt she deserved her success. In fact, the phrase "the empress has no clothes" kept running through her head. She was nothing like the emperor in the Hans Christian Andersen story-she was certainly not a fraud. And yet that's how she'd always felt.

Roché discovered there was a name for this: the impostor syndrome. In this deeply personal memoir she shares her lifelong struggle with the imposter syndrome and offers advice and coping strategies based on her own experiences and those of other high-achieving leaders who have suffered from it.

As she tells her story, Roché, as well as her friends, identifies the situations and circumstances that can trigger these irrational feelings of inadequacy. For her, being from a working-class background, being black, being a woman, and often being younger than her professional peers made her feel she had to try that much harder to prove herself. But insidiously, the more she achieved, the more inadequate she felt. She was never able to enjoy her success; she just fell into a vicious cycle of ever-increasing work hours and an ever-decreasing personal life.

The imposter syndrome constricts people's lives, makes them waste time and emotional energy, and can even damage their health. The hard-won advice this book offers may never entirely silence the voice of doubt, but it can quiet it enough so that, like Joyce Roché, you can finally live a life of joy, zest, and true fulfillment.

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Meet the Authors


Visit Author Page - Joyce Roché

As a trailblazer in the corporate world for 25 years, Ms. Roché mentored women by encouraging them to fi nd their voices and take bold career risks to excel. Her vision for empowered businesswomen carried over into her work on behalf of girls when, in 2000, she assumed the role of president and CEO of Girls Inc. the nonprofi t organization whose mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. 

Before joining Girls Inc. Ms. Roché served as president and chief operating officer of Carson Products Company, and vice president of global marketing at Avon Products, Inc. While at Avon, Ms. Roché broke new ground, becoming Avon's first African American female vice president, the first African American vice president of marketing, and the company's first vice president of global marketing. 

Ms. Roché has received widespread acclaim for her achievements in the business world: In 1998, Business Week selected her as one of the Top Managers to Watch, and in 1997 she was featured on the cover of Fortune. In 2006, she received the Legacy Award during Black Enterprise magazine's Women of Power Summit, and in 2007 she received the Distinguished Alumna Award from Columbia University Women in Business. 

Ms. Roché is a graduate of Dillard University in New Orleans and holds an MBA from Columbia University. She has successfully completed Stanford University's Senior Executive Program and holds honorary doctorate degrees from Dillard University and North Adams State College. She currently sits on the board of directors of AT&T Inc. Macy's Inc. Tupperware Brands, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc. and the Association of Governing Boards. She is the chair of the board of trustees for Dillard University.



Visit Author Page - Alexander Kopelman

Mr. Kopelman is a writer and advocate committed to social justice and individual empowerment. He is the author and coauthor of nine other books, including From Rage to Reason: My Life in Two Americas, in collaboration with Janet Langhart Cohen, television personality; What Mama Taught Me, in collaboration with Tony Brown, host of Tony Brown's Journal on PBS; and The Miracles of Mentoring, in collaboration with Thomas W. Dortch, Jr. national chairman of The 100 Black Men of America, Inc.

Mr. Kopelman has a degree in English literature from Vassar College and an MBA in marketing from New York University. He is the founding president of the Children's Arts Guild, Inc. a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting boys in building social and emotional skills through the active exploration of creativity and the arts.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Edward E. Whitacre, Jr.

Preface

Are You an Impostor? (Take the Test)

Chapter 1 Breaking the Silence

Chapter 2 It's Not What You Wear

Chapter 3 What If You Have No Silver Spoon?

Chapter 4 Gender Matters

Chapter 5 What Color Is Your Parachute?

Chapter 6 But You Are So Young

Chapter 7 Climbing the Ladder

Chapter 8 What If the Naysayers Are Right?

Chapter 9 The Weight of the World

Chapter 10 What Did You Do to Get Here?

Chapter 11 Listen to Your Heart

Chapter 12 Joy, Zest, and Power

Afterword: Strategies for Confronting the Impostor Syndrome and Embracing Success

Acknowledgments

Index

About the Authors

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Excerpt

The Empress Has No Clothes

Chapter 1
Breaking the Silence

The impostor syndrome, at its core, is a distortion in the way we see ourselves. The trouble is that we believe the warped image to be reality—the “truth” we’ve somehow managed to hide from the rest of the world. We are petrified that we will be discovered and spend nearly all our energy guarding against that possibility.

One of the most difficult aspects of the impostor syndrome is the fact that it demands that we keep our feelings a secret. Don’t stay silent. Find a way to speak about your fears. Whether you do it with a trusted friend, a coach, a mentor, your partner, a therapist, or in a journal, give voice to all the feelings churning inside. (Writing to yourself can be one of the most effective methods to face the impostor syndrome. It was for me and many others.)

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I looked out the wall of windows of my corner office at the masts of the tall ships tied up at South Street Seaport and at the span of the Brooklyn Bridge just beyond. Cool, wintry early-morning sunshine filled the large room. The city was waking up but still quiet. And I had the entire office and the next hour and a half to myself.

“I have the best job in the world,” I said out loud, filled with the contented knowledge of being in just the right place at the right time. I had been President and CEO of Girls Inc., the nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, for just over five years and was more excited than ever to get up every morning and go to work. Helping hundreds of thousands of girls shape their futures went way beyond job satisfaction, it fed my soul. At long last, I felt like a real success.

It had not always been so. In over twenty-five years of singular achievements in corporate America, I had risen to unprecedented heights for an African American woman, becoming the first to be named an officer of Avon Products, a Fortune 500 company. Just about every new accomplishment, however, came with the stultifying doubt that I did not deserve the success and that sooner or later I would be discovered as an impostor.

I glanced at the book galleys on my desk. The journalist and author Ellyn Spragins had asked me to contribute to her book What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self and had just sent me the proofs as the book neared the final stages of production. I picked up the galleys and reread the letter addressed to Joyce at thirty-three.

Dear Joyce,

You may not have set out to be a pioneer, but here you are, out front, one of the few African American women working up the corporate ladder. You achieve more every year, but each leap exerts more pressure. Who would have thought success could feel so much like a burden?

Yes, you thrive on it. You love marketing, and the more you work, the more you’re consumed and fascinated by it. Here at Revlon, you’re setting a personal record, working morning till night—and both days on weekends. Exercise? Forget about it. You can’t even plan a lunch, because chances are a meeting will be called at noon.

You’re not complaining, because, strangely, there’s a giddiness in such hard work. You risked a lot every time you seized an opportunity that presented itself. Laboring ever more intensely shows you’re worthy of the chances you’ve been given. It also props open the door for every African American woman who might be coming behind you.

This is what you tell yourself—and it’s all true. But it only goes so far. The way you drink up that steady stream of praise and recognition is a tip-off. You did a good job. You belong here. We want to make you an officer of the company.

Ever wonder why the glow wears off so soon? Because somewhere, deep inside, you don’t believe what they say. You think it’s a matter of time before you stumble, and “they” discover the truth. You’re not supposed to be here. We knew you couldn’t do it. We should have never taken a chance on you.

The threat of failure scares you into these long hours. Yet success only intensifies the fear of discovery.

Stop. It. Now. You’re not an impostor. You’re the genuine article. You have the brainpower. You have the ability. You don’t have to work so hard and worry so much. You’re going to do just fine. You deserve a place at the table.

And at the end of it all, people will remember you not for hours you worked but for the difference you made in the world.

Love,

Joyce

That letter was a turning point for me. As I had thought about it, an odd phrase kept popping up in my mind: “The Empress has no clothes. The Empress has no clothes.” It was so strange and seemingly out of context. But it was insistent enough that I thought I had better pay attention to whatever its message might be. The only thing I could think of was to go back and reread Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, in which the Emperor really has no clothes.

What I—as most of us, I think—remember about the famous fable was that the vain Emperor goes parading through his realm naked because neither he nor any of his people want to admit that they cannot see the new “suit” the grifters posing as weavers had “made” for him. What struck me now, however, was the clothes’ purported magical quality: “[The weavers] proclaimed that they knew how to weave cloth of the most beautiful colors and patterns, the clothes manufactured from which should have the wonderful property of remaining invisible to everyone who was unfit for the office he held, or who was extraordinarily stupid.”

In the story, it is the fear of being seen as unfit for one’s office or as being stupid that keeps everyone, except an innocent child, silent. I recognized that fear immediately as the one I had encountered so frequently throughout my life—the terror of being unmasked as an impostor “unfit” for my post. I thought about all the times that fear had kept me from speaking out, had insisted that I work twenty-hour days, had whispered in my ear that I did not deserve the promotions and recognition. “They’ll find you out,” it kept saying. The letter for Ellyn’s book came straight from all those memories and a newfound confidence to confront my fear of being an impostor.

That quiet morning in my office, as I took in the words, I felt a new sense of pride. I had not only succeeded in spite of all these fears, I had learned how to quiet them enough to enjoy my success.

I leaned back in my chair and looked at a brightly colored tugboat guiding a barge downriver. In a wink, I was transported back home to New Orleans, a young girl watching barges carefully threading their way along the Industrial Canal. I could almost smell the diesel of the tugs mixing with the heavy scent of Mississippi river mud as I crossed the bridge that divided the Ninth Ward from the rest of the city.

I was just a year old, the youngest of nine children, when my mother moved the family from our hometown of Iberville, Louisiana, to New Orleans after my father was killed in a hit-and-run accident. She had two older sisters in the city, neither of whom had children of their own, and figured that raising us kids would be a whole lot easier in a place where she could get steady work and help looking after us. By the time I was old enough to remember, our household spanned between Mama’s house and Aunt Rose’s house a few blocks away.

Neither Mama nor Aunt Rose had gone beyond the eighth grade in school because they had had to go to work. However, they reminded us every day that education was our ticket to doing more in life, to getting beyond the limitations other people would try to put on us. This was the South in the 1950s, mind you, so, as young African Americans, there were lots of limitations we had to face.

“Joyce Marie,” I heard Aunt Rose’s familiar voice in my mind, “if you work hard and study, there is nothing in this world that can stop you. Get an education, and you can make something of yourself.”

As I surveyed my life on that bright New York morning in 2005, I knew that Aunt Rose and Mama would have been proud—much more so of the person I had become than just of the things I had accomplished. And I wondered why it had taken me so long to become proud of me and to trust that I was worthy of success.

I flashed on the exact moment I became aware of the change, when I felt more confident and comfortable with my success. After nearly two decades at the company, I had risen to the post of Vice President of Global Marketing at Avon. And I was doing a great job, leading the establishment of the company’s first global marketing organization and creating strategies that generated close to a billion and a half dollars in worldwide sales. In spite of that, when a position with even more responsibility became available, I was passed up for the promotion. Needless to say, I was not happy. I had encountered the proverbial glass ceiling on several occasions before, but this time, rather than doubting myself, I decided to embrace my success and to step out and believe in my abilities. I knew I deserved that position. Somehow, without even realizing it, I had internalized my success as something I had earned. It was as if a spell had been broken.

I had traveled so far in my thoughts, I was a little startled when I heard Yolanda, my executive assistant, say, “Good morning, Joyce.”

The workday had begun, and I would have to return to exploring thoughts about the meaning and the price of success at another time.

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I had occasion to revisit this theme in just a few short months, when my letter, along with two others, was excerpted from Ellyn’s book in advance of publication in O Magazine, in early 2006. The calls, e-mail messages, and letters started coming in immediately. Their volume only increased when the book came out in April. Everyone, it seemed, from young women just entering college to male CEOs of blue-chip companies, wanted to talk about their own fears of being unmasked as impostors.

My very personal reflections had struck a raw nerve for thousands of people. By their very nature, impostor feelings tend to keep people silent. They are secret fears that we are lacking in some way. Who wants to admit to not being worthy of their post, right? But they are also a terrible burden to carry around by yourself. So when they read my letter, people wanted to talk, to share, to get the weight off their chests.

One of the most surprising conversations I had at that time was with Ed Whitacre, former chair and CEO of AT&T, on whose board I served. Ed was as buttoned-up as they come, and was someone whom I felt could not possibly have any self-doubt. So I was more than a little taken aback when he came up to me after a meeting and said, “Great letter, Joyce. And a brave thing to do. But you know, that feeling you describe, it doesn’t affect just women and minorities. I’ve had my share of moments when I felt people would find out I didn’t make the grade.” I could see in his eyes that he had shared something with me he had not told very many others and nodded my acknowledgement. With that, he moved off to shake hands around the board table.

Through all the conversations I have had, I kept thinking what a shame it was that many smart, talented, accomplished people were so tortured by doubt they could not enjoy the success they worked so very hard to achieve. I knew firsthand how awful it was never to feel quite sure enough of yourself to relax, and I wondered what caused so many of us to feel such anxiety.

I heard the term impostor syndrome for the first time during a panel discussion in which I participated with two other women whose letters appeared in Ellyn’s book, Eileen Fisher, the clothing designer, and Shannon Miller, the Olympic gymnast. During the question-and-answer session, a young woman directed a question to me: “Joyce, you spoke of the encouragement and support you got from your family. How do you reconcile that with the impostor syndrome you describe in your letter?”

“Well, it helped that I didn’t know I had a syndrome,” I joked. “Seriously, though, that’s a great question. The support and encouragement gave me the strength to take the risks I took in the first place. Without them I would have just done what was expected. But that’s the conundrum of this whole thing. I was the one taking the risks, and yet I felt as if I was only getting anywhere because somebody else was giving me a chance. And I had to work harder and harder to be deserving of those chances.”

That evening, when I got home, I went online immediately and started searching for information. Now that I knew it had a name, I wanted to know what exactly the impostor syndrome was and what caused it.

I did find some references but very few, and all almost exclusively concerned with academia. The one I found the most fascinating was what I later learned was the seminal article on the subject published in the fall of 1978, in the journal Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice, by two psychotherapists, Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D and Suzanne Imes, Ph.D, “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.”

The article, based on the doctors’ work with “over 150 highly successful women,” defined, for the first time, the impostor phenomenon:

Despite outstanding academic and professional
accomplishments, women who experience the impostor
phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright
and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous
achievements, which one might expect to provide ample object
[sic] evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not
appear to affect the impostor belief.

The authors went on to describe the experiences of these women, suggest possible root causes of the phenomenon, and propose ways to treat it. Although I identified with many of the feelings the women described, frankly, I found some just too extreme to be believable, like the insistence of a woman with “two master’s degrees, a Ph.D, and numerous publications to her credit” that she was “unqualified to teach remedial college classes in her field.” I had to remind myself to remain kind, calling to mind the kinds of mental gymnastics I had resorted to over the years to keep believing my success was a fluke.

And then I got to the last sentence, which described what happens when a person lets go of her impostor feelings: “She begins to be free of the burden of believing she is a phony and can more fully participate in the joy, zest, and power of her accomplishments.” Wow, I thought, that is how we all ought to live, with joy, zest, and power. I just kept repeating those three words: Joy, zest, and power. Joy, zest, and power. And every time I said them, I felt like doing a little dance.

But it was another line from the article that really lodged itself in my soul: “If one woman is willing to share her secret, others are able to share theirs.” I had seen just how eager people were to unburden themselves, and I began to hear a call. People started suggesting to me that I write a book based on my own experience with the impostor syndrome and that of the people who had responded to me. What appealed most to me about this idea was the prospect of helping thousands and thousands of people break the silence that makes the impostor syndrome such an isolating and heavy burden. I knew firsthand how liberating it was to let go of the secret and to speak of the fear out loud, and I wanted to pave the way for others to shake off their stultifying secret so they could start enjoying their success earlier in life than I had.

Eileen Fisher, founder of the iconic clothing company, Eileen Fisher Inc., found that comfort as she developed effective strategies for quieting the voices that say, “You are not good enough. You don’t belong here.” Eileen launched her business in 1984, with $350 in savings and a desire to create simple clothes that make the woman important, that let her relax into herself. She is now the chief creative officer of the $300 million employee-owned company.

In our conversation, Eileen spoke very movingly about her own path of overcoming the feeling of being an impostor and her wish for her own children and all young people to learn how to be comfortable with who they are as human beings.

Eileen Fisher: Relaxing Into Ourselves

I grew up in the Midwest, in a suburb of Chicago called Des Plaines, the home of McDonald’s. I am from a family of six girls and one boy. My dad used to say jokingly that children should be seen and not heard, and that was pretty much the idea. My parents weren’t stern or anything. It was just that our opinions didn’t matter, and we weren’t drawn out. We were part of a bundle of kids.

My mother was overwhelmed by the kids, the house. Our general idea was to hide from her, stay out of the kitchen, stay out of her way, just be invisible and avoid what we used to call “ranting and raving.”

We were a Catholic family, so I went to Catholic school for twelve years. There, if you stepped out of line a little bit, you got yelled at. And so you just always kept yourself small, tried not to be seen.

So none of us kids ever stood out or gave our opinion. We had this desperate need to fit in. I spent my life as a girl trying to make myself small—not seen and not heard.

At the same time, I must have had some need to break away, because I wanted to go to college. That was kind of a shock to my father. He said, “I’m glad, but we don’t have the money to send six girls to college. I’m saving the only money we have for your brother.”

I put myself through college at the University of Illinois and ended up with a degree in home economics. After that, I moved around a bit. There weren’t very many jobs in the seventies.

I finally came to New York, with my Midwestern portfolio and my home economics degree, trying to be an interior designer. It was a hard, hard road. I worked in interior design and graphic design, but I didn’t feel like I was a real designer. I sort of felt like an impostor. I struggled getting clients and getting jobs and projects. I don’t think I would have been able to get a job as a clothing designer. I had to start my own company to believe in myself.

The amazing thing is that even as I became successful, I kept getting this message from people around me that I was the last person they expected to do well. What kept me going was the sense of rightness I felt once I started the clothing business. It wasn’t just about business, it was about making something that made women feel good, about clothes that created confidence. I felt I had found my spot, and that gave me validation.

I began to develop confidence in myself as a designer, to believe that I understood something meaningful and that I had a talent. But I didn’t have confidence in me. I wasn’t at all sure I was OK.

I found communicating with people especially hard and began to realize I was not going to succeed if I had to explain my designs all the time and negotiate about why this one was better than that one. Even today, I am still terrified of standing in front of groups and speaking. I guess it throws me back to my childhood, when I was not supposed to be heard, when it was important to be invisible because someone might not like you.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I don’t feel like I have to know everything or be everything. But I did spend many years in therapy—along with journaling, yoga and meditation—to get here. And I keep up my meditation practice, and I find that it really helps me stay centered on a daily basis.

I think a lot of us build our careers believing that titles or money will help us get respect. And they do, to some extent. But professional success can leave that hole there right in the center of who you are, that missing sense of I’m just OK.

The message I want to give people—what I would have wished for myself—is that the most important thing you can do is work on your core personal confidence as a human being.

If people understand and are comfortable with their essence, they are able to do many more wonderful things. I feel like I’m just coming into my sense of myself and realizing that I’m more than a clothing designer, that I can have a joyful life, that I can contribute to the world in lots of different ways—supporting leadership in women and girls is just one of them. I’m getting to that place of really feeling comfortable and confident about who I am. It’s just taken so long. I feel like I went the roundabout way. And I would like it to be different for my son and my daughter and young people everywhere. I want them to work on who they are as human beings rather than what they do.

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I invite you to entertain, for a moment, the possibility that the way the rest of the world sees you—as competent, knowledgeable, accomplished, and successful—is actually more accurate than the way you see yourself. It is difficult, I know. But if you can tolerate the discomfort, you will probably glimpse the kind of joyful life Eileen describes. After many, many years of struggling with the anxiety of feeling like an impostor, I assure you that such a life is well worth the effort required to gain a more balanced view of yourself.

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Endorsements

“The impostor syndrome is all too common among highly successful people—and until now a closely guarded secret! Joyce Roché's insights will make success at each stage of our life and career a more joyful experience for those of us—such as me—who have felt this insecurity.”
—Rick Goings, Chairman and CEO, Tupperware Brands Corporation

“Whether you are just starting your career or are nearing its pinnacle, this book will do more than help you navigate effectively; it will help you enjoy the journey.”
—Earl “Butch” Graves Jr., President and CEO, Black Enterprise

“This is a book that is so needed by women—especially younger women. [It] offers hope, guidance, and gentle mentorship to all of us who have ever confronted the fear of not measuring up.”
—Rosina L. Racioppi, President and CEO, Women Unlimited, Inc.

“Silence and isolation are the hallmarks of the impostor syndrome. Joyce's courage in speaking out will be tremendously helpful to all those who have ever experienced these feelings by letting them know that they are not alone.”
—Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, psychotherapist who, with Suzanne Imes, PhD, first identified the impostor syndrome

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