The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success

The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success

by Joyce M. Roché

ISBN: 9781609946364

Publisher Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Published in Business & Investing/Women & Business, Business & Investing/Personal Finance

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Book Description

You Deserve Your Success!

Joyce Roche rose from humble circumstances to earn an Ivy League MBA and become the first female African-American vice president of Avon, president of a leading hair care company, and CEO of the national nonprofit Girls Inc.

But despite these accomplishments, she felt like a fraud. She worked more and more, had less and less of a personal life, and was never able to enjoy her success.

In this deeply personal memoir, Roche shares her lifelong struggle with what she now recognizes as "the impostor syndrome," a condition that plagues successful people in all walks of life. Based on her own experiences and those of top executives from organizations such as Eileen Fisher, Citigroup, BET, Pepsi, and Tupperware, she offers practical advice and valuable coping strategies that can help you embrace your own worth and live a life of joy, zest, and fulfillment.


Sample Chapter


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.)

* * *

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.



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(Continues…)

Excerpted from "The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success" by Joyce M. Roché. Copyright © 2013 by Joyce M. Roché. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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