How to overcome self doubt and imposter syndrome from a toxic job

January 6, 2022
Mariam Zohouri

“They just didn’t take it that way.” 

Years ago, a colleague had pulled me aside after a team meeting to give me this warning.

I remember feeling sick. I hardly remember what I said. 

If you’re a member of a historically marginalized group, this is a story you know all too well. 

No matter how hard you try to prove that you’re good, worthy, and willing to make sacrifices for the team, it doesn’t make a difference—until the self-doubt, imposter syndrome and anxiety manifest themselves into the bludgeoning weight of burnout.

But, my friend, it is not your fault.

If the sneering voice in your head is trying to tell you otherwise, you need to read this interview with Dayana Cadet.

A certified coach helping women, femmes, and non-binary folks get “unstuck” and live life with purpose and confidence, Dayana’s been through it all.

She breaks down how you can overcome self doubt and imposter syndrome to quit your toxic job and build the career—and life—you deserve.

We found incredible coaches like Dayana to help you gain confidence, reduce work anxiety, and connect with people who’ve been there, too.

Gain mentorship from experts who are fiercely committed to your success.

Get on the waitlist for Growclass today.

Mariam Zohouri: On your website, you described wondering whether your horrible work experiences were happening to you or because of you. Why is this distinction important, particularly for historically marginalized people?  

Dayana Cadet: I never thought to make that distinction until I read somewhere that racism doesn't happen to you because you're Black, it happens to you because that person is racist. 

A lot of my work is about reframing experiences to understand what isn't yours to internalize. With racism or prejudice it's easy to take a long line of negative work experiences and internalize it, especially if you are self reflective. 

Even though I was working hard, I kept getting the same results—whether I was at a new company, working with different managers or in a new industry. And what's the common denominator? Me.  

What that doesn't take into account for historically marginalized people is the sheer scale and power and insidiousness built into systemic racism and oppression. 

It’s so much bigger than you can imagine. That's why it's important to take a step back. But it’s hard to accept. I work a lot with my clients to help them gain the skills to remind themselves of that, at the right moment. 

Mariam: I've navigated and have had friends experience similar things. It burns you out. And you don't realize that you aren't the problem until you go out on your own and start working with truly supportive and understanding leaders.  

Dayana: It's hard to believe if you've been going through it for however many years, right? I've been working for 16 years and have held 21 jobs at 11 companies across three different industries. Like that is a lot of data to pull from. 

Going out on my own was the first step to realizing that it wasn't on me.  

Even now, as I'm doing this coaching, I do marketing consulting on the side. I still needed to pay my bills while I figured out this coaching thing. But the minute I decided I was done running that rat race, I ended up finding a client with leadership and a culture that is everything I've ever wanted and needed to flourish. I'm still in awe of it.  

Like, I just said something, and you listened to me? And emphatically agreed? And didn't try to question or undermine me or take credit for my ideas? You trust me and think I'm an expert? I mean, I know I am, but you think so? It makes a huge difference.  

Unfortunately, for a lot of historically marginalized people, it can feel impossible to find a work environment like that. And it's not okay. We've moved beyond the narrative of fighting for a seat at the table because that table was not meant for us. 

We're now about building our own table, our own seat, our own room, because we're never going to win in a system that was built to see us lose. 

You've also mentioned that taking a mental health leave was game-changing for you. How can someone find out if their company offers this and prepare to take this time? 

Dayana: I didn't feel comfortable at the start. You're battling the implications of how it will look to management. How is that going to affect my reputation, my social capital? 

I went to people I trusted until I felt ready to make my request. I ended up using words that my therapist and I crafted together and I emailed my manager. 

It's just as important to figure out if mental health leave is available for you as it is to make sure you have a support system in place, because you will want to back down, you will be afraid, you will worry about how it looks to others. On top of navigating how this will impact your status as an employee, as well as your pay.  

Once I made the official request, it was like anything else with work. There was a process with official channels, contacts and an updated pay structure. Once it's done, you'll feel great. 

It is a privilege to work at a company that offers this. For most of my career I didn't have that option.  

Mariam: I took a mental health break, but I didn't do it through work. When you hear that someone's taken that time, you assume that they have the confidence to know that everything will be ok. You don't think about how anxiety inducing the process is, which is why I really appreciate your honesty with me here.

Dayana: Absolutely. The first time I ever took mental health leave it wasn't an official thing. My therapist wrote me a note saying that I cannot work for the next two weeks. 

I remember giving this note to my manager, bawling, my hands shaking, and before I told him what the note was about I was apologizing and saying that I don't want to let the team down, and that I was trying my best. 

He didn't know what I was talking about. When he finally figured out what I was saying he was like, "Oh my god, yes, go ahead."  

It's not a mark of weakness if you need support. I needed hand holding the entire time from my friends and therapist. I wouldn't have been able to go through with it on my own. 

It took me a month to get the courage to talk to my coworker about it and even then I didn't do anything with that information for several weeks. And then I asked someone in HR and didn't do anything with that information for several weeks. It was scary. 

Mariam: In your coaching, you infuse frameworks inspired by cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Why was it important for you to include psychologist-improved models?  

Dayana: Coming into the space as a coach and as a Black woman, you're used to constantly being undermined and underestimated. 

The field is currently pretty unregulated. Anyone can call themselves a coach. Knowing my intentions, and how much I wanted to help, I felt like I had to come correct. That's why I went through the trouble of getting a certification.

I needed to be as official as possible, to get past any barriers to trust. I don't want to be pulling anything out of my ass. A big part of a coach's success is in how you connect with people, with your clients. 

My life motto is "Be the person you wish you had when you were struggling the most." I had to pull myself out of many of my life's biggest struggles alone. 

I’ve only recently developed a great support network with my friends and therapist. From my childhood through my mid 20s I had to figure stuff out on my own. A lot of what I do to help people stems from my own experiences and what has helped me.  

When I was on mental health leave, a doctor referred me to a free Canadian platform on cognitive behavioral therapy. You go through the modules on your own then connect with a therapist who will guide on what you've learned.  

I gained tangible models and frameworks to understand my mental health. It's all internal. That’s when I realized the importance of getting out of your head to confront these issues. 

Those voices in your head are passive. It's not usually a structured conversation that goes back and forth between you and your inner voice. You don't notice it's happening but you notice how it makes you feel.  

I realized through CBT the importance of confronting that passive voice in those moments—what I call cognitive confrontations. If you don't, in time you'll take these passive thoughts for granted. CBT helped me parse fact from my own negative personal narrative. 

Mariam: What is a personal narrative, and how can someone work on changing their thoughts without it feeling forced?  

Dayana: Our personal narrative includes passive thoughts, negative self talk, limiting beliefs, self-doubt. It's a mosaic made up of the experiences and lessons you learned as a child. Which is why you first have to unpack where they came from.  

I grew up in a very chaotic household where I was sometimes neglected. It was easier and safer for me to step back and be a quiet observer. My coping mechanism, my survival strategy, was becoming The Shy, Quiet Kid. 

Next thing I know I'm a working adult and I'm still The Shy Girl. I never questioned it. It was my identity. I don't even remember if I put that on myself, or if other people did. 

Once I found a core group of friends and was in an environment where I felt safe and supported, I became more confident, more capable. 

In those dark, quiet moments it's easy to regress to your inner child, to that person who didn't have their needs met, in the hopes of having them fulfilled now.

Again, all of this happens passively in your mind. You don't see it happening. 

I realized I needed to reframe my personal narrative when people started asking me if I would ever do public speaking. I said no, I was shy, but friends who were in hearing distance scoffed, like, "Do you even know what shy means?" 

Then I’d argue with them. But why? Why fight to maintain a narrative that isn't necessarily a good thing? That was a moment of clarity. It forced me to look at the facts, and ask questions, and garner data to help rewire what I thought about myself.   

I used my personal narrative to turn down opportunities, to make myself small. But I wasn't in an environment where I needed to do that anymore. It was no longer serving me. I wasn't that person anymore, and other people noticed. 

It's really important to unpack your personal narrative on a regular basis, to reframe it to be something that serves you. 

Certain social situations make me anxious. But I have the skills and charisma to overcome that. People connect with me, they connect with my story, so that's what I focus on. That’s my motivation. 

Mariam: Navigating these things without a support system can feel impossible, which is why I'm so excited that you're joining Growclass as a coach. Because this shit is hard. 

Dayana: Yes it is. My books are also open for 2022, and I work with women, self-identifying femmes of all genders. Accessibility is really important to me because the demographic I serve has been hit hard by the pandemic. 

There are prices on my website but I never want that to be prohibitive for anyone. So if anyone is curious about working with me and their budget is the one thing that's keeping them from it, reach out and we'll figure it out.


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