Pacinthe Mattar, HBA ’08 and associate producer at CBC Radio One, shared her experiences dealing with impostor syndrome while following her dreams during last Thursday’s Backpack to Briefcase event.
Impostor syndrome is when an individual feels inadequate, even in the face of success. They attribute their success to luck, feel unqualified, and fear others will find out that they are frauds. Research shows that mostly women, racialized individuals, and individuals from lower incomes suffer from impostor syndrome.
While at UTM, Mattar studied political science, was a residence don, volunteered at the international student resource centre, was a mentor with the Accessibility Centre, and wrote for campus publications including the Bulletin. She received the Gordon Cressey award, the highest award that recognizes student volunteerism, and the Principal’s Award for achievement in and out of class.
Mattar admitted that even as she stood at the podium during Thursday’s alumni event, she felt unqualified to speak and feared the audience wouldn’t find her speech valuable. Learning to tell that voice to “shut up” is something that she continues to do.
Mattar said that the first time she felt impostor syndrome was at UTM, when she had been chosen to be the valedictorian.
“Automatically, my reaction was, ‘This can’t be right. I’m not the smartest. I failed math. I got an F in calculus,’ ” she said.
Her response to being valedictorian, Mattar realized, is part of the impostor thought process.
She joked that she chose to do journalism at Ryerson to avoid ever dealing with math again. On her first assignment, she received a zero. Mattar had misspelled her main interviewee’s name. “My professor, a veteran from the Wall Street Journal, said to me: ‘If I can’t trust you to spell a name right, how can you be trusted to get other facts right?’ ” she said.
In the second year of the program, the Ryerson journalism students had to find their own internship placements. Mattar applied to the CBC. On the day of her interview, she showed up at the wrong entrance of a large building.
“The person who came to get me told me I’d made of a lot of important people late,” she said. Mattar had imagined they would take it easy on her since she was just a journalism student. Instead, they asked her hard questions.
“I left that interview feeling like I’d been hit by a train. I felt there was no way I’d be working for the CBC,” she said.
However, CBC called and offered Mattar a six-week unpaid internship. Her job was to pitch and produce three-to-five-minute interviews about the top news stories of the day.
“There’s no handholding. No one sits you down to explain how things are done. You’re thrown in the deep end and you have to figure things out along the way,” she said, adding that it wasn’t until her fifth week that she figured things out.
The internship ended with no indication that Mattar would ever see the inside of the CBC offices again. Days later, her assignment coordinator called. Someone was sick and she asked if Mattar could come in for just that day.
Mattar signed her name to a contract that changed her from an unpaid intern to a paid freelancer. “Did they really want me? In my head, the justification was that there was no one else to call, so I told myself, ‘Don’t get too comfortable,’ ” she said.
She admitted that she was never comfortable at CBC. It was a pressure cooker of competition, deadlines, and the pressure to get facts accurate. Mattar’s anxiety of screwing up never went away.
“There were days I was told I wasn’t a good producer, that I was too young. I was called into my executive producer’s office and told I wasn’t pulling my weight enough, and they were reconsidering why they’d hired me,” she said.
The work was unpredictable. Sometimes it was daily—other times, weeks would go by without anything. Mattar describes it as a game of checking her email.
One night at 9:00 p.m., Mattar got a call. Would she be able to fill in for a producer who came in at 4:00 a.m.?
The next morning found Mattar sitting with the decision-makers who decided what stories to cover.
She proposed covering the pending revolution in Egypt. After the meeting, she contacted an Egyptian journalist she had spoken to on Twitter the night before. He agreed to an interview and spoke on that morning’s news. It was the first story the CBC ran about the events in Egypt.
Co-workers who had previously never known who she was asked her how she’d come up with the story. Mattar remembers feeling that she had no credit to take because her contact had been a good interviewee.
Her next step was to apply to As It Happens, an interview show on CBC’s Radio One. She did on-air translations of the Egyptian coverage. From there, she went to The Current, another CBC Radio One show. While with The Current, Mattar took stories that scared her.
“This is the part where I tell you how I cured myself of the impostor syndrome,” Mattar said towards the end of presentation. “Truth is, I still haven’t found it. Only tips l can share with you that I use to deal with it.” Mattar’s advice is to believe people when they compliment you on work well done. Keep a log of past successes. Say yes to opportunities that scare you. “Scare that inner impostor voice into being quiet forever.”
Mattar said she deactivates her social media sometimes to ground herself. Social media acts as people’s highlight reels and it becomes easy to forget the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.
Mattar remembers reaching out to a senior co-worker on a stressful day.
“I told her how I felt and what I thought,” she said. “She told me that no one cared about me because they were busy thinking about themselves. She said something that changed the way I think: ‘No one cares about you except you.’ ”