My imposter syndrome almost got in the way again

January 30, 2020

I had no business applying for Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media. At least, that’s what my imposter syndrome kept telling me.

I wasn’t an editor. I wasn’t in management. Surely, smarter and more qualified people deserved the fellowship more, right? I applied anyway because I was tired of holding myself back.

For years, I heard how powerful Poynter academies are, how they empower you. I expected to learn practical leadership tools like how to manage projects. Still, I kept my expectations low. Nothing can live up to such hype, right? I was prepared to be underwhelmed, even disappointed.

I was not prepared for how completely life-changing it would be to spend a week with some of the smartest leaders in media discussing how to create opportunities where we are, how to navigate difficult conversations and how to overcome that imposter syndrome that stalls too many of us.

These three takeaways alone have completely changed the way I approach my career.

Ignore the imposter. Everyone struggles with insecurities at some point — even the bosses.

Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean that all goes away, I’ve learned. We repeatedly heard from some of the most successful newsroom leaders who shared brutally honest moments of self-doubt.

The best defense? Be your authentic self. True leaders get out of their comfort zone, ignore the imposter and take chances anyway.

This prompted a lot of self-reflection. I really was the one standing in my own way.

Our coach Sharif Durhams, senior editor at CNN Digital, asked me why I stop myself from seeking editor jobs. “Because I’ll edit an error into the first story I touch. The paper will get sued. I’ll get fired. The whole media industry will collapse!” One of my fellow classmates who is an editor bolted up and shouted, “Yes! Exactly! That’s exactly how I feel every single day.”

Of course, we know we don’t have that much power despite our considerable talents. But the pressure we put on ourselves is real.

That moment was probably the first time that week I was able to truly exhale. I wasn’t alone in this.


Do you want to apply for Poynter’s 2020 Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media? Apply by Feb. 14.


Honesty with love. Navigating critical conversations can be wrought with landmines.

The practical exercises with Poynter and guest faculty forced me to think through my own upcoming discussions. What makes me reactive rather than productive? How can I encourage coworkers to have difficult conversations without feeling they’re on defense?

ABC’s Candi Carter said it best when she described how honest conversations — even negative feedback — is critical for the health of an organization and for employees. It is hard to progress if you don’t know where your obstacles are. Honesty with love, as she calls it.

This helped me have difficult but genuine conversations with colleagues about how The Dallas Morning News could be more thoughtful about diversity and inclusion in our coverage and in our newsroom. I was overseeing a committee that presented diversity recommendations focused on solutions, respect and engagement. As the editors finalize plans, I’m excited that many key components we suggested are included, such as specific strategies to reach out to typically underserved communities. 

Broadcast your worth. This isn’t bragging. Demonstrating to managers — and even your coworkers — what you bring to the table builds relationships, trust and respect.

This allows your colleagues to know that they can depend on you for that special project. They see your commitment to the work and organization.

I have never been shy about speaking my mind, but touting my own value does not come naturally. But after I returned from Poynter, I made a point to have lunch with each of my top editors. This gave me the opportunity to not only highlight my work and ambitions but to learn more about them and the needs of the paper. Since then, I’ve been given more opportunities to lead in the newsroom. Most recently, I was asked to join other newsroom leaders in promoting workplace integrity through Power Shift training.

No, I don’t have a big new job title to brag about. But I do know that I’m not letting that imposter syndrome stop me anymore. Even if I stumble a bit, I know I have the tools to be a successful leader. And I know Poynter will be the reason why.


Eva-Maria Ayala covers education for The Dallas Morning News. She graduated from Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media in 2019. Follow her at @EvaMarieAyala.