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Sian Proctor overcame impostor syndrome after being rejected by NASA


Dr. Sian Proctor during fighter jet training in Montana on August 8, 2021.

John Kraus / Inspiration4

Sian Proctor became the first black woman to pilot a spacecraft last year, but despite her success the astronaut says she has suffered from impostor syndrome her entire “life”.

An example of when Proctor said she suffered from this doubt was after she failed to complete NASA’s astronaut selection process in 2009.

Speaking at the Credit Suisse 2022 Asian Investment Conference on Monday, Proctor recalled feeling “devastated” when she received that rejection phone call from NASA.

Proctor said she could hear her “impostor syndrome” inner voice saying “you’re not good enough, you should never have applied and all those things. How are you going to make yourself better? Because clearly you’re not as good as good as you could be’.”

Instead of listening to those doubts, Proctor said she decided to reframe the rejection in her head, looking at the positive aspects of this selection process: “I went further than thousands of people in the process of selection, I should celebrate that, the fact that I was almost an astronaut, almost an astronaut was worth celebrating.”

She said reframing that experience helped her move beyond that rejection to become an analog astronaut, simulating space missions on Earth. Ultimately, she said it then led to her going to space in September 2021, as part of the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission, making history as the first black woman to pilot a spacecraft. .

Even so, Proctor admitted that impostor syndrome isn’t “something that necessarily goes away.”

Another way she was able to combat those doubts, even just applying to become a NASA astronaut, was to think about what her father would say to her: “He would say, ‘Why are you talking about opportunity? Let someone another decide whether you ‘qualify or not. Take this chance, take this opportunity, even if it’s a no’.”

While applying for the SpaceX mission, Proctor suggested that pivoting her approach to showcasing her skills as an artist and poet helped her in the process. Proctor described this as his “entrepreneurial spirit” in the video app.

Proctor, who was a professor of geosciences and sustainability at South Mountain Community College in Arizona for more than 20 years, was one of four civilians to go into space as part of the Inspiration4 mission. The launch went down in history as the first with a full crew of non-professional astronauts.

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