Confronting Imposter Syndrome & Empowering the AAPI Community: Reflections from Dr. Robert Ang

By Dr. Robert Ang, President & CEO

Who has entered a meeting room full of people and thought “I feel like a total fraud and I don’t belong here?” Me. All the time. As an Asian American, I’ve navigated a lifelong journey shadowed by the weight of imposter syndrome—a phenomenon I’ve come to understand is all too familiar among individuals of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage. It might seem paradoxical for a CEO to grapple with imposter syndrome, but this is a deeply personal struggle that has persisted throughout my career, and one that I’ve observed among many of my AAPI colleagues.

Growing up, I faced the high expectations of my parents, though not in the stereotypical “tiger mom” or “dragon dad” sense. Nevertheless, their standards were exacting, whether it was earning grades, avoiding wasted time on “frivolous” extracurricular pursuits, or failing to excel in music competitions. As a child balancing both piano and cello practice for hours on end, I learned early on that in the realm of music, there’s always someone more skilled, no matter how diligently you strive. This sense of perpetual inadequacy followed me into academia, where the rote memorization required in medical school exposed the limitations of my short-term memory. I felt perpetually behind, struggling to validate my place within the medical community.

A most pivotal moment arrived when I transitioned from clinical practice to management consulting at BCG. Plunged into an unfamiliar world of business concepts and terminology, I felt overwhelmed. Even with a background in healthcare, I found myself floundering in the new language of business verbal and visual communication, let alone grappling with Excel modeling—a tool I had never used before. Doubts consumed me: had I made a catastrophic career misstep?

My entrepreneurial spirit and desire to learn did strongly motivate me towards new roles and experiences, but I was still dogged with thoughts that I didn’t belong.

Imposter syndrome continued to haunt me through each subsequent career move, from medicine to management consulting to venture capital to medical affairs to business development, and eventually to the CEO role. Each new role brought fresh insecurities and fears of inadequacy, compounded by the expectations ingrained in my Asian upbringing—to work diligently, remain modest, and let results speak for themselves. While this approach has its merits, it often neglects the importance of self-advocacy and personal growth. A proud Asian parent wants to boast of examples of excellence from their offspring, and does not want to talk about failures, mediocrity, or even necessarily trying out something new.

So, what’s the antidote to imposter syndrome? It’s certainly not just working harder—a strategy that only perpetuates the problem. Nor is it simply bolstering self-confidence, which can exclude bold opportunities and I think risks reinforcing the bamboo ceiling for the AAPI community. We have also all observed spectacular failures where people have too much self-confidence going into a role without adequate training, preparedness, and caution.

Fundamental to imposter syndrome is self-centeredness. This is not selfishness, but instead a hyper-focus on self – an obsession about how you are being perceived, your reputation, the impressions you are making. To address imposter syndrome, I believe that the focus has to be drawn away from self to something else. What is this something else? Well, it could be a lot of things. I’ve seen very successful people focus on the colleagues around them. Making others look good lifts the whole team. You can focus on customers and other stakeholders you serve, not to make a good impression, but simply to do a good job and find joy in that. In biotech, we have the fortune of serving patients in need who may suffer from life-threatening conditions. This has been one of my focus areas, and my training as a clinician allows me to empathize with patients and again draw focus from me to someone or something else. Most important to me is my faith in God. I find if I am centered on God and focus on serving Him, then everything else falls away and I no longer feel like an imposter.

Imposter syndrome is a self-imposed constraint, exacerbated by cultural expectations and societal pressures within the AAPI community. But by acknowledging its existence, fostering open dialogue, and extending support to one another, we can begin to dismantle the barriers it erects. Together, let’s break the silence and confront imposter syndrome, paving the way for a more inclusive and empowered AAPI community.