I find myself talking about impostor syndrome a lot. I talk to my students about it. I talk to other PhD candidates about it. I talk to my colleagues about it. I talk to people I informally mentor about it. I talk to myself about it (not in a crazy way, but in a ‘I’m not listening to you, devil on my shoulder’ way).
Impostor syndrome is, I believe, more prevalent in women, and I think that’s one reason I spend so much time thinking and talking about it: my professional field (librarianship) is female dominated. I’m also an academic, and impostor syndrome is rife amongst the ranks of female academics.
I doubt myself every single day. I doubt the quality of my thinking. I doubt whether I have the right or the cred or the goods to say the things I want to say. I doubt my capacity as a researcher. I doubt my capacity as a teacher.
Case in point: today I found out I’ve been nominated for my university’s teacher of the year award. My first thought: I won’t win it. My second thought: I wonder if I’m actually a good teacher or if I’m just likeable? ‘I’m a really good teacher and I deserve that acknowledgment,’ said no woman ever (or perhaps: said no Kate ever). But today I made a conscious choice to take it on as positive reinforcement, because my inner impostor is particularly strong right now.
When I feel like I need to put my foot down about something (like giving advice – solicited or unsolicited – to someone more senior than me, where I feel like my expertise is needed) I agonise over whether I should say anything. Then I agonise over how to say it. Then I agonise over whether I said it as well as I could have. I agonise over whether I’ll be perceived as an upstart. Then I worry that I went a step too far and start thinking maybe I should preemptively back pedal before the shit hits the fan. Then I sit on my hands or bite my fingernails while I wait to see what happens. Invariably, it’s fine. It ends up being a non-event. My advice is appreciated, or it starts a much-needed conversation, or it’s noted but not taken on board. But I still go through the whole ‘who do you think you are, getting all up in people’s faces’ thing.
I think this is all made worse by the fact I am young and I am a woman. Maybe those two things aren’t even on the radar for the people I interact with. Maybe it’s just me who perceives these two things to be a problem (although I know in some cases it’s not just in my head).
I am not shy; I apparently appear to be very confident; and I am opinionated. So people are usually surprised when I tell them I feel like an impostor too (also, when I tell them I’m an introvert, but that’s a different story). But impostor syndrome can strike anyone. Even those of us who look like we’ve got it together and we’re completely confident and back the shiz out of ourselves. You can be loud and obnoxious about your opinions (as I often am) and still be quaking in your impostor boots. (Also, the impostor boots limit the loudness and obnoxiousness. Can you imagine how annoying I’d be without them? [See, I assume being more vocal means being annoying. Because who would want to hear more from this IMPOSTOR!])
And it effects everything.
Sometimes (most of the time), I doubt my capacity or my right to blog. Right now, I doubt my capacity to get the tone of this post right. I question the choice I’m making to be public about my insecurity. I worry that I’m an impostor impostor, because surely people will read this and think, ‘Pah! You don’t even rate on the impostor scales. Get down off that soapbox and make room for the *real* impostors’.
That’s what this post was really meant to be about: impostor syndrome and blogging. It was meant to be a reflection on a comment someone made on a recent blog post I wrote. The post asked whether people actually care about robust professional discourse, or whether I was off in lala land harping on about something no one else really gives a shit about. And a commenter who I have a great deal of respect for as a professional and a person noted that impostor syndrome can stop people from blogging or getting involved in professional discussions.
I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly made this connection before, in my own head. The connection between the bazillions of blog posts I’ve got sitting in draft, the fact that I’m not sure I’ve got the right or the goods to say the things I feel like I want or need to say, my concern that these posts might be really shit and they’re going to follow me around forever if I hit publish, and impostor syndrome.
Impostor syndrome can be a gag. It can cause us to sit on ideas. It stops us from blurting out the things we should blurt out. It holds us back as individuals and it holds us back as professionals and it holds our professional discourse back. It undermines our confidence in our own thinking and our capacity to make a contribution to professional conversation.
So let’s just flip the bird at our inner impostors and hit publish, like I’m doing right now. And I’m not even going to read back over this for sense-checking or typo-checking and I’m going to be proud of every error you find in this post and every flawed bit argumentation because the single most important thing here is that I doubt this post, I doubt the wisdom of being publicly vulnerable, I’m worried about how men might respond to my gendering of impostor syndrome, I’m worried about using an icon that represents giving the finger, and I’m not even sure I’ve actually said anything worth reading here, but I’m hitting publish anyway. And that’s what matters.