15 Jun

my name is kate, and i am [not] an impostor impostor

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.

noun_143497So 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.

#blogjune 15/30

15 thoughts on “my name is kate, and i am [not] an impostor impostor

  1. I read this post just after having left the following comments on one of my own recent posts: “I have many long, thoughtful posts sitting in my draft folder” and “I have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to hit the publish button even if I haven’t looked at an issue in a hundred different ways and conducted a thorough literature review :)”. So I am totally on the same page with you there!

    I often worry about not being eloquent enough, not knowing my subject area well enough, not being ambitious enough, not being opinionated enough or not having the strength of my convictions, being too apologetic for having an opinion, giving up too easily, not wanting to make myself a target for arguments, being seen as a shrew for reminding someone that they need to complete a task, wanting to be liked, understating or overstating my achievements, etc. I could go on and on. I’ve never thought about impostor syndrome, but it’s sounding awfully familiar. And it definitely holds me back.

    • Kim Tairi tweeted this afternoon that she’s tried to turn this on its head; that she tries to reframe her impostor impulses as wanting to be better, do better. I think that’s useful reframing.

      I think impostor syndrome is an endemic issue in our profession. I don’t know what we do about it, what we can do about it, other than to support and encourage each other to share regardless.

      You make an interesting comment here about being ambitious enough. I feel like I’ve set myself up to look like someone who is full of ambition. The reality is I am terrified of being bored, so I do all the things. And I’m scared of missing out. So I do all the things. And I’m curious. So I want to know all the things. In a way I’m an impostor on the ambition front, I think!

      One of the reasons I write posts like this, where I let a bit of my crazy out on the page, is that I don’t want to look like something I’m not. I’m not perfect, I often feel uncertain, sometimes I resent the way my work overlaps my life, I torture myself about ridiculous things… and I feel like I could potentially feed someone else’s impostor syndrome if I didn’t fess up to the fact I often feel like one too.

      Forget the literature review and hit publish. I want to hear what you’ve got to say x

  2. You are the best. I really needed to read this post this morning before going off to work where my first day in a new role yesterday made me feel like quite the failing imposter. Today I resolve – one step at a time, ask as many questions as I need to and don’t be afraid to say if I there’s something I don’t know.
    Also, you totally deserve that teaching award

  3. First, *big* congratulations on being nominating for the teaching award—from what I’ve seen of your approach to teaching and learning, you are definitely a contender!

    Second, your characterisation of impostor syndrome as a gag really resonates with me. One of the things I worry about in my interactions with students in classes, and also in professional forums, is that people with the most confidence are usually the ones who speak up, and the silent majority seldom say anything. This doesn’t mean that the best ideas come forward.

    I also think a high prevalence of impostor syndrome and the resulting reluctance to speak up contributes to the relatively low profile of the information professions, which then affects status, pay, etc. How do we change this? I try to create a culture in my classes where all students are welcome to comment or question what’s happening, but it’s hard!

    • Thanks Brenda. It’s really nice to be nominated.

      It is really hard to get students to feel like they have the space and the right to speak up. One of the things I’ve noticed with online teaching is that the students who are silent in the classroom sometimes become the cornerstones of the online community. Not always, but sometimes. And I think you’re right about the impact on the status of the profession. I don’t know what the solution is. It’s a big problem.

  4. Thanks so much for this post, Kate. I still have my thoughts on blogging parked in Evernote…I’ve been riddled with imposter syndrome on and off since entering the profession. It’s one of the reasons why I haven’t been mouthy on my blog. I’ve gone with ‘safe’ topics that I’m most comfortable with. But maybe that’s it. Maybe, along similar lines as Kim, we need to turn imposter syndrome into being uncomfortable. We need to be okay with being uncomfortable because that’s how we learn and grow. I’ve wanted to publish posts on topics I know little about but worried I’d be dismissed for not being qualified to share thoughts or even admissions I don’t know something. Thing is, we’ll never know enough…ever. Again, there’s discomfort in that fact…..(okay, so I’m trying really hard to not go over my comment now and edit…)
    I don’t know where the brakes on professional discourse came from….but some time soon, we need to say ‘screw it, let’s do it’.

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  9. Oh my word…you said it all. I definitely have this “Imposter Syndrome”. I’ve just entered the librarian profession, passed Cum Laude, but suffer with feelings of not being up to scratch, driven to do more, to know more, to excel in order to prove myself; too shy to enter into discourse, too uncertain of what I know and aware of what I don’t. It’s painful because I doubt myself. With job interviews on the horizon, I am wondering if they will see my self-doubt. *winces*
    Your post has helped me to see that others feel the same way. (Others more accomplished than I.) Maybe now I can work on recognizing and overcoming. Get back to blogging. And work on “belonging”!
    Thanks Kate. 🙂
    Ps: Congrats on the award nomination.

    • I’m glad this has helped. You’ve just made a big first step by commenting.

      I often tell my students to put a disclaimer on their blogs along the lines of “This is my learning space, so I reserve the right to change my opinion, learn by failing, and say things I might later regret.” A bit of a tongue-in-cheek nod to learning being evolutionary.

      The great thing about this profession is that the people in it are very generous with their time, thoughts, expertise… Don’t be afraid of the audience. Don’t be afraid to contribute. Bring what you have from other parts of your life. Bring your ideas. Just much in! (And let me know where your blog is if you do go down that path so I can read it!)

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  11. I find it sad that many people suffer from “imposter syndrom”. What’s happened to us for this to manifest itself to such a level recently, to the point that it has a name!
    My colleagues and I recently discussed this and we came it a point that since the rise of social, people can “fake” there profiles, lives, successes and even their health (e.g Belle Gibson). We get hooked, and we worry if we are good enough, if what we have to say is worthy of saying or worse, how will people view us. Self doubt creeps in!

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