19 Jun

impostor syndrome sufferer? here’s your secret weapon

It seems my post on impostor syndrome resonated with quite a few people. Some people commented on the post; others tweeted me; some people wrote their own posts; some contacted me privately. But the message was clear: I was right in thinking this is a real issue in the LIS professions.

noun_120642Sometimes my impostor syndrome makes me feel like I’m achieving nothing. This is often compounded by juggling too many balls, which makes me feel like I’m at great risk of seeing all of those balls end up on the floor in smithereens. Sometimes (often), I’m already standing on some rather pointy shards. I also feel like I let people down quite a lot – different people (including myself), in different ways, but it’s usually a product of being overcommitted, being physically present but cognitively absent, and having a crazy work ethic (all three impact on my family and friends, while on the work front, it’s the first two that have the biggest impact, although the work ethic results in the other two). More on this letting people down thing later.

noun_35090So because I’m an over-committed fraud of a clown who can’t keep all the balls in the air because I’m there in body but not *there* in mind, I have to remind myself that sometimes I get things done, I achieve things, I make progress, I keep important balls in the air, and sometimes I even smash those balls into another stratosphere. When you’re stuck in a mindset where you think you’re a fraud, your lack of self awareness, your lack of trust in yourself, and your lack of capacity to back yourself can be crippling. And here’s the thing: everybody else is watching those balls flying through the air and thinking you’re a master juggler. So you have to find some way to get some perspective on what you are actually achieving.

I have a secret weapon in the war on impostor syndrome that allows you to get that kind of perspective. It’s called The Done List.

A done list is like a reverse to do list. You know how shitty you feel when you look at your to do list and you’re monumentally overwhelmed by how much there is on there and how little you’re getting done? A done list gives you the opposite feeling.

Done lists can track big stuff, or they can track little stuff. I have two kinds of done lists.

The Done List

I like to make a list at the start of every year of what I achieved the previous year. The big stuff. The important stuff. Not ‘I sent 3095 emails’ (although, it would be kind of fun / scary to count them one year, and I reckon that number would actually be fairly close to it). But things that matter, like how many books I read, what I achieved at work, positive changes I’ve made in my life. Here’s my 2013 done list as an example. This can be a really useful thing to do when you’re heading into a performance review. That was my prompt for my 2014 done list (which I didn’t put on my blog because it’s only half done – ha!).

It’s easy to forget what you’ve done by the end of the year, so you might like to schedule in an hour each month to make a great big list of everything you’ve achieved that month.

The ‘See, you really do get shit done’ list

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 6.09.46 PMI keep a running to do list in Evernote (or I did – I’m in the process of transitioning to Todoist). Sometimes there’s so much on my to do list and my days are so frantic that I feel like all I’ve done is answer email and go to meetings. So when I complete something on my Evernote to do list, I don’t just tick it off. I cut that item out of the to do list and I move it down to a separate list called ‘See, you really do get shit done’. And every now and then I have a scroll down and it’s like a big exhalation. I can see that I really do get shit done. Even if the only time I look at it is to add more to it. It still reminds me that I get shit done.

There are even services that will shoot you an email every day for you to reply with what you’ve achieved that day, so you are prompted to track your progress.

So ward off that inner impostor by telling it that you do get stuff done. Big stuff, and small stuff, and stuff that matters to you in all aspects of your life. Added side benefit: this makes it a lot easier to update your CV and write job applications.

PS. The kids and I searched The Noun Project for images for this post using the word ‘clown’, and Mr 6 insisted we feature Jar Jar Binks, while Ms 6 went for the clown hat.

#blogjune 18/30

I’m running a day behind because blogging is fun and thesis writing isn’t, so I didn’t let myself blog yesterday cause I didn’t make my thesis writing quota. Haven’t made it today either but I’m pulling an all nighter so preemptively rewarding myself with blogging.

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