Impostor syndrome is for wimps

This is a great post:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/oscillator/2012/08/09/impostors-among-us/

We all have those moments – usually when we actually have done something of note or of career importance – of suspecting that we are either undeserving or outright frauds. Hopefully we are not frauds, but, well, yes, we are all undeserving. Or at least the huge pool of recognition-deserving that goes unmet is so large that it does make any individual recognition in some way phony. For me, when everyone from my dad to the chair of a department I’d like to work in tells me that my paper is a great achievement I should be proud of, I feel like a fucking douche. Because I know I am not particularly smart or hard working, and because they are saying it primarily based on where it was published. We all know how publishing works. I didn’t deserve or earn having my paper published in a visible place any more than pretty much anyone else. I got lucky, full stop.

But this is such small potatoes. Impostor syndrome is just a common neurosis that probably (hopefully?) indicates your ego is tempered with some rational self-assessment. Far, far, far worse is the experience of those who have this normal feeling hugely and unfairly amplified by the world around them. My spouse, who is TT, is routinely mistaken for a student. An upper-level (old, male) administrator asked, at a department meeting, if she was the new department secretary. Even older female faculty treat her career as secondary to mine, questioning her commitment if, say, I got a job somewhere else, her reproductive plans, etc.

A visible minority colleague, being dropped off by a taxi at work, was asked by the driver if he was a gardener or a security guard. At a university event, his (European) wife was let in without question while his ID was “checked.” This was two thousand and fucking five.

A few examples of many. All my life I have gotten nothing but people assuring me (directly or indirectly) that my anxieties are groundless. That I’m doing great and I am capable of more. Women and minorities, on the other hand, often face an external reality that tells them every self doubt they have is true: they don’t fit the part, they don’t belong here. And I watch others – others who are better than me at academia in every way – get ground down by a career that does nothing but lift me up. I don’t know what to do with this feeling except to try and not be a part of that reality.

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2 Comments on “Impostor syndrome is for wimps”

  1. Women and minorities, on the other hand, often face an external reality that tells them every self doubt they have is true: they don’t fit the part, they don’t belong here.

    Being a women (but not a minority) I have never experienced this, even though I am still asked for my ID every time I order a beer (I’ve been told I look like I am 20, even though I’m ten years older). Maybe I’ve just been lucky? I don’t know.
    By the way have you read the blog carnival about imposter syndrome hosted by SciCurious? http://scientopia.org/blogs/scicurious/2012/04/30/diversity-in-science-carnival-imposter-syndrome-edition/

  2. rxnm says:

    Thanks for the comment. I’m definitely feeling frustrated about anecdotal things I see around me and don’t want to generalize about others’ experience, especially since it is not something I generally have to experience directly.

    It does seem to be worse at the junior faculty level and also worse in fields where you are on your own. Lab people kind of get a built in posse that’s hard to overvalue. (Though labs can be deeply dysfunctional, you can usually spot this from a distance.)


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