Impostor syndrome is for wimpsPosted: August 11, 2012
This is a great post:
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.