Something like imposter syndrome.
Recently, I've been thinking about this quite a bit. I'd be asked to consider doing a video for YouTube on the subject, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought - this isn't video material. I can't sit there and say 'build confidence' or 'believe in yourself' or whatever, it just didn't sit right. I have been asked how I manage it, how to tackle it, what to do about it. I’ve been thinking about it for some time, because I don’t feel qualified to answer this question (honestly not trying to be ironic).
I don’t really feel imposter syndrome.
Don’t hate me.
Please hear me out.
I've been thinking about this, whether or not to write about this, and just how to articulate it, for a while. And there seems to be a few reasons why this the case.
I grew up in a hard working, working-class family. To not just work, but to work hard, was validation of your worth. My parents were (are) not bankers, doctors, academics. My dad's a builder, my mom ran a florist. We didn’t have fancy-fancy things, but they worked so we could go on holiday. Up until this year, my mom has never had a day off work. In her whole career. My dad the same. The lack of time off, even for illness, showed a certain kind of dedication to work. They both often worked (and still work) evenings and weekends. Whatever it takes to earn. I know this has influenced me strongly. In this sense, I read hard-work as being 'good enough' for me to fit in.
If you know me, you’ll know that I do not work ‘overtime’ (overtime: denotes additional pay, of which there is no such thing in academia), and do not therefore work evenings or weekends. Period. I’m not feeding into that. But to me, I feel that my stance on being *able* to do this is validating, in the sense that I *must* be okay at what I do. (I honestly don’t mean this as a way of putting down those who do this, or feel like they need to. I don’t have children, my partner also earns well - it’s individual, and definitely another blog post for another day). This is the only time I feel a twinge of - I don't know - guilt? *should* I work through the night, to show my dedication, like others? I *could*, but I'd be damn ill. My health is - seriously - important to me. For me, preserving my health and wellbeing absolutely overrides any feelings of being an 'imposter'.
I love to learn. Like, really - I’m that person who does those extra courses you can take online, who has completed extra modules towards other qualifications, learns languages in her spare time, and I love to read. Teaching is learning to me. I don’t get nervous before a class, because I make sure I'm prepared (I always plan for the Plan B - video coming soon ;) ). There was of course a time when this *terrified* me. My very first foray into teaching was leading a module of 200 students. Taking place in one big lecture theatre for 2 hours a week. And I was just 23. In my very first class, half-way through me speaking and interacting with the group, a student pointed out that the tag was hanging out my new top. I can tell you I've never done that again. The module feedback wasn’t 100% great - I spoke too quickly, I didn’t stop for breaks because I wanted to make sure I covered everything. I deflected questions in class. I learned. No class will ever be the same, and actually, that’s the beauty in it. I now love leaning into that. I reflect regularly on my practice. Logically, I might feel like some kind of fraud trying to teach bioscience, because I wouldn't have a clue. But I know psychology (well, my corners of it). Taking the whole experience as a space to continually learn reframes it for me, taking away the 'I do not know, therefore I am not worthy', to 'I do not know, and I look forward to knowing more'.
If you've read this far, congratulations. I am, by most definitions, a pretty bad writer. I’m not naturally a 'good' (academic) writer. But I love to do it. I’ve always journaled, especially when I was younger, almost treating them like novels (do you remember, the ones you could lock with a tiny key?). But there is no one way of writing. To be a writer means to write, whether you’re good or not. I’m writing this blog in the notes app in my phone in a coffee shop. Writing for a lecture plan, a blog, your thesis, an academic paper, your CV cover letter - all requires different skills. I guess learning the 'rules' of each of these are part of the process. Me being me, there are places where writing needs further dismantling (academia, I am looking at you), and I know I'm not the only one who thinks that / is contributing towards that. Community is important. Not as a point of comparison, but shared wisdom, journeys, experiences. Writing takes practice, and continues to do so. To see other people, people I look up to, struggle with writing, or writing 'badly', with invitations for comment, is what made me feel the most at home - we're all winging it, until we're not (just like life, right?)
So no - I don’t feel like I suffer from imposter syndrome, but this does not mean I get it right, that I don’t get nervous, that I don't struggle. But I don’t label it in this way. It’s not even conceived this way. Questioning yourself is part of the process (asking any PhD student), and the more I've leant into it, the better I've felt.