I have been teleworking from home since March 16, 2020 due to COVID quarantines. It has been a bumpy process because at the same time, my son was also virtual learning. As you know from earlier posts, my husband also was going through the process of fighting for social security disability. He won his case, but we are still waiting on the backpay (we are at three months now and have been fighting for three years!). Oh, yeah, and there is the little matter of my dissertation too.
I have been battling internally for a couple months with the idea that I am not working hard enough. I am busier than ever, but I feel like I am getting nothing done. My days are filled with Zoom meetings, emails, and research on how I can turn my face to face workshops into virtual sessions. Oh, and there are also the committees and tasks forces I am a part of as well. And that is just my library job. I am also teaching, working on my dissertation, being a wife, parenting, keeping track of the household stuff, and so so much more. Yay, me!
Part of my struggle with my productivity is probably related to the feeling of Imposter Syndrome. I have had a couple of heart to hearts with my supervisor since March because my anxiety keeps telling me lies. The truth is that many of us feel like we don’t belong or have nothing interesting or worthwhile to share.
It is not the first time I have felt like that. On top of my regular office job, I teach a graduate level library science course about integrating STEM into libraries collections and programs. I am pretty sure by now you all know what STEM stands for, but just in case, it stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. A couple of terms ago, I had a student who had already received her PhD in Astrophysics. She was a Rocket Scientist! So here I was trying to teach a Rocket Scientist about STEM. Can you imagine? A librarian teaching a rocket scientist? What did I have to teach her that she didn’t already know? But that wasn’t the point of the course. I wasn’t there to teach STEM concepts, I was there really to teach about program planning, collection development, and, well, libraries. I was there to show the connection of how STEM fit into all of that. That is where I was the expert, so why did I feel like the biggest fraud there was?
A couple of weeks after the term was over, I received an email from another student in the course. He was thanking me for sharing my personal experiences and said that I had inspired him. That made me feel like all the other stuff didn’t matter. Here I had made an impact with at least one student and that was all I really needed. It was wonderful to hear back from this student that I had made a difference for him. But that feeling still lingered in my mind that I didn’t really deserve to be there teaching the course.
What causes us to have these feelings like we don’t belong?
We are living in a culture where we are told to be humble, that we shouldn’t talk about our accomplishments because it will come off as bragging or egotistical. So we downplay our accomplishments and it shocks us when other people point out them out and perhaps even makes us a little uncomfortable. I first heard the term Imposter Syndrome in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. Apparently, this happens to a lot of people where we feel like we don’t deserve a seat at the table. This feeling of being an imposter chips away at our confidence. We feel anxious, stressed, and experience moments of self-doubt. Just like in my experience teaching my course, we feel like we have nothing of value to impart. Heck, even the COO of Facebook feels this way sometimes.
I like to joke that every time I create my monthly report at work, I am reminded of all the things that kept me busy that month. Let’s just say that it was eight pages long last month! But that monthly report is only a small snapshot of everything I do. Keeping a record like that can actually be pretty helpful when it comes to battling Imposter Syndrome.
A few months ago, I had to update my curriculum vita, which is basically an academics version of a resume. In case my boss is reading, don’t worry, I was not applying for a new job. I needed it as part of an application process for a research project related to my dissertation. It had been two years since I had last updated it. I’m a librarian, so one of the things I do when I have a task is to research it. As I looked up things to include in my CV, I realized I needed to add some sections. Things like committees and statewide projects I served on. Awards or grants I had received. As I added these things to my CV, I started to think to myself, why did I feel like a fraud? Right here on paper was a list of everything I had accomplished in my career. And I have to say it was a lot of stuff. Great stuff. Interesting stuff. Inspiring stuff. Publications and committees. International conferences. I had pages stating right there in black and white of all that I had accomplished. There was my reminder that I have value in my career and I deserved to be where I am.
This process of writing down a list of your accomplishments is actually a form of writing therapy that is used for people who might be suffering from forms of Imposter Syndrome. It is easy to dismiss our accomplishments, but much harder to do so when we have a written record showing that they exist in reality. I am sure that many of you have these same feelings like you don’t belong or that you are a fraud. In fact almost 70% of people worldwide suffer from these feelings.
We can wait for those moments when someone will say thank you or job well done. But while we are waiting, that feeling of being an imposter will continue to chip away at us. We need to tell ourselves that we are interesting. That we deserve to be where we are. That we deserve to strive towards our best potential. So I challenge you, create that list. It doesn’t have to be something as formal as a resume or a CV. Just simply take some time to list out everything you do. Then look at that list any time you feel like you don’t belong. You might be surprised at what you find.
Oh, yeah, I finished my completed draft of my dissertation this week. I am still waiting for the feedback from my supervising professor before the final draft and the defense, but I am feeling a little less like an imposter now. Here is to Dr. Jen in 2020!