Discover more from #MHAWS: Mirya Holman's Aggressive Winning Scholars Newsletter
On being an imposter
Syndromes and phenomena of not belonging
Hello darlings –
How is everyone doing? Are you like me and totally and utterly stunned that April is almost here? Yeah, me too. Damn.
Let’s talk today about imposter syndrome and how to combat it.
What is it?
Imposter syndrome (maybe imposter phenomenon from the “well-actually” crowd, including the original author of the idea) is a psychological phenomenon where people feel like they don't believe, don’t deserve success, and doubt their ability to accomplish necessary goals for success like defending a dissertation or publishing. Imposter syndrome exists across settings but is particularly prevalent in academia where we get very little immediate feedback on our work, most of the feedback we receive is negative, and neoliberal academia cultivates a constant feeling of precarity.
Imposter syndrome is particularly common among members of groups who are underrepresented in academia (or other workplace settings). Feelings of isolation, the very real experience of being held to higher standards, and facing a variety of sexist, racist, homophobic, or elitist critiques all develop in us the very rational idea that we do not belong. In short, we feel like we don’t belong because our environments tell us that over and over and over again. In reality, we have overcome more bullshit than anyone to be there and that’s some fucking garbage.
Imposter syndrome can inhibit your ability to kick ass by:
promoting perfectionism (nothing is every good enough for anyone else to see)
encouraging comparisons to others (do I belong? Let me look at other people and then be sad about how much better they are)
downplaying success (I didn’t deserve this!)
fear of submitting work, applying for cool shit, etc (I won’t ever get it so why even apply)
sloppiness (because you can’t focus on any one thing and none of it matters anyway)
What can we do?
So what the fuck do you do about imposter syndrome? This has been a repeated ask from you, my darling #MHAWS audience, but I’ve been reluctant to write anything because, well, I’ve got a hellava case of imposter syndrome! Who am I to tell people how to quash this shit when I can’t do it for myself? So here’s some advice that I have absolutely been unable to take myself. Do what you will with that! (Also, there are literally hundreds of books on combating imposter syndrome so please go read that work)
Remember you aren’t that important. Wait, Mirya. How does this help me feel better? Welllll, one of the central mindfucks of imposter syndrome is that you spend a lot of time thinking that other people are judging you and finding you lacking. But if you realize that, actually, no one is really thinking about you at all (my forever advice is “no one remembers your stupid like you remember your stupid”), it helps release you from the yoke of feeling like the eyes are on you all the time.
Find your coven and rely on them to boost you. Maybe you don’t trust your own judgement about something, but certainly you trust the judgement of your good friends and colleagues? So ask them to help! Your coven can tell you – it is the system, not you; you deserve what you have and more; you deserve to be in this room; you are badass. I recently was feeling pretty fucking shitty about how I was being treated and my hype people CAME OUT to remind me that it was not about me at all, but instead about a fucking sexist system.
Help other people. Honestly, nothing makes me feel like I belong more than helping other people who might also have these concerns succeed in their positions. What can you do to lift people up? How can you help your coven succeed? What resources can you share with those just entering this space? In this way, we can change the systems that make us feel like shit, helping both ourselves and others.
Set realistic goals and only compare yourself to yourself. Again, comparison is the thief of joy, but looking back at our own path can be a really fantastic way of demonstrating to ourselves that we are, in fact, a badass. So look back and what you’ve accomplished (what skills have you learned? What have you read? What new information do you have in your brain piece? What have you written?) and then celebrate your successes.
Pick an avatar. This is casually referred to in my circles as WWYIMWGD? (What would your inner mediocre white guy do?) Doubting yourself? Think you aren’t good enough? Worried about fitting in? Pick your least favorite mediocre white dude in your life and ask: would Greg / Nick / Brian / Josh / Alan / Joe think he doesn’t belong (No.) Would he be worried that he is embarrassing himself by applying for something? (Absolutely not.). So ask: WWYIMWGD? And get on with it.