In the last few weeks I have had several discussions with fellow students, graduate and undergraduate, about feeling like an impostor. Whether it is in their writing, thinking they don’t have the expertise to be assertive in their language, or even in a class setting, unable to speak with conviction when they are responding to a professor, impostor syndrome affects us all.
Amanda Palmer gave a brilliant speech on being afraid of “The Fraud Police.” It is my single, most favorite thing she has produced…aside from “Coin-Operated Boy.”
Even your professors have impostor syndrome…at least the good ones.
The opposite of having impostor syndrome is understanding that it is a natural part of becoming an expert, and the best experts feel it too. The American Psychological Association has a good article on overcoming impostor syndrome with a focus on graduate students, but it applies to undergraduates as well. While there are some helpful suggestions in coping with this phenomenon, you should be wary of finding a “cure” for it. Imposter syndrome can actually make you a better scholar.
Student A want to present an opinion, but is not an expert in the field, yet feels strong enough about their analysis that they want to present their findings to their peers. Student B is completely confident in their argument, unshaken in the belief that what they have to say is definitive and inarguable.
Student A’s anxiousness is an entirely natural part of intellectual or artistic growth.
Student B is an asshole.
Impostor syndrome, or feeling like a fraud, shouldn’t be framed in the same manner as crippling, self-doubt. The moment you feel sure about an assumption is the moment you should question it. Yet all of that questioning should be internal, reflective, part of your work/writing process. The questioning of yourself is productive if it leads you to new ideas or down paths that allow personal growth. Give yourself those moments of doubt, of saying to yourself “do I even deserve to talk about this,” then…DO IT.
This applies especially to women, who have been conditioned to question their convictions. Think about your classmates, or even yourself, speaking in class…do you state your thoughts in the form of a questions? Do you apologize or say “this may sound dumb” before presenting your analysis? Do your sentences have an upward inflection at the end of them, leaving the door open for disagreement?
What is the cost of being wrong? What is the cost of being disagreed with? In today’s climate for many women the cost of even being heard is doxxing, name-calling, and rape and death threats. The world is locked and loaded, ready to beat you down for expressing your truth. They are primed to devalue whatever you say.
Do not devalue your thoughts as they come out of your mouth.
Embrace your impostor syndrome, look at it as the force for growth that it is. And realize that those that seem most certain, most convicted in their opinions, are probably terrified that someone will finally see them as the fraud they actually are.
You are real and your thoughts are valuable. SING!