Thursday, September 10, 2009

That Time I Felt Like an Impostor

There's been a lot of discussion about the Impostor Syndrome ever since the CU-WISE execs went to Grace Hopper last year. There was a panel during the conference where high-profile women admitted that they, too, felt like they didn't deserve the success they'd achieved. There are a few posts about the topic on the CU-WISE blog, with more likely to come.

School has been pretty smooth sailing for me. I got through my entire undergrad and grad courses without more than one single all-nighter, and that was for a group project (so I didn't have much choice). I got stuff done fast, probably because I am organized, have a good memory, and can write well. I can also learn concepts put before me somewhat easily.

A couple of months ago, while working on my thesis, I ran into a tough spot. My profs weren't sure I would make the deadline for draft submission. Missing this deadline would mean a LOT of things would go wrong, from my funding for PhD to the TA Mentor job I had accepted a few weeks earlier.

What a failure I felt like right then and there. It was as though I'd made it to the thesis portion of my Masters with almost all A+'s, and somehow didn't deserve it. It was as though all the scholarships I'd managed to get throughout my academic career weren't really meant to go to someone like me. I was no researcher - I was an impostor!

I kid you not, I cried that night. I never cry.

Luckily, the next morning, I felt 200% better. I told myself I would do whatever I could to get things done. It turned out that the deadline wasn't as strict as we thought, and a meeting with my two co-supervisors quickly outlined what I needed to accomplish before submission. It wasn't like I couldn't have done these things, but I needed that little extra time. The world worked in my favour once again.

My message to you is this: When you feel like an impostor, take a break for the rest of the day. Cry a little. Have a bath. Do whatever it takes to let it out. Then, the next morning, wake up with the idea that you are going to try your best to do something about your situation, even if it seems impossible. A good attitude really can go a long way.


Ed said...

Sorry, I have to re-comment, too many typos, haha! : )

Impostor Syndrome sucks!! I found the best thing to help me is to have a support system. I have trouble stepping back from the situation, so I often need someone to tell me how it really is instead of the world-ending catastrophe I think it is. Thankfully, Ashley (my old roommate) just happens to be perfect at that. When I have breakdowns she's there to remind me that I'm completely capable of dealing with it and she helps me outline a plan of attack when I can't think straight!

Frozone said...

Hi Gail,

Wow, it's amazing how common these feelings are, but it's only just recently that I learned that "I am not alone" and others go through this as well!

My experience is the same about how "A good attitude really can go a long way". I don't remember with school so much because it has been so long since I've been a student taking classes, but, I can relate recently with my office job and my experiences in motherhood. Sometimes I feel like a failure, that I'm not "measuring up", that choices I've made were bad, or that I'd failed to prepare somehow, or that I didn't tell enough people about what I was feeling, etc. etc.! But with a positive attitude I find that I can always find strength from within and that I'm NOT a failure and I AM good at what I do, and that working your way through a challenging situation can often teach you valuable lessons and make you a stronger, wiser person. :)

Anonymous said...

My husband and I both have this problem but didn't know there was a name for it. We call it the "Go home, little boy/girl" fear.

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