Imposter Syndrome is the fear that you’ve achieved everything you have achieved by accident, luck, or timing rather than merit. According to a 1978 Georgia State University study, it mostly plagues high-achieving woman, and leaves the most affected sufferers constantly waiting to be caught out. Some of my high-achieving female friends went to a lecture about this last year at Brown.
While I don’t believe that any of my friends suffers from this as severely as the women mentioned in this study, I feel like everyone who achieves some modicum of success inevitably feels a sense of doubt somewhere along the way: Was I really the best? What made them pick me? Do I really deserve this grade? etc. Certainly I’ve felt this way over and over the years, but deep down, I feel confident in my abilities, and in my intelligence despite the fact that I’m genuinely stupid when it comes to a lot of things.
Whenever I talk about my parents’ goals for me, it inevitably falls to me talking about my mother and how she wanted me to go to tech school and be a plumber. Clearly, I’m still annoyed by this, and will probably be forever, or until she admits that that was a really stupid idea. With all of my energies focused toward being annoyed with my mother, I seem to have completely forgotten my father. He came to mind yesterday.
This semester, I’m doing a Professional Field Experience (fancy phrase that means internship) at the Community College where Sassy Redhead Friend works. I started last week, and am genuinely enjoying myself (and not just because Sassy Redhead reads this blog). Because I’ve never attended a Community College, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I didn’t know how different the curriculum or students would be. Really, the biggest difference I’ve seen so far is that it lacks a lot of the annoying pretension that comes with most academia. And even though Sassy Redhead pointed out that I will only see the best students in the library because the bad students do not go there, everyone I’ve met seems diligent, hard-working, and capable, perhaps in contrast with any preconceived notions that I had in my head.
I’m enjoying it so much that yesterday I found myself wishing that I had gone to Community College where everyone is friendly and helpful, rather than my cranky University, until I remembered a conversation I had with my father when I was twelve. We were driving home late at night from somewhere. It was a long drive, one of those where you get onto a circuitous conversation route and end up discussing things never before brought up. He asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told him psychologist.
“For that, you’ll need to get a PhD.” He told me, “I think you’ll start at a community college because I don’t think you’ll be ready for a 4-year University, then you’ll transfer, after which you’ll go to grad school.”
I just ate it up, and for years that was my plan. But then I got to thinking about his word choice, “…I don’t think you’ll be ready for a 4-year University…” What was that based on?
I can excuse my mother trying to force me to go to Vo-Tech because she is one who needs to have a clear-cut goal in mind– there’s no obvious career path for English majors– and I’m sure she wanted to save money. With my father, he must have sincerely believed, based on something, that I was a little bit behind the curve academically, and would need to start slower.
Granted, I never got excellent grades, but for the amount of work I put into things, I did quite well. As far as my parents have told me, the biggest complaint that teachers had about me during conferences was that I worked far too quickly so I could sit and read.
I don’t know how to feel about this revelation because on one hand I can just scoff and say that this reinforces my long-held opinion that my parents do not understand me, or I could believe that perhaps I’ve not as smart as I think, and they got it right all along. My parents can both be a bit obtuse, but my father is a former educator, so his pronouncement weighs on me a bit.
A while ago, I was talking to my mother about a class that I was supposed to be teaching at the same Community College where I’m doing my PFE. “You can do that?” she asked, “but you’re still in school.”
“That’s why I have all of these degrees” I reminded her, “it’s not just because I love grad school so much.”
Maybe I am smart, maybe I’m not, and maybe my parents will not be content until I have a full-time job and they can stop writing “Annie is in Grad School” in the Christmas letter. My mother’s reaction when I told her that I was going back to grad school was, “At first I was really upset, but then I told myself, at least she’s not addicted to crack, or in jail or something.” Maybe my parents are just not good judges of accomplishment.