On the imposter syndrome of mine (as of 2020)

This long rambling originated from a coaching session of the ‘Kintsugi’ method that I attended back in 2020. I did not really care about the branding and identity of the method, but it is true that more often than not I get something of net value out of these activities.

One of the things I acknowledge every time I look back at my trajectory is, I really grew and developed not only by doing a PhD, but by seeking the opportunity to do a PhD. I managed to move quite outside of my environment to do the PhD. I found a really great lab and I had a very good time there. I managed to learn a bunch of things career-wise but it is true that things would have been very different if I had gone there some years later when the financial situation of the lab was very different. One thing that has not changed since then, however, is the imposter syndrome.

I won’t discuss here its formal definition or whether it is real or instigated by the capitalist mindset of the world. For me it is as real as it gets: I feel it, I have to deal with it, ergo it is real. For me the imposter syndrome has deep roots in my psychology, in my past experiences. I know I must find a way to develop new tools and reconceive thoughts/beliefs that drive my imposter syndrome. However it is also true that, as time passes and I keep working in academia (achieving things like the PhD, the postdoc, perhaps I get a postdoc grant for the next stage), I realise that 1) not everyone in academia is ready to have this conversation, hence leading to some competitive and pressuring situations (i.e. there will always be a reviewer #2 that fully hates or does not believe in your work/grant proposal, or an untrusting collaborator that revises every bit and piece of your contribution to the project), and this is very harmful to the person that wants to develop and grow outside the imposter syndrome.

An exercise I like to do is to imagine myself in the situation of being called out. The closest source for real inspiration is when I have defended my work to paper reviewers, the phd commitee during the viva, or in some interviews. There is a fight-or-flight reaction and, at least in my case, I always try to diplommatically adress their comment and try to marry it to my real work. I also think, fully reflect about how I felt (and thus how I might feel) during those moments. I have a sense of relief, a sense of ‘okay, it is not in my head anymore, let’s tackle with this’ , or simply I realise that I do not care that much about what they think. I also like to think about which other aspects of the world and/or society have a similar situation with imposterism. For example in private companies, in public jobs, I have the impression this is not as harsh… so this helps me fight it, see it from outside, think about it more humanly.

So, back to the Kintsugi deconstructive method, one could say:

1. That my biggest challenge in the path is dealing with my imposter syndrome, with uncertainty, anxiety, fear of not being prepared and competitive.

2. How am I feeling about that challenge? Fearful, Sad, Insecure, Frustrated, Anxious, Isolated. But also excited.

3. What am I doing about it? I am coping with it. I am working on every aspect that needs to be adressed, day by day, with little progress on each front, but i’m doing that. I’m talking about what affects me, I’m communicating to every other side of each situation, I am talking with my partner about it (important at this moment); I talk with my supervisor about it, and with my future supervisor as well. I feel like blaming and denying at times as well. I try to accept and confront, but at times I am denying and procrastinating.

Also by the way, the lack of energy for everything else has impact in my work, in other aspects within work (like for example going to conferences etc).

As part of this activity, we were told to do a planning around these challenges and the proposed actions to deal with it/improve it/remedy it (the kind of action depends on your own struggle). But there is also an extra thing to do alongside planning: value your progress. It needs to be an active action. Talk about what you managed to do to someone. Write it down, verbalize it, think about how it makes you happy or more at ease. At least it works for me because it gives me a positive feedback.

Let us see what I think about this in the future!

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