January 14, 2011

Impostor Syndrome

I'm writing this post because I felt the urge to talk about a little feminine problem, and I'm hoping that this will also teach me to spell "impostor" properly.

Impostor syndrome is, according to wikipedia, "a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments . . . Regardless of what level of success they may have achieved in their chosen field of work or study or what external proof they may have of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced internally they do not deserve the success they have achieved and are actually frauds. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they were more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be."

I feel like there's some issues with plural/singular nouns and pronouns in there, but it does get the point across. And though I called it a feminine problem, wiki also states that it's present in both women and men. I just hear about it much more in women, partly because of the whole affirmative action thing (I wonder if there's any difference across races), and likely for some other reasons.

I know I've felt it. There were plenty of times this past summer when I was certain that my work was vastly inferior to everyone else's, and that it was only a matter of time before that program higher-ups figured me out (this is, legitimately, the main reason that I have this paranoia of not getting the counselor gig). When Gretchen and I spent two hours during Moody's running manual congressional seat allocations, I truly believed that I shouldn't have been there, that the team really deserved someone who actually knew what he or she was doing (i.e. knew how to program...though I do legitimately think that having someone who knew how to program would have been a boon. This reminds me of the fact that I should really do some more practice on the python front). If I end up in electrical engineering, you can bet your ass I'll spend a considerable amount of time worrying that my lack of experience can never be made up for (is this influencing my current decision to focus on physics? Who knows.). Even if I end up in physics, or math, or whatever else, I'm going to sit around and worry, like I did this summer, that I'm not capable of accomplishing anything in the field, that I got this far by some sort of trickery and that, when I'm actually working, I will be unable to find new material, and I'll end up waiting tables at some tiny restaurant in the midwest.

Do I know, intellectually, that I wouldn't have reached this point if I wasn't capable? Yes. But that doesn't mean that I truly believe it. I'd say that I'm better about it than I've been in the past--I've developed a level of confidence in my abilities that I really hadn't had before--but the problem still exists. It's one that I hear out of Julie, too (hopefully she doesn't mind my sharing); she's not good enough, she doesn't deserve this, she wouldn't have gotten in if it weren't for x, etc. (Jules? You deserve every bit of it, and when you go to college and kick the metaphorical butt of your selected institution, perhaps you'll come to agree with me).

I'm still not sure what I'm trying to say with this. I guess it's a reminder to myself to be more certain of my accomplishments. I noticed at RSI that a huge number of people--including some of the very best (Gopika, I'm looking at you)--seemed convinced that they were the one person who shouldn't have gotten in, that they would be the one person who didn't get into xis college of choice. It's like how someone--I think it was Carlisle, but I honestly don't remember--had a bit of a breakdown to someone else--I think it was Kaylee--about the fact that he'd only published two papers, and everyone was so far ahead of him and what on earth was he doing here?

It doesn't get us anywhere, the worrying. I force myself not to, I guess because I realize that it won't get me anywhere. But what is it, culturally, that pushes us into this feeling that we don't deserve what we have? Why are we all so convinced that we aren't good enough? It could be that RSI is built up so much that no one, except perhaps Patrick, thinks themselves good enough, but then why does it exist in other places?

I'm going to find some books on the subject, read them, and then do a lot of thinking before not actually deciding. Hopefully the books both exist and are nice to read.


Kev said...

You can say that about Gopika again, heh.

I can sympathize with you, but look at it in this light. Someone who is not accomplished or intelligent won't even have "impostor syndrome."

I just like to call it internal modesty, and mostly, even though it is good to humble yourself, everyone needs a bit of self-assurance now and then. I'm sure everyone who knows you would agree that you're a brilliant person that is very deserving of where you are currently. So don't fret. In a couple of years when you make it big in wherever you choose to go, people are going to tell you, "I told you so."

Just make sure in the end that you have the mindset to say, "I told myself so."

Gretchen said...

Here is yet another difference between you and I.

Stop hesitating. Stop doubting yourself. Think about (or list out) all your achievements. Look at the ones that you're most proud of and ask yourself how you got there. Moody's Finalist Team? We beat out the Dream Team because our response actually covered all the requirements and because it was creative and well supported. Standardized test scores? SAT, SATII, AP, AMC, etc. those are numerical scores. You can see how you compare percentile wise with everyone else in the country. Stop questioning if you're good enough. Prove to yourself just how good you are and problem solved. Additionally, if you don't fix this now, who knows how bad it'll be once you're in grad school.

Tea said...

Thank you, Kev, for a bunch of phrases that I feel like I should copy down somewhere--"internal modesty" is a good one, but the last line is something I would do well to remember.

And thank you Gretchen (though you should know that my AMC scores compare rather horribly to the rest of the country :P)--but I will do my best on the proving-self-worth-to-self front.