Impostor Syndrome can bite me!

I’ve met very few people who, when asked, would say that they had a good year in 2016. Most people seem to look at their feet, hesitantly say a few words about how things could have been better, and then change the subject. I was no exception. For me, 2016 was the year when impostor syndrome won.

But do I really need to care about that? Perhaps what this requires is a change in mindset. A few days ago, I found this on a friend’s twitter feed:

Liz was, in turn, quoting this tweet:

The article this comment stemmed from was published in the New York Times entitled Stop and Acknowledge How Much Luck Has to Do With Your Success – an interesting read, which can be summarised by saying that no matter how much you work hard, a lot of your career boils down to being lucky. Being in the right place at the right time, and taking advantage of serendipity.

My immediate reaction to this is one of some consternation. No one likes to believe that their entire life is like sitting down at a roulette table and hoping for the best. And, quite frankly, I’ve never been particularly lucky. But the more I think about this, the more I realise that if this really does boil down to probability, then like any system, it can be gamed.

I’ve known a few academics in the past who’re quite fond of a tactic known as the scattergun approach. People who apply for every single source of grant money they can, because statistically they’re more likely to win out that way. Where someone in an actual game of roulette may worry about money, the things I have to worry about are time and motivation. And while it’s impossible to conjure more money (no matter what Nicholas Flamel may have believed), it’s entirely possible to conjure more motivation. Applying this approach to jobs may feel uncomfortable, but I can say with some authority now – any job is better than no job.

Smaug's daily affirmationsOf course that goes back around to perpetually doubting whether I can actually do those jobs.

As if on cue, another thing which popped up on my twitter feed a few days ago was a piece in Times Higher Education entitled Think like an impostor, and you’ll go far in academia which was really quite interesting. In a nutshell, I can summarise it by saying – if you feel like an impostor anyway, who cares if you act like one?

Being as Impostor Syndrome has been a blight on my life for longer than I’d usually care to admit, the idea of flipping it upside down and making it work for me is rather pleasing. After all, all the greatest people in history may well have doubted themselves. But it never stopped them. So why not just go with it. I’m an impostor. All those things you’re not supposed to do – like asking for clarification on seemingly “basic” concepts or picking up an undergrad level textbook to brush up things which I’m not entirely clear on – are exactly the kind of things an impostor would do.

Which is interesting, because they’re also exactly the kind of things I’ve seen some of the highest ranking professors do.

If ever I’m concerned about the number of rejections I’ve received (which I definitely have been recently), I like to remind myself of rejection letters sent to famous authors before they were famous authors.  And in fairness, none of the rejections I’ve received have been nearly this scathing, notwithstanding how plentiful they may have been.

So let this be a late New Year’s Resolution. 2016 may have been the year Impostor Syndrome won, but 2017 is going to be the year I stop caring about that.

Tiny Smaug up there is by GinnyDi on Tumblr – you can buy him as a t-shirt too!

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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