Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Secret

A few weeks ago, my sister asked me, "Hey, have you ever heard about the Impostor Phenomenon?"

My response was, "No, tell me more about it."

She described the idea that people, more often women, tend to doubt their successes. They don't deserve the promotion they got. They only got the grade they did on a paper because of luck. They have tricked people into thinking that they are smarter or better at their jobs than they really are. And they worry that someone is going to "figure them out." That people look at them and know that they are not deserving.

She asked if I thought I was experiencing some of this while writing my dissertation. And that's when it clicked for me, that I feel that way, 85-90% of the time.

I constantly worry that it comes across as lazy. That I am procrastinating writing. Or that I'm just not committed to this - that I don't really want my PhD. When my reality is that I spend so much time trying to work through all of the crap in my head and to convince myself that I can really do this. That I am never able to get out of my head, and I am thinking about this all the time. I'll put on my "dissertation sweatshirt" and get myself all situated in my ideal writing environment. And I'll have the best intentions. But then I stare at my screen, not able to put together a simple sentence for hours. Me, the confident writer who works well with deadlines and was known for throwing papers together at the last minute like it was nothing back in grad school, pissing off everyone else. Don't think I don't doubt the grades that I got on those too...

It makes me cry. And usually, it keeps me from sleeping at night.

Because I want to believe that I am good enough and smart enough and committed enough to finish this. But that voice in the back of my head tells me otherwise. It tells me that I didn't work as hard as other people for this, so I shouldn't have the same degree that they do. That every sentence I am putting down is crap. That I shouldn't even both doing my oral exams because clearly they are going to reject this proposal and then I've wasted their time. That no one will participate in my interviews. That I am in no way deserving of a doctorate for what is essentially my first major research project. That when people ask me what my topic is, and I explain it, that they think it is not worthwhile. That I'm a phony. That I am bound to fail. That I am wasting this enormous privilege that I've been given. Who the heck do I think I am to even be attempting this?

I am my own worst enemy. And this really sucks. And it is so very lonely to live in constant disappointment of myself. And I don't know how to get past it and just finish this thing.

In case you were curious, that is my secret. The one I sent in on Sunday, that I couldn't hold in any more. In fewer words.

There. I've said it. Now why is it so much easier to write this than it is to write a literature review?


  1. Kirstin, your post made me realize that I have the same issues! You finally gave me a name to how I feel! I just put some books on hold at the library about the Imposter Phenomenon, I'll report back on what I find.

    1. So glad to hear that I am not alone in this. Need to do some reading myself to find some strategies to work through this. Would love to know more about what you find. I look forward to a day where I don't feel stupid, or disappointed in myself. I think I hold myself back a lot, in work too.

      My sister suggested this one:

    2. Sorry - I realize that isn't very user friendly to copy/paste! Couldn't hyperlink it.

    3. Work is my total downfall as well! The inner monologue you posted and other's I have read is scarily accurate. We can totally do this!! We should start holding each other accountable about how fabulous we are :-)

  2. I experience this all the time. The statement of, not good enough, smart enough, etc. truly stuck with me, because this is what I think regarding career and graduate school. Where do these ideas stem from and why? For the love of god, we rock and deserve to believe it. You're doing awesome. Just stick with it!!!!


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