It was my first article for a peer reviewed journal. I’d worked for months and it was down to the final round of edits. I opened the attachment from the editor and worked my way through the suggestions. Word change here, grammar fix there, clear up confusing sentences. Then, I got to a highlighted section with single question “Citation?”
I stopped, not really sure what to do, because there really WASN’T a way to cite that section. It was my own thoughts and analysis, with nothing pulled from any published source. I finished the rest of my editing and went back to that request for a citation.
Now this, this is where I should have put a reply explaining there was nothing to cite because it was my own writing. But I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I went into the basement and dug through my academic books trying to think of what one might have something related to the section I’d written on. I found something that fit and added it to my footnotes.
Sure, that piece probably did influence my thinking…eight years ago when I read it in grad school. However, layered over it was years of my own thinking and reflection and time in the field. So why was I unable to stand up for myself in that moment?
“Imposter Syndrome” is described as feeling like you are a fake who isn’t actually capable of doing whatever you are doing. You also may feel that at any moment you are going to be found out. I think this type of self-sabotage is what happens a lot in these instances. Although I have an advanced degree and years of experience in the field, who am I to be pretending I have any expertise? Especially putting it in writing and asserting it to a national audience!
It comes across most clearly in my writing. I hedge, I try to back things up with other experts. I am careful to keep things tied directly to my personal experience and not attempt to draw wider conclusions.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, to some degree. It keeps me from coating everything with my personal bias and makes me consider other research being done. However, too much and I undermine my own point!
Beyond writing, it can happen in conversation when someone asks an opinion, in presentations or even when you are considering new topics to research. If you don’t trust your instincts and experience, then you dismiss ideas and assume they’ve already been done…or that someone else could do it better.
I wish that I had a solid idea for fixing this. I have been trying to be more assertive (in speaking and writing) with the things I know I know. I’ve put in the work, I’ve earned the right to these opinions. However, it is an imperfect road and I still find myself looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to call me out as the fake I feel I am.