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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Imposter Syndrome

 I've made the point before, but you should feel like an imposter. You probably don't know what you need to know to do research in your field at an early stage as a graduate student, and even later there will be times in which your expertise is lacking. The way to deal with imposter syndrome is to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills. I could give your embarrassing examples of things I didn't know when I was 30 and with a PhD and already publishing in top journals. 

Nevertheless, if you feel you are an imposter and everyone else around you is not, you are wrong. You are probably all in the same boat. The person who does not have imposter syndrome is probably deluded. 


I am writing about a version of some Lorca songs with two guitars.  One if the most famous flamenco guitarist, the other is another guy. The first thing I notice is that there are two stereo tracks. Aja!  So one is probably Lucía, the other Modrego. The left channel seems to be more accompaniment, and fewer high notes. So is Modrego, the older guitarist, accompanying the 18 year old prodigy, Paco de Lucía? That is my guess. But that could be because I know that he later became the most famous one ever.  What would be obvious to a flamenco guitar expert is just beyond my expertise. I've heard him play a lot of guitar on record, but I couldn't reliably pick him out of a lineup.  


Leslie B. said...

But why does not having perfect knowledge make you a fake?

Let' take a language learning example. If I only speak intermediate Russian, then that's the level I'm at. I'm not an impostor ... am I? Unless I claim I speak advanced Russian?
And I can still interact with advanced speakers, and aspire to becoming advanced, right?

Thomas Basbøll said...

"But why does not having perfect knowledge make you a fake?" +1

An apprentice is not an imposter. If you deal with your ignorance and incompetence by working to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills then you don't have a syndrome.

That said, many people develop imposter syndrome by too often getting away with (or, more often, thinking they have gotten away with) pretending to know something they don't.

I think the best way to cure actual imposter syndrome is to admit what you don't know on a regular basis (the ignorance you're afraid to reveal) and not be destroyed by it. If they do destroy you, i.e., if you lose your job or they take away your degree, well, then maybe you actually were an imposter. Either way, the syndrome is cured.

That is, you disabuse yourself of your delusions about what competence is required (and how competent people think you are) by being open about your limitations.

Leslie B. said...

OK, I have it.

- The first time I taught an upper-division course. I had just gotten a PhD but thought you had to be famous to teach these. It wasn't true, I'd been taught them by non-famous people, but I'd also been taught survey courses (it was a junior level survey) by very famous people and thought I was not qualified due to not being advanced enough.
- The things I haven't written because I decided that I, the writer, was not allowed or qualified to be the one to make final decisions on shape and content (false: other people may not like your text, but the author HAS to get to be the author).
- The Fulbright I turned down because I had decided I wasn't as qualified to work at that university as I had believed I was when I applied!!! God!

I get accused of it often, usually around things having to do with French. I speak it better than I deserve to, know more about France than it is fair of me to, etc. I got yelled at about this unexpectedly just the other week, for 2 days. I got accused of it as a child, too: you think you can get a little job, you think you can work retail, etc., but you are not qualified.

I don't deeply understand the people who are trying to hide limitations, there's no shame in imperfection, but I've noticed it's not a good idea professionally: people seize on any admission of imperfection, say things like "Even you say this! Imagine, then, what more must be wrong with you that you don't say!" So I understand in a practical sense.

(As you can see, I am quite strong psychologically, in the end, but I live in an a place where it is the custom to gaslight, so I am damaged in some ways.)