BY RANDY MCINTOSH
Imposter Syndrome is pervasive in almost every walk of life, but it seems particularly prevalent in academia. Maybe it’s because much of our careers are built on proving yourself. We write a thesis or two and defend it to show we really know our stuff. We write papers to get our ideas out there, but sometimes suffer through the gauntlet of peer review that is less than complimentary. We write grants… and more grants… and sometimes we are rewarded with funds, but most times we are not. With such misaligned incentives, it’s no wonder that academics face Imposter Syndrome a lot.
I still do, even after more than 25 years as a principal investigator. I have this nagging Imposter Syndrome cloud obscuring my vision that comes from my own fears about who I am. Sometimes this forms while preparing talks or classes, sometime after I read review for my grant or manuscript and think maybe reviewer #2 is right.
Sometimes it comes as a dream. I’ve had a few conversations with other colleagues about this and we’ve shared that ‘yes’ we all do have dreams about being an imposter. One of my recurring dreams is having to go back to high school because I missed or failed a final exam. Sometimes the details change, like for instance whether I am wearing pants, but the basic theme is the same. I am an imposter because I really don’t have the qualifications to do my job.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely adore the career I have, and have been blessed with healthy combination of great mentors, supportive colleagues and friends, a loving and patient spouse, and a good dose of luck. But despite all that, the imposter clouds do occasionally form.
Very early one morning I awoke from yet another imposter dream that motivated this blog and what follows. The dream was incredibly lucid and had scenes and dialogue that made me think I was watching a bad Netflix pilot.
So, I followed my Vomit Technique and ran downstairs to write it down. Over the course of about three hours, I had most of the text for a short story, because there is no better way to combat Imposter Syndrome than to do something where I feel like even more of an imposter: writing fiction.
About two weeks later, the short story was done. I thought it would be fun to share this story with you. It has pictures even! It’s about thirty pages, so we’ll post it in instalments with the next one coming tomorrow and the rest will follow with release each Friday. I pulled together the key scenes from my dream and supplemented them with scenes I made up to keep the story flow. I won’t tell you which scenes were from the dream because you’ll think I am weird (hey, stop rolling your eyes!).
If nothing else, I hope the story will help build some solidarity between all of us who face the imposter cloud, which includes many others such as artists, musicians, writers, actors, etc. While I still grapple with Imposter Syndrome, I also have come to appreciate the fact that I’ve done a pretty good job so far, and to be honest, sometimes that’s all that matters.