“Am I Doing Enough- Imposter Syndrome During COVID-19” is written by GradSWE Member Kalie Knecht.
Imposter syndrome is nicely explained by this quote from Neil Gaiman – award-winning author of American Gods, Coraline, The Sandman, and many more:
Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for .
Nobody is immune to imposter syndrome, but women and under-represented minorities in STEM may be more susceptible to it due to a sense of not belonging and the additional worry of only being in space because they are a ‘diversity pick’ .
Imposter syndrome is a battle that we are always fighting, but now that much of life is at a standstill due to COVID-19, it has space to be amplified. Grad students may normally feel like they aren’t performing highly enough, but this is magnified now that many of us find ourselves struggling to work from home productively.
Imposter syndrome isn’t something that we will one day conquer – it is a conversation that we will have to revisit many times over our careers. It is important to be compassionate with yourself and remember that you are enough. This can be challenging, but here are some tips that may get you into that mindset.
1. View yourself through the eyes of someone who admires you
Since shelter in place began over a month ago, I have been reading You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, and it has really skewed my thinking in a positive direction. One piece of advice that Jen gives is to look at yourself from the perspective of your biggest fan.
Have you ever noticed how when someone you admire goes out and does something phenomenal, you’re happy for her or him, but you’re not surprised – of course they did something phenomenal, they’re a phenomenal person! But to get yourself to see how amazing you are is like pushing a giant marshmallow up a hill.
-Jen Sincero, Author of You Are a Badass
According to Jen, your biggest fan isn’t connected to your insecurities and negative beliefs about yourself – all they see is your true glory and potential.
There are people in your life who think that you are an absolute rockstar. Next time imposter syndrome rears its head, think about yourself in the way that they think about you!
2. Appreciate Your Unique Talents
This is another tip I got from You are a Badass, and it has really helped me stay above the fray.
Each of us has special gifts and talents to share with the world, and it is precisely our uniqueness that makes us awesome. This is also why we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others – deciding that someone else’s uniqueness is better than ours won’t do us any favors.
It is important to appreciate and recognize your talents! Write down a few things that you are good at, and remind yourself of that throughout the day. Dolly Parton would make a great personal cheerleader, and she has the same advice:
3. Redefine productivity
No, you are not going to be able to get as much done as you were before shelter-in-place. Nobody is, and that is okay! It is important to adjust your expectations for yourself and others during this time. You can still make massive to-do lists if that is your thing, but keep in mind that it is okay to only complete one item if any while working from home.
Now might be a good time to start working on other parts of your life, especially if you have research work that is at a stand-still. You might find that you finally have time to read that book that’s been on your list or try that recipe you’ve been eying for months. You can also use this time to build skills, get certifications, and build your online brand. Amy Zheng recently wrote a blog post about this for GradSWE.
You can also do no work at all sometimes. Taking a “zero-day” might mean that you don’t get anything done today, but giving yourself a chance to relax means you can return to work refreshed and ready to go.
4. Share your experiences with others
It is important to stay connected to others now more than ever. Many have been taking this opportunity to reconnect with old friends, or network with new ones. A good strategy for dealing with imposter syndrome is talking with others about how you feel because there is a good chance that you will find others having the same thoughts!
GradSWE is hosting weekly casual Zoom calls where you can meet other GradSWE members. This is the perfect place to learn how other grad students are dealing with imposter syndrome and share some of your own tips! You can find details on the Zoom calls in the GradSWE Slack or in our email updates.
About the Author
Kalie Knecht is a 1st year PhD student in Nuclear Engineering at UC Berkeley. You can find her on Twitter.
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