We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
Recently, I have been dealing with a serious case of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is this thing that makes you feel like you’re in the wrong place, like you don’t belong, and all because you’re unqualified. It afflicts PhD students often, and it afflicts many of them more than once in their careers. I have dealt with imposter syndrome on many occasions, but this past week it just felt different. It felt like I wasn’t making it up and there was actually something that wasn’t quite lining up. I talked to my boss and tried to dance around the topic (arguably not the right way to handle it, but also arguably a good approach). We ended up resolving the issue by making me panic about something else.
Flash forward a couple of hours and the evidence said, no you do not belong here. Despite the evidence, my thought process immediately said “we cannot keep doing this.” It is one thing to feel like you don’t belong, it is another to succumb to that feeling and perform as if you don’t belong. There is always a choice- the choice to be better is always there. It is also the more difficult choice. I chose to take it. I typed out an email to my advisor, with no intention of actually sending it. Twice in the past week I had heard the advice that typing things out (or, better, write them the old fashioned way) could make you feel better. So, I gave it a shot. However, after typing it out and re-reading it, I realized that it didn’t make me feel better but it did reveal the root of my imposter syndrome. For the first time in my research career (including opportunities I had as an undergraduate student) I was facing issues that had never actually been issues for me. I had heard others complain, and I listened without empathy because it honestly had never happened to me. A day later, I sent a similar email to another mentor for additional advice.
If you know me, then you know how much I value mentorship. I believe that if you are able to find a good mentor you will never have to worry about asking them for help later in your life. This became really important for me, not just because I wanted multiple perspectives, but because this was a situation that I needed to hear what other people had to say, particularly people with different backgrounds and training. Our lives are heavily shaped by our experiences, and therefore having people who have seen the world differently but that care about you similarly is an extremely valuable strength. On top of that, I had some amazing friends/peers who pulled me out of my funk with laughter, smiles, encouraging words, and most importantly the truth. It also gave me the strength to say no to something today without regret, remorse, and very minimal guilt.
If you can find these people, hold on to them.