Fighting Imposter Syndrome and “Knowing Your Value”

As Abbie and Jeannette have stated in their posts this we Dames have been on a little bit of a hiatus. For myself, life has simply been unbelievably busy. I’m happy to report that my M.A. thesis is completely written and that I’ve passed my comprehensive exams. I still have to finish thesis revisions, but graduation is getting more and more tangible by the day.

I won’t lie, I have mixed feelings about graduating. I’m extremely happy to be moving on to something new, and I’m looking forward to exploring different job opportunities and just seeing what’s out there. Unfortunately, I will not be attending a Ph.D. program next year. I’m okay with this though. I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason, and after going through the process of researching and writing a thesis, I’ve come to realize that I need a break. There are so many things I can do, there are so many ways to find happiness — and I can’t wait to find out what that might be.

I had some trouble getting my thesis started back in February. Unfortunately, when I write I have to start at the beginning. I can’t write the body of a paper first and then go back later and write the introduction. I have to write the intro first, even if it means completely re-writing it later. Once I did get going though, I wrote, edited, and re-wrote almost non-stop — to the point that I almost made myself crazy. I constantly second-guessed myself, stressing about every little detail, worrying that my readers would think I was a fraud, that my argument made no sense, that what I was saying was a bunch of crap. I’ve decided that I suffer from “Imposter Syndrome.”

Everyone has insecurities about a variety of things, but school has always been a major part of my life. I mean, let’s face it, I’ve been in school non-stop since age 3. That was 21 years ago. (God, I feel old — haha!) So, I forget sometimes that I’m not just a young student who has no authority. I have a Bachelor’s degree, I’m an adult, I have experience. I need to start remembering that and acting accordingly. Just because I’m still a student doesn’t mean that I don’t know things with relative certainty.

It’s the same idea with jobs. I’ve been looking around at different possibilities in between working on revisions. There are a lot of different jobs that I have the education, skills, and experience to do. But, I just need to remind myself that Ican do them. Yeah, they’re not “history” jobs — but that’s perfectly okay. They don’t need to be. I am not an imposter, in history or in terms of my other abilities. They’re not going to look at me immediately and say,  “You? Hahaha. We don’t think so.” I am not an imposter.

In addition to reminding myself that I am not an imposter, the process of writing my thesis also provided me with some insight on knowing my value. Even though I wrote almost non-stop for a month and a half, I didn’t write 24/7. In my downtime, I read a book called “Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth” by Mika Brzezinski (co-host of Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough on MSNBC).

In her book, Mika Brzezinski discusses how she was re-hired at MSNBC in 2007 after losing her job at CBS. Grateful to have any job, Mika took what she could get — even if that meant only working a few hours a day for paltry pay and working the worst hours. A twist of fate resulted in Joe Scarborough singling her out as his desired co-host for a new morning show, but even with her new gig, she was still working on a host of other assignments for the network for far less pay than her Morning Joe co-workers. Upset with her unfair treatment and unequal (or, really in the same ballpark) pay, Mika when to her boss to ask for a raise. Her request was rejected.

This book, and my discussion of it, is not entirely about politics or the gender wage gap. Believe me, that gap is a real issue — but women’s consideration of their own value is equally as important in the equation. Mika, with the help of other famous friends, describes how many women (and some men too) lack the confidence of their own value in the workplace.

Instead of  asking for a raise in a confident manner,  Mika identifies that she went into the meeting with an apologetic tone — that she was sorry she had to ask, that she didn’t want to cause waves, that she understood money was tight and times were tough. She focused on the idea that she was so “lucky” to be on this program and to have a position at MSNBC — that she was grateful.

There’s nothing wrong with humility. But, at the same time, gratefulness isn’t confidence. Mika learned that she had to remember she deserved a raise. She deserved to be there. She was more than qualified for her job. She was valuable.

Here are some great quotes from the book:

“The problem is, a woman is socialized to accept that which she is given. So if somebody tells you that you can’t, you believe it. If somebody says you’re not worth it, you believe it.” – Suze Orman

“The key is to do your research. The most important thing that people don’t realize, especially women, is you can’t go in [to ask for a raise] expecting people to take care of you and that they’re going to be fair. They’re going to try to get the best deal they can.” – Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief of More

“Assuming power is everything. You have to assume it … [don’t] wait to be asked.”  – Tina Brown, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and editor-in-chief of Newsweek

“A lot of getting ahead in the workplace has to do with being willing to raise your hand. . . . If we as women don’t raise our hands in the workplace, we’re not going to get the same opportunities men do. Because men keep their hands up.”
– Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

Imposter Syndrome and not knowing your value go hand in hand. I myself am gulity of feeling lucky or grateful for simply being given the consideration for something. For downplaying my own achievements or my own intelligence to not stand out too much. Even to my own eyes and ears now, these statements sound a little arrogant. But they’re not. Everyone has strengths. Everyone has weaknesses. But we are all valuable in different ways.

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not valuable. You are.

“Be Careful, Or You Might End Up in My Novel”

My fellow Dames and I have been having an informal conversation of late regarding doing groups of themed posts on the blog to keep things organized and interesting. The first theme discussed is the concept of having goals in life, whether short or long term ones. I didn’t originally plan on writing a post on this particular goal tonight, or perhaps even at all, because when I was casually thinking about my goals this one wasn’t brightly flashing in my brain — even though it is a goal of mine and a very important one.

I’m a very introspective person. I literally spend my time in the past, researching and thinking about how people lived, what and how they thought, and why they did the things they did. It’s probably, in a way, why I read so much. Or, maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe I’m a historian because I’ve read so much my entire life — I’ve trained myself to ask those introspective questions. But debating something like that is sort of like asking the question: “What came first? The chicken or the egg?”

My love of reading has always been topically broad — from political thrillers and science fiction mysteries to dramatic love sagas and stories about the bonds of friendship. More recently, though, my readings of choice have gravitated more and more towards historical fiction related titles. Perhaps, then, you could say that my love of reading and my love of history are complimentary and that neither fall into the Latin concept of old that reads “Post hoc, ergo procter hoc” (After it, therefore because of it).

With this devotion in mind, then, it isn’t so far of a leap to understand why my goal is to eventually write a novel. Or two. Or ten. 🙂

Seriously though. I’ve had a desire to write a novel for a while, but it’s something that I vacillate back and forth on, never having quite the right idea, enough time, or enough will power to just do it.

But, I think I may finally attempt it.

Because I have all kind of infinite spare time, right? Over the next 6 months my two main necessities are to a) write a Master’s thesis and b)apply and get into Ph.D. programs, so where could a novel possibly fit in? I don’t know either, but, hey, they do say that the busier you are, the more you accomplish.

So why the sudden decision that this would be my goal to write about?

The universe was sending me ideas today. Ideas for that ever elusive novel. As well as further inspiration to actually pursue it.

I think, in a way, that my anxiety and outright fear over writing my thesis and pursuing a Ph.D. has made me, not surprisingly, think about alternatives. Things that I may be able to do if my plans don’t work out the way I want them to. If you know me well, you know I’m all about plans. I’m prepared. I’m the girl who walks around the amusement park or Disney World with a map firmly in hand, because I have to have a plan. And a plan for the plan. And a plan in case plans a and b don’t work. I know, it’s crazy, but I never claimed to be sane.

Back to my point though. This morning while I was getting dressed, I was watching this documentary on PBS about a terrorist attack in India several years ago. The program included interviews with the survivors, who were very candid about the terror and the other more surprising human emotions that they experienced in the time they were held hostage in two besieged Mumbai hotels. (Here’s a link to the program in case you’re interested: Secrets of the Dead – Mumbai Massacre)

The observations these people had about life and death, about risk and bravery, about love and faith, and about hate and forgiveness gave me some wonderful ideas that I plan on exploring very soon.

I recognized that this program, which I hadn’t even seen in its entirety, had started something working in my brain while I was driving to campus. But, being so busy that sometimes I can’t even see straight, I filed the nugget of idea away in my head for perusal later.

But, the universe wasn’t done with me today.

Tonight, on Grey’s Anatomy, Alfre Woodard guest starred as a beloved novelist who needed brain surgery. She refused, however, to consent to the surgery until she finished her latest book. While some may find the story line sappy or may not care at all, and while I didn’t identify wholly with the show’s characterization of her as a novelist, something in it made me stop and really think. Even though my path is directed towards a Ph.D. and a life as a historian, I don’t want to give up the idea that maybe one day I’ll eventually write a novel.

A professor once asked me whether I was “writing the next great American novel yet.” Not yet.

But some day.

So, what do you think about my plans and/or inspiration? What are some of your goals?