Monday, January 23, 2012

On being a fraud

"What did you call Katie the other day?" one of my professors asked her husband, who was also one of my professors.

"Oh, uh, Eeyore," he replied.

Yep, that's me. Eeyore. When I was an undergrad, these two instructors took a liking to me, but they were quite vocal about my lack of confidence. I wasn't sure what they saw in me, and frankly, I'm still not sure. I guess Eeyore is here to stay.

In one of my final semesters, they asked a couple other undergraduate students and me to be in a graduate-level course that they were team-teaching. At the end of the semester, we had to deliver one of our essays to the class. Other instructors were invited to attend.

We were all nervous, but I've never been too freaked out by public speaking. I just didn't think what I had to say would make sense or be interesting to anyone else. Hell, it was barely interesting to me. I was in a class that was over my head as it was, and I felt like my essay would be kind of lame. Before the big shin-dig began, I was talking about this very problem with my professor (the female half).

"Everyone feels like a fraud," she said. She went on to explain that even she had a glass of wine before she'd present her work to a crowd. She said, "Everyone's afraid that people will discover that they don't know what they're doing." We tend to think that someone must have made a mistake. Surely, there was some kind of mixup.

Aside from the Eeyore thing, and despite having taken 5 classes with her, this is the most memorable moment I had with her.

My professor's words, though, continue to have an impact on me. For one, I assume that in a given situation, everyone else is having the same self-doubts or that they have at some point. This by itself gives me more confidence to admit to feeling out of the loop and to ask for explanation. In fact, one reason students were nervous for the essay presentations was that one particular instructor who always attended these events had a penchant for asking incomprehensible questions of squirming students. When it was my turn, I asked him to clarify: "Sorry, I'm not sure what you're asking me. Could you explain what you mean?" He did, and I responded to the best of my ability.

Secondly, if I'm in a situation where someone has given me an opportunity that I feel is beyond my capabilities, I think, "Do I trust this person's judgement?" Sometimes believing in ourselves takes time and experience, and it's easier to believe in someone we respect. If s/he believes I can do it, then maybe I really can. 

When I stop thinking that everything's a test I haven't prepared for and start thinking that everything is a chance to understand and be understood, the fear of being "found out" kind of goes away.

Related article: Imposter Syndrome


Bearette said...

Interesting...the shift from "test" to "understanding"...I can see how that would take the stress away.

Karen Nardozza said...

Well, I can chime in on what I think people see in you--your authenticity. You are one of the most down-to-earth people I know, which I think is hard to do/be nowadays with all the media influence and super-charged, competitive atmosphere in which we live. Your openness and honesty is refreshing and endearing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Domestic Kate said...

Thanks for your kind words, Karen! I'm a pretty terrible liar, so honesty is kind of my only option. But seriously, it helps not having cable television (really) and actively avoiding situations that make me feel bad about myself.

Bearette, yeah, I think that there's an assumption that the world is out to get you, that everyone is going to think the worst of you if you don't produce excellence all the time. So much energy goes into maintaining that image of excellence rather than striving for betterment.