It is frustrating that I can’t be as confident as my experience tells me I should be. Somehow, I can both know that I am capable and useful and not a siphon on dwindling resources that could be better devoted to someone else. It’s annoying to look at everything I’ve done and know I can do with complete dissociation, like someone else who is much smarter and quicker and more ambitious and better at staying up after midnight had done it. I know that person is me, but I don’t feel like them. I’m utterly pooped by 11:30.
Imposter syndrome is not uncommon in teachers. I get that. Honestly, I’d be a little worried if I got paid to boss a bunch of adults around and didn’t question whether or not I should be allowed to do that. Feeling like a fraud as a teacher is pretty manageable. If I suddenly get a sense of how close I am to my students in terms of age, ability, and academic credentials, then I just ask them a question. Checking in that I still know the topic I’m supposed to teach better than they do is useful in confirming I can at least be useful.
My position as a teacher isn’t so much the source of my feeling like a trashy sock puppet in a room full of fully articulated Muppets. It’s everything else, including anything between having to mentor new grad students and just talking to people. I wonder if there is a point in everyone’s personal development that they start realizing the way people perceive you is wildly different from the way you perceive yourself.
Will these new grad students I have to mentor know that I crawled my way through my own program. Should I tell them that I feel like I was one small mistake away from failing everything and that the only reason I can seem respectable is because the degree doesn’t look any different if you cried and screamed the entire time you were getting it. No, they won’t know any of this. I’ll probably tell them some because they’ll go through a lot of the same, but it’s weird to know I’m going to tell them not to do everything I did. I’m going to look them straight in their innocent little faces and say “don’t procrastinate” even as I remember turning in projects–including my thesis–within hours of them being due. That’s not necessarily lying is it? More of an omission.
The cashiers at Safeway don’t know how much of my Youtube history is the Mamma Mia soundtrack and videos of cats falling over. It’s a lot. This may seem like a weird connection to make because sharing your internet history with a person should only come after years of intimacy and trust, but this is different. Is it disingenuous to buy bell peppers and not tell the cashier that those peppers will go into a delicious curry and that while the delicious curry is simmering, someone nearby will be poorly singing along with “Super Trooper” by Swedish pop group ABBA and performed by Cher in the best 4 minutes in living memory? That would be a mouthful to get out at the register. I’ll have to put it on a sticky note they can read while I’m paying.
Lying is the most useful skill anyone can have. It’s how we convince ourselves and everyone around us that things are ok, and it’s how we pretend to know what we’re doing. I know I’m a pretty good teacher, but the idea of mentoring people who are in a position I barely got through not that long ago is intimidating. I know I’m a decent cook, but when I’m buying a pile of broccoli, should I tell the cashier it’s going to be serenaded to some hot Swedish pop before it goes into anything else?
The best part is that the more I get away with it, the more people don’t realize that all that I am is a loosely-bound bundle of character flaws and unhealthy coping mechanisms, the more I feel like a fraud for people not knowing. Anyway, back to ABBA.