There’s this interesting phenomenon in Science (and I’m sure every profession) called The Imposter Syndrome. I’m sure we’ve all fallen victim to it now and again. This constant, nagging doubt that barks in the back of your ear that you are a fraud waiting to be found out. That despite the impressive title beside your name, the company that has decided you deserve to be paid for what you do, or the people who look up to you, the day will come when they finally figure out you really don’t know all that much. If you’ve ever written off your accomplishments to luck, outside help, or “being in the right place at the right time,” you my friend might be suffering from just such an affliction.
So started my third week of teaching and my attempt to impart wisdom on a roomful of coeds. My first few weeks have been both stressful and exhilarating. I must admit, every now and then the Imposter Syndrome would rear her ugly head. Rap on my windshield and announce that any minute now, they would ask the question I didn’t have an answer too or figure out I wasn’t really all that smart. In truth, any new job or new adventure is inevitably filled with those moments – yet this process has still imbued me with the sense that I really can do this. It sounds kind of crazy to have a “wow, I DO actually know stuff!” moment at this stage in my career. But, as a very wise and very successful mentor once told me, if you don’t feel like an imposter every day, you’re doing science wrong.
One thing I’ve learned is that there’s simply no way to know everything. I’ve been privileged to work with some of the most brilliant scientists in my field, and I can honestly say my most inspiring moments with them was seeing them light up with discovery. And that’s what we’re supposed to do – we’re supposed to not know everything. To feel inspired to push towards the Eureka moment. To sense that the little kid hiding in all of us is starting to stir. Back when my sandbox was a great adventure and the question “why” was ever-present on the tip of my tongue. There was a time when the simple act of not knowing was the greatest feeling in the world. Because it meant I got to find out.
On my first day of classes, my sister sent me a text (which I took a screenshot of and have saved in my favorites folder of my phone, to be pulled out during moments of doubt). She told me, “Remember, some student is so excited because they have YOU as a professor. Perfection is not attainable, so when our teachers are real AND amazing, it shows the students they can be as well.”
Real is so much more relatable than perfection. Let’s strive for imperfect today…