The most important moments of my life have been moments of stark perspective. I remember the time someone suggested that if I hated my job, I COULD quit and do something else. The times someone pointed out how I was deeply unhappy in a relationship, or mooning over an unrequited crush. There are others, other moments and other someones, but I was thinking today of the most recent moment: the time that someone asked me, in honest confusion, why I wasn’t aiming higher in my goals.
I am an expert at losing perspective in emotional situations. It’s not really that I can’t see the forest for the trees, it’s more that I, to paraphrase the circumstances of the young fish in David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water,” am not even aware that the trees form a forest that has an end to it. Just trees and potential bear issues. So, how to climb out of this and gain (maybe) some grownup points? Well…it’s a work in progress.
Everyone in academia (minus the narcissists and megalomaniacs) gets imposter syndrome at some point. The niggling feeling that not only are you definitely not the smartest person in the room, but that you might actually be the dumbest, is hard to get over. It is 100% easier to believe in the intelligence of the person next to you rather than your own abilities. And here’s the thing about that: setting aside the various problems inherent in that mindset–you can’t really quantify intelligence, what is intelligence, we all have different strengths, etc–the only thing that that kind of thinking does is stall you, getting you hung up on all the ways that you have decided you must suck. As Sherlock says, “Bitterness is a paralytic.”
The quote “You either get bitter or you get better” (apparently attributed to Josh Shipp per Goodreads) is my mantra for these moments. Yes, I need to work on the issue itself at the core as well–convincing myself that I do belong, and that everything is okay–but that’s part of the Long-Term-Fixing-My-Brain-Stuffs work, a Sisyphean kind of labor (although I hope I get there someday, you know?). In the immediate moment, what is truly important is getting over yourself enough to get stuff done, and getting better. To continue the forest metaphor: getting a compass is helpful, or having someones (whatever form they take in your life) around who are willing and able to show you that it’s just a damn forest, after all, and you can hike wherever you want to go (but avoid bears and wear bug spray).
In short: I have since aimed higher in my goals. I have fought harder, with greater confidence. And the results have been excellent. Good day and good luck.