I just had a live community call of librarians – it is a once a month thing for new librarians to get together and talk about their successes and struggles, and to support each other in their new careers. After hearing people share some of their failures, I spoke up on the call and told everyone that I actually felt really encouraged to hear that people were brave enough to try something they might fail at.
I personally find myself avoiding being put into situations where I feel I might fail, as if failure would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to me. Anyone else out there like that?
Another librarian responded to my comment, sharing a failure she had experienced during a presentation, and she mentioned the idea of Imposter syndrome. There are a lot of definitions of imposter syndrome that you can find online, but the general idea is that you believe most of your achievements are a fluke, despite evidence that you are skilled and competent. You feel you don’t deserve recognition for the things you achieve, and you continually feel pressure to prove yourself to others.
It’s like a lightbulb went off in my head – I feel like I’ve been experiencing this in my job. And the more I thought about it, the more it makes absolute sense. I got hired for my job without having the required degree listed in the job posting, or even any library experience. I’m working on my degree now, and have about 8 months of experience at this point – but I’m kind of doing it “backwards” so to speak. There are many times I don’t know exactly how to do something, and I start to worry that maybe someone made a mistake somewhere…
At the end of the call, it was mentioned that another upcoming call is happening later this month, specifically on the topic of Imposter Syndrome. (What a coincidence!) To me, this caused more lightbulbs to go off in my head – okay, I feel like someone’s trying to get my attention.
After the call, I went downstairs for my noon shift at the research desk. There are typically many college students milling around on this floor, and as two students were walking by, I overheard one of them say to another, “Have you ever heard of Imposter Syndrome?” (I’M NOT EVEN KIDDING, THIS REALLY HAPPENED!) At this point, I was like, “I have got to research Imposter Syndrome!”
Is it too bold to say that God wants me to think about this today? I’m gonna say that He does – I had it mentioned to me three different times today in the span of about 30 minutes.
I found an article online that recommended a book called, “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and how to Thrive in Spite of It.” The book identifies five types of people who may commonly suffer from Imposter Syndrome, and two of the types I immediately identified with:
- The Perfectionist
- The Natural Genius
It’s easy to understand why a perfectionist would have Imposter Syndrome – they set excessively high goals for themselves and if they don’t meet those goals 100%, they can feel like a failure. No matter how good they are at something, they always think about how they could be better.
The natural genius is the type of person who if they have to work hard at something, may feel like they are automatically bad at it. This is a person for whom many things have come easy, for example, maybe they always got straight A’s in school. So the minute they realize something doesn’t come naturally, they assume they should avoid it because they aren’t already good at it, and probably never will be.
I know I may get some flack for saying I connect with the natural genius one, but I really do. I never struggled in school until I got to 8th grade math, and things did not come as easily to me – I wasn’t the “best” in the class anymore. I distinctly remember just deciding that I didn’t like math because I wasn’t good at it. This happened for me later in high school Chemistry, and I even decided I shouldn’t pursue becoming a veterinarian because I wasn’t good at science. (I had always thought I might be a vet, or an artist for Disney, I loved to draw!)
So I’ve definitely got some things to think about today – the main takeaways for me are:
- It’s okay to not be the best at something – and it doesn’t mean that you aren’t still very good at it.
- It’s okay to be a work in progress and still be learning.
- I don’t have to avoid something just because it is a challenge – there are a lot of things I’m naturally good at, but if I avoid the things that take a bit more work, I’ll never know how good I could have been at them if I’d only tried.
- It’s okay to try and fail. It doesn’t make me a failure.
Even though it puts me out of my comfort zone, I’m going to keep trying to do things I’m not always good at. This can be something as simple as playing a board game I know I’m going to lose, because I’m not good at it. (I’ll admit, I’m the type of person who only wants to play games I can win!) Or, it can look like coming to my job every day and being brave enough to try new things, and even fail at some.
P.S. I’m also a Ravenclaw, so I obviously take a lot of pride in being “smart” and feeling like I know what I’m doing… I assume Gryffindors are more comfortable with taking chances and failure…