I have a confession. Getting my immigration paperwork done is starting to make this whole thing real to me. I’ve been talking about it for over a year now and it’s always been in the context of a nice idea, not something that I was going to throw my hopes and dreams into just to have them crushed. I didn’t think being a visiting researcher was something I could do, or was qualified to do, or that the university would want me. In situations like this there are a million and one things that can go wrong, so I’ve come to expect at least a handful of them. And I think that’s why this time around I’m starting to get nervous.
And when I say nervous, I don’t mean a typical, healthy low-level anxiety. I’m talking about debilitating, paralyzing, punch-in-the-gut feelings that finally, this time around, I’m not going to be able to do it. A few days ago I was procrastinating by surfing some other people’s blogs (because who am I kidding, trying to blog? I don’t know what I’m doing. Not like these other people with their fancier themes and awesome pictures!) when I came across a mention of the so-called “Imposter Syndrome.” While I’m sure there is a correlation between psychological issues that necessitate diagnosing yourself on the Internet and hypochondriasis, I am definitely sure that I struggle with Imposter Syndrome. More sure, at least, than I am sure that I have undiagnosed cholinergic urticaria, soy allergies, and hypothyroidism (according to WebMD). Imposter Syndrome, most often striking very accomplished and intelligent people in academic fields, is the feeling of being unqualified for one’s position and undeserving of accolades. People with Imposter Syndrome will feel very specifically that they have fooled everyone who respects their work and live in constant fear of being “found out”‘ and discredited.
The familiarity of all this is both disturbing and comforting to me. I relate especially well to this account when she describes her feelings of denial when reading about the phenomenon happening to other people. Even as I type this, I have a little niggling doubt that maybe, I AM the one bad egg, that I feel this way for a reason because my work really isn’t worth it and these articles are for people who are just a little nervous about their Nobel-worthy achievements. And then my powers of reason click back on and I repeat to myself my usual mantra when I start worrying about silly unlikely things: you are not that special. Don’t worry about the plane crashing over an iceberg in the Atlantic–you are not that special. Don’t worry about your passport getting lost in the mail: you are not that special. Don’t worry about being the one person with false-positive Imposter Syndrome. You are not the Imposter.
I’ve struggled with this for the past several years and haven’t found a good way to deal with it yet. I’ve tried reminding myself of the positive things I’ve done, but everything seems to come with a “but.” I have my Master of Science… but I didn’t get a publication out of it. I love learning languages… but I’m not fluent in any other than English. And on and on it goes. So when people ask me if I’m getting excited as my departure date looms nearer, it’s hard for me to honestly say yes. I’m looking forward to it and I really hope that it turns out to be everything I think it could be. When I think about how I felt walking around the city both alone and with new friends from the far reaches of the globe, and sitting in the kahvila Esplanad with a simple musta kahvi and fragrant pulla, just reading (or rather, pretending to read) the local newspaper–I think that is how I like myself and my life best. Feeling like I am a calm island moment in the middle of an ocean of intrigue and foreignness. I have found that wherever in the world I am, I feel at home in the cafe with my coffee at the corner table, reading and people watching. So it’s nice to know that I have a home waiting for me, albeit a small and public one. It’s nice to feel in control every once in a while, when everything else is so subject to change. And it’s nice to know I have a place where I definitely do not feel like an imposter.