Saturday, October 11, 2014

Are you there self-confidence? It's me Shilpa....

I am Shilpa Iyer, and I have Imposter Syndrome........

It confused me, annoyed and amused me, plagued me and completely paralyzed me. How could I enjoy the luxury of self-confidence in other spheres, yet in many intellectual pursuits be rendered immobile by crippling self doubt?

Imposter syndrome is defined here as "a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true". All things considered and keeping my dismaying ego in check, I have had instances of positive reinforcement. I am a PhD candidate at a well- reputed university, conducting research (shameless plug here) under the guidance of a brilliant woman scientist (cue obsequious behavior...). I enjoy my work, am not too- terrible at it, and am not immensely disliked (comments to the contrary while welcome will be dealt with sternly). To my naive eye, it appears that there is no need or place for arresting doubt.

Yet, it rears its ugly head, without warning or even provocation sometimes. While the company of fellow 'impostors' is comforting and surprisingly reassuring - the debilitating reality is far from desirable. 

A simple wrong answer, or a badly- thought out idea is enough to send me down a spiral of negativity - with no speed breaker to slow me down, and no hand railing to quell the doubt.
" I just got lucky..."
" They haven't figured out how little I know...."
" Why am I not as smart as xxx and yyy?"
" What made me think I could do this?"..
" Are you sure I am not dumb...?"

And on and on, until an erstwhile productive day is now bathed in gloom.....

In a bid to sieze control, I took this quiz . I scored a high 25 putting me squarely in the realm of high Imposter Phenomenon (IP) - great! Contrary to my expectations however, the result caused me to heave a sigh of relief. There, that was my first step toward acknowledging that I had a problem. I indulged myself with further reading to discover that a large number of people suffer from it , there appear to be differences in gender susceptibility and that in small doses doubt and caution are actually beneficial (operative word(s) being small doses). 

For me a corollary to 42 has been ' Known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns' .Whether it is the fear and embarrassment of not knowing the answer to every question, or just the new-found knowledge that I know I suffer from imposter syndrome, I do not know why an episode is triggered and that this lack of knowledge makes it hard/ impossible to prevent another episode. I am nonetheless optimistic, if I cannot prevent the occurrence perhaps acknowledging the symptoms may help shorten the duration that I am under its spell.

For now, in lieu of answers and coping mechanisms, all I have is the admission - I am Shilpa Iyer, and I have Imposter Syndrome. 

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