What I find even weirder is that as I achieve higher levels of success with my project, these feelings seem to intensify - the more I participate in the scientific field, the more chances there are that people will discover what an idiot I really am.
I have shared with my close friends, but have been reticent to share elsewhere, some recent accolades I have won. I submitted an abstract of my thesis work for a Very Big and Important Cancer Meeting back in November, and not long thereafter I was informed that I was selected to give an oral presentation, alongside postdocs and maybe even a couple of junior faculty. I also found out very recently that I won a difficult to get scholarship for attendance to VBICM, both of which look very, very good on my CV, especially at this point in my career (normally postdocs get both honors). At first I was thrilled, but now I'm just terrified. The social anxiety and fear of public speaking that I've always had don't help, however I find my anxiety over the talk centering around the idea that VBICM attendees are so much more knowledgeable than me about pretty much everything and will find all the holes in my research and eviscerate me publicly. Which is silly - no one sane would do that because it would make them look like an ass. Well they might but it's highly unlikely. This isn't really about anyone who is going to be at VBICM, it's about me. It's about my insecurities, and my ego - see, one of my myriad psychologists once explained to me that social anxiety is a very self-centered disease. That one is so focused on what other people might think that one completely ignores the possibility that other people just don't care all that much - chances are they aren't thinking about me at all, but are rather thinking about things like tasty mashed potatoes or that mystery itch in their pants.
So where does this impostor syndrome come from? I can think of a lot of things. It certainly is related to my anxiety and perfectionism - traits that I've been in treatment for ever since I was a small child. I am naturally anxious, and always felt pressure to be the best and then some. My parents always expected the best from me, but I knew I had to be better than the best because as a girl my best was still seen as worse than the boys. I had teachers who literally took off more points for mistakes made by girls than the same mistakes made by boys (kids work in groups and talk -
So how do I move on from this? Well for starters I can listen to my adviser - I should let her rewrite my internal monologues. Rather than "They gave you this award by mistake and they'll regret it the second you open your mouth," I should say, "Your hard work and novel findings - which you have repeated ad nauseum - are being recognized."* I also need to let go. I don't need to be the expert in brain tumors and brain development and the three pathways that converge in my project in order to be competent, answer questions intelligently, and not sound like an idiot. Now that I've explored the sources of my insecurities, I can confront my deep-seated need for perfection - and my impossible self-imposed standards. I need to hold myself to the same standards that I hold others. My standards for others are still high, but they're not impossible. And finally, I need to repeat the mantra I discovered before my most recent departmental talk - "What's the worst that could happen?" Anything I can think of realistically still leaves me employed, married, healthy and fabulous. Also? I'll always have my fabulous boots, a congratulations present courtesy of LB.
Allegra in Tan, by Born. Fellas? Shoes are always better than flowers.