thoughtful

950 people overcoming our imposter syndrome

This is a Wiscon post.

There were roughly a thousand people at Wiscon this weekend. And I would bet that about 950 of them had at least one moment where they thought, "I am not smart/witty/awesome enough to hang with these people. At any second, my basic lack of cool will be apparent to these people I want so desperately to be like."

Imposter Syndrome is the pervasive feeling that whatever success or acclaim you might have, it's all a cosmic accident, and other people really are much smarter and more successful than you. That at any second, you're going to be revealed as some kind of bullshitting fake, like the way you got a B on that paper you wrote in 6 blazing hours when it was supposed to take weeks, and there's no way you should have gotten a grade that good. I have a secret for you (and me). It really was a good paper, it wasn't all bullshit, and more work would have pulled it up to an A, sure, but you really are that smart.

I was on four panels this year, and one of them I moderated. And every time it got up to the point where I needed to prep for the panel, the bottom dropped out of my stomach, and my appetite vanished, and my hands shook, and I got flop sweat. What if I talked too much? What if I talked too little? What if, improbably, the panel I was moderating on anthropormophizing robots suddenly spun out into a pit of fail? Wiscon is a very generous audience and not prone to heckling or jeering, so I wasn't worried about that, but what if these people in the audience, who I know and like and respect and admire, what if I said something stupid and they wrote me off? aaaaaaa!

And, judging by the conversation in the programming green room, I was FAR from the only person who had this set of thoughts, or some variant of them. But you know what? We show up to our panels, and we fidget with the water pitcher which is designed to drip all over the place (I am finally wise to the water pitchers). We tap the mic to make sure it's on and not horribly feedbacky, and think to ourselves "I can't believe there would be enough people who want to listen to me that I would need a mic." Or we look at that group of people in the corner, where someone is gesticulating enthusiastically, and we drift closer, and we listen, and then we make the point near and dear to our hearts, about fanvids or whatever else is at hand. I love that about this con. It happens at other cons, too. I get flopsweat before I do pretty much any panel, and I get over it eventually, but something about the heavily female demographic makes it more obvious, more wonderful that we are all that scared we are fakes and we get up there anyway.

You really are that smart. It is not an accident or a trick. I wish I were more like you. More fierce, more funny, more witty in the face of rampant bullshit. I wish I watched more tv, read more books, listened to more music. I wish I parented with as much devotion. I wish, sometimes, that I even wanted to be a writer. I wish I had been brave enough to ask that question. I wish I looked that good in a polka-dot dress. I wish I had gone to grad school. I wish I were more like you.

To the other 50 people, who do not ever worry that they are qualified, who are assured that we all want to hear everything they are saying? We know who you are, and we find you slightly tedious.

Comments

Thinking about Wiscon, I was thinking that I would really love a list of books/media that you think fits the bill for "good feminist science fiction". Would you be willing to contribute some of your favorites to my list?
Sure. It'll take me a couple days to get it put together, but you could also watch the wiscon lj community, as people frequently post lists that come out of panel discussions.
birdfigment - If you haven't already stumbled on this site, I highly recommend it as a starting point for finding "good feminist science fiction": http://feministsf.org/
If you already knew about that and/or just wanted wiredferret's own personal list: never mind, forget I said anything. :)
The list of Wiscon Guests of Honor, and the Tiptree honorees (not just the winners).



It's good to know that there are other people who feel just as out of place being up there on a panel talking as I do and I've being doing that for many years.
I know! It's like at any second, someone will realize that I am not that smart.

But you all are. Wait a second....
Thank you for articulating exactly the way I feel, especially at conventions and especially on panels. I was at WisCon this weekend too, and I had a great time, and every time I was certain that what I had to say would be misunderstood/mocked/dismissed, I was wrong!

And yeah, I'm with you on those other 50 people too. ;)
That pretty much summed up my (limited) experience with WisCon. Just about everyone I met had Something Really Cool Going On. I felt like I didn't.

And then I had that fateful hallway conversation about feminism and activism with China Mieville -- and I ardently defended my position of affluent charity-donating yuppie IT chick as an advancement for feminism... and he called me a tool of the patriarchy.

And that was full of awesome... to be called a tool of the patriarchy by a guest of honor at a feminist convention? I'd ruffled some feathers, and even drew a crowd over that little chit-chat, and that got me over the feelings of not being cool enough.
To the other 50 people, who do not ever worry that they are qualified, who are assured that we all want to hear everything they are saying? We know who you are, and we find you slightly tedious.

Heee. Great post. And I'm not SURE that I think these traits always go together -- I like to think it's possible to be confident in your own ability and knowledge-base and still interested in what other people have to say -- but I do really see what you mean.

Yeah, I do think that there are assured and confident people who like to to talk about what they know, and are not dicks, but I am ... suspicious of people who are universally assured. There should always be some place where one is learning and taking it in.
I wonder if I look like one of the 50 on the outside. I'm one of the 950 on the inside, for sure.

(Standard behavior of hiding in my room sometimes until I can get up the oomph to go poke my head into some party or go to some evening. Happened this year with the dessert reception, in fact. Though that part was complicated by needing also to gather the oomph needed to deal with the "hello, I need to find lip-reading seating for this, and instead of being able to do it before-hand, I have to try to do it while everybody who had a ticket is already in there and seated already, and I am worried that I am going to be distracting when I do that, and if so, I will feel like a real disruptive ass.)

Um. Yeah. Anyhow, yeah. Impostor syndrome. Excellent point.
I would love to see a post on how imposter syndrome and worry intersects with accessibility needs.
The theory behind the con's DIS Team blue tape is to make it possible to claim space one needs without having to ask for permission. We know that there will be members in attendance who will use this service, so we try to ensure space for them in advance. We failed at getting the blue tape deployed early enough in the con, though.

Unless you use very obvious assistive tech (white cane, fluorescent pink earmolds on your hearing aids; wheelchair) or your body is clearly atypical, imposter syndrome can be quite disabling. Many typical people feel comfortable policing the boundaries of disability (even when they're not conscious of it), saying things like "but you don't look sick!" and "yeah, I feel that way too sometimes."
aaaand I just took a look at that icon and have decided to retire it, thanks to insightful comments from elisem
This.

I was so impressed with how disability friendly everything was, but I did wonder how that might have changed for me if I hadn't taken my walker which marks me as obviously disabled. I went out once with just my cane and once with nothing, but both times were very brief and after I'd been out and about with the walker a lot.
I often heard people at the elevators making sure to verbally express their invisible disabilities in the fear that they might be getting judged on using them and it was a feeling I could relate to and imagine I'd have done a lot of myself if I wasn't as visibly disabled. If I was feeling more brave, I'd have shouted out to them "it's okay! I believe you!" :)
It was my first Wiscon, so I was part of the 950, for sure. But Wiscon turned out to be one of the best places for feeling like that. I wanna go back next week.
Oh, this. Well said. May I link? Because I think most of us feel like we're the only ones who struggle with this.

(Here via wiscon. Hi!)
Sure!
Yes, I always have a week of mourning that it only happens every year.
no kidding. so sad to have missed it -- had a much-needed relaxing weekend with m, and couldn't figure out how to reconcile my quasi-attachment-parenting baby-having self with desire to go to all the panel evah.
Came over via wiscon and this was so what I needed to hear right now that it made me cry, so thanks for that. This was my first con and I felt like such a dorkball most of the time, and yet got up enough confidence to speak a few times and was proud of myself and ... still felt like a dorkball. It's a good reminder that even most of the people I was looking up to at least had their moments of feeling the same way...
We are all dorkballs here.
That is so good to know. :)
And here you were so damn clueful in the panels we had in common!
Aw, thank you. That means extra much coming from you!
Thank you for this post! I feel this way a lot of the time at WisCon (although was not yet on any panels)...

I'm starting to realize that even the 50 people are probably not as confident inside as they seem, and they probably have their own set of "50 people" that they think have everything together too!
Yeah, definitely had the "other folks are more cool than me" going on.
I love this post. And laughed out loud at the ending.

I was telling Mr. E about the bcholmes thing and about how one of my least favorite bits is about how obvious it apparently was that I got awkward and tongue-tied. And he said, that's the cringe. You're supposed to do that when you screw up. If you just confidently own it and move on, people want to punch you in the face, because you don't just own it, it belongs to everyone.
Yeah. We really do have to figure out how to be both sincerely embarrassed and not running-away.

I am teaching my children to apologize. It is hard hard work to learn. Make eye contact. Take responsibility. Sound like you mean it.

It sounds like you did ok.
There is one universal experience among the people at a con. Every single person there was once at their first con, wondering, and every single one had a very first encounter with a Big Name. Even the ghods themselves. So every single person there knows where you're coming from. Honest. That you found your way here shows that you're qualified for a big

Welcome

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