Have you ever felt like your colleagues know more about your field than you do? Or like your successes can be attributed to luck rather than hard work and persistence? Maybe you’ve felt like you will be exposed as a fraud at any moment. If so, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome, a surprisingly common experience in our field.
According to Wikipedia, imposter syndrome refers to “an inability to internalize…accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.’ Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.”
Many other librarians have cited their struggles with imposter syndrome. Annie Pho wrote about it in her post for APALA on imposter activism and Erin Miller shared her experience within an academic context on ACRLog.
For me, constantly comparing myself to my peers is at the root of this issue. One of the most frequent instances of imposter syndrome I experience occurs when I find myself talking to a peer about something library-related that I know little about. For example, I am no expert at coding. I picked up some basic HTML/CSS in my free time, but talk to me about Java? I know what it is and, well, that’s about it. I remind myself that this does not mean that I’m a fraud, only that I’ve chosen to study other things. Other librarians can throw together a MARC record like nobody’s business. I certainly cannot without a fair amount of studying. I am not a cataloger and that’s okay.
I’ve also been hit particularly hard by imposter syndrome since I’ve started applying for academic jobs. I tend to look at my achievements critically and am hesitant to take responsibility for them. As part of my cover letter-writing process I made a list of all of my accomplishments since I started library school: group projects, promotions, internships, etc. Ignoring that little voice in my head that said but you didn’t get published in an academic journal and you didn’t present at a conference, I took a step back and thought of everything I did to achieve the things on my CV. I remind myself that I worked hard and deserve to be where I am. Sometimes I believe myself, and sometimes I don’t.
One thing that’s helped me cope is to remind myself that it’s impossible to know everything about everything. I can’t be an expert on every kind of new technology, present at every conference, and consistently go above and beyond at my job. Unless some kind of superhero librarian exists that can do these things, nobody can.
Identifying that you are struggling with imposter syndrome can be an important step. Left unchecked, it can lead to serious burnout and anxiety. Honestly, this is something I struggle with on a regular basis and I can’t offer you any solid, 100% effective advice to get over it. Focusing on self care and not overthinking my failures has helped me. If you find yourself experiencing imposter syndrome, I can assure you that you are not alone.
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How do you cope?