Several days ago, I was blessed to have an extended email exchange (yes, it could have happened faster via text message, but we’re both over 40 so it makes sense lol) with one of my mentors (yes, I have them too). I’m not naming her here because I didn’t ask her permission to do so. Anyway, I’m doing a talk at the upcoming ACPA Convention in Indianapolis. It’s a featured session where Stephen John Quaye, Vasti Torres, and I will each be giving short TED-like talks. I am feeling incredibly vulnerable about giving this talk (and even more so about sharing the fact that I’m feeling this vulnerable on my blog). I shared this with my mentor and she told me to stop overthinking it (constant struggle) and that she knew it would be “terrific.”
Usually the exchange would have stopped there, but that day, I sent another reply and then there was a volley of replies all featuring the blatant abuse of hashtags in a non-Twitter forum (hey, like I said, we’re over 40, we’re allowed). It went like this:
Me: Thanks #impostersyndrome #whendoesthisevergoaway???
Mentor: #weneedtokeepthefaithandsupportoneanother #soundslikeasong:)
Me: Yes, #leanonme http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPoTGyWT0Cg
I share this, not to curry sympathy (really, not looking for that) and not to receive a flood of you’ll-be-awesome encouraging words (I appreciate the kind thoughts though). I’m sure I’ll get plenty of notes from folks telling me that I shouldn’t publicize this because it will only confirm the assumptions of incompetence that some folks have about me. They’re probably right. However, acknowledging my vulnerabilities, my mistakes, my missteps is part of who I am. I can’t hide that – not if I am serious about believing that if I show up authentic, others will be free to do the same, and therefore we can recreate our spaces to be brave (see more about creating “brave spaces” by Arao and Clemens in The Art of Effective Facilitation, Stylus, 2013).
Rather, I’m sharing this exchange to show the importance of having people in your corner who don’t only support you but understand the nuances of your journey and speak directly to the issues that otherwise work to destabilize your confidence. She could immediately recognize the imposter syndrome I named because she has had (continues to have) to deal with it herself, despite being an accomplished scholar in her own right.
Moreover, she knew that I needed more in that exchange than a pat on the back. I needed affirmation that I wasn’t being silly and that my anxieties were not unfounded. As she named, women across race and ethnicity and people of color across genders who are smart and talented often struggle with imposter syndrome. I might go further to venture that this may be experienced more intently by those educated or working in predominantly male and/or predominantly white environments. The cultural alterity of those spaces is so distinct and the aura of male and/or white privilege (and class privilege) is so pervasive that one is wont to feel constantly as though you don’t belong. This is reflected even in recent publications such as Presumed Incompetent about the intersections of race and class for women in academe. Telling someone who names a struggle with imposter syndrome that they have no reason to feel that way (or questioning their competence because they do) is not helpful.
Some rivers we can cross over on bridge. Other ones, we just have to wade through with the support of others who are in the river with us.
*I know, this is my first blog post in about 2 months. But I am writing one today and I will celebrate that.