Honesty and the Imposter

I am an imposter. Somehow, I slipped through the cracks of other hopeful PhD students — smuggled by error with the other applicants far superior to me. My résumé, feeble in my number of papers and experiences compared to the sheet of paper below and above mine, accidentally makes it into the ‘accepted’ pile. A fortuitous accident made by tired fingers.

I am an imposter.

I took this at interview weekend. The library (read: spaceship) was very impressive. Still waiting to be taken to their leader.

In my classes and in lab meetings, I force myself to sit in the front. I try to lean in and make myself vulnerable to exposure. I am uncomfortable, but Sheryl Sandberg says I deserve to be noticed as much as any other student. I deserve to be here. Fortune favors the bold. Right?

The speaker pauses for questions, but my mind draws a blank. I had a question a few slides back, but no one asked anything about it. It must have been too trivial. I write the unfamiliar concept to look up later in a notebook I keep on me at all times. It has become an encyclopedia of my deficiencies.

Imposter syndrome is a concept used to describe the feeling of “high achieving” individuals who struggle to believe their worth, who fear they will be revealed for the deceivers they are, and is particularly observed in women. My fingers even halt at typing high achieving. I am the definition.

So I work. I am honest with myself. Imposter or not, I am here and there are things to be done. I recognize my own fears. There is a duality in my brain. I am an imposter, but I am also not.

Feelings of doubt chain me to mediocrity, so I try to be honest and I try to work harder. No you don’t understand that, no you didn’t know the answer, no you haven’t published yet.

But you will.

My questions, when I do ask them, are well thought out. I spend the time to appreciate the trivialities and complexities of a subject. When the subject comes up again, the faults in other’s explanation are exposed. My uncertainties come easier and conversations more productive. My notebook fills with questions that grow into ideas. Every new fact becomes a seed, another Google search unearthing gaps in collective human knowledge.

I am an imposter, but I’m okay with it.