For almost twenty years I worked in a corporate environment, mostly in Sales and Marketing. Now, after a grueling three years and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFA), I enjoy a whole new career as a writer.
My writing took me to academia. I teach, and I love it! However, in many instances, I hesitate to call myself a teacher or an educator.
Prior to embarking on this new path, I worked in banking and also refused to categorize myself as a banker. Similarly, I felt out of place calling myself a writer.
Notice a pattern?
I did some self introspection which I think is important for all of us, because we all need to take stock of our shortcomings and strengths. It is also beneficial to recognize when we need to unload life’s burdens and when we need to strap up our boots.
I am usually confident about my ability to learn new things, as I’m sure many people are. But have you ever learned something and still thought you were not good enough? Or have you gotten to a position where you felt as if you had not earned the right to be in that particular space? This self-doubt can create imposter syndrome, which can steal one’s confidence and swallow their swag.
American Psychological Association says the phenomenon was first described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, and although it is not an official diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), psychologists and others acknowledge that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. “It occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability.”
According to Healthline, imposter syndrome or perceived fraudulence involves feelings of “personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments.” Several personality types may experience imposter syndrome and although I recognize myself in some of them, this is the description that resonates the most:
“You want to learn everything there is to know on the topic. You might spend so much time pursuing your quest for more information that you end up having to devote more time to your main task.” Healthline
This is so me! Oftentimes, when I embark on a project I research and research, which takes time away from the writing. And research is good, but most times there are hard deadlines for the project.
So, what causes imposter syndrome?
I think one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is ‘why?’ What is our why? The Healthline article states that there is no single cause of imposter syndrome. However, a number of factors likely combine to trigger them including but not limited to:
- parenting and childhood environment
- academic success
- new responsibilities,
- personality traits like perfectionistic tendencies or low self-efficacy
- gender bias
Perhaps I may need a professional diagnosis, but I believe my imposter syndrome may be caused by a combination of factors, the biggest one being new responsibilities. New responsibilities come with learning curves that may adversely impact output and shake self confidence. Also, the feeling of newness to a role or career, has a feeling of ‘just come.’
Often, perfectionistic tendencies plague me when I approach my work becauss I want my publications to be flawless. Honestly, sometimes I deliberate over things too much and this may be a sure way to cripple progress. Still, I take pride in what I do and strive to put quality writing into the world because my words represent me.
It’s not that I want or expect everybody to like my work, because writing is art and art is subjective. Besides, I love a good debate and I also love different perspectives. I understand that my reasoning may not resonate with everyone because we have different backgrounds and different experiences, and therefore, we see through different lenses. I respect that.
Anyway, forgive my digression. Back to the discussion.
You may have heard of the five whys technique to explore cause and effect. I’m attempting it here.
Why did I refuse to call myself a banker? Or a Writer? Why am I hesitant to call myself a teacher or an educator?
I was a Marketing Officer at a bank. I used to say to my partner, I don’t belong there. The thing is, I have no love for the world of finance, neither the lingo nor the numbers. The only accounts I love paying attention to are mine. Lol. Working in marketing meant I had to learn the system and the products in order to market them. Still, in my day to day I would not throw out words like amortization or hedging. They make me uncomfortable because honestly, I had to reach deep within myself to grasp banking concepts. Hey, I am a proponent of growth and learning. But this just wasn’t my thing.
Therefore, I called myself a Marketing professional because this is what I most enjoyed. Did I mention I won the Living the Brand Award at the bank? Seriously, as a marketer, the hustle was real and I loved it! But labeĺing myself a banker felt like a false depiction of how I saw myself.
I’ve been reading and writing since I can remember. When I finally started considering writing as a career, I knew my work was not as riveting as the writers I was reading. I would scour journals, burn my eyes reading winning stories, and lose myself in novels, trying to figure out how the hell their language was so compelling and polished, and mine was so dull.
We don’t know what we don’t know. In trying to figure things out I sought help from those who know better. (Shoutout to Dr. Schuyler Esprit!) And so in those stages of uncertainty, referring to myself as a writer seemed like an insult to the calling.
The universe shows us signs. And we need to pay attention to the things that excite us. My absolute favorite part of my job as a Marketing Officer at the bank was visiting communities and schools to facilitate sessions on financial literacy and to discuss the importance of preparation. (My mantra is: preparation is the mother of opportunity.) Perhaps I should have recognized the teacher in me?
Part of my MFA training was teaching creative writing and academic writing at the University of Maryland. This past semester, I taught Critical Reading and Writing at Trinity Washington University in Washington DC. I’ve also been facilitating a Create Caribbean Writers Workshop, and working on other projects as a writer, editor and copywriter.
You can tell that I confidently own the title of writer, right? Yes!
I am struggling to call myself a teacher but like I got over the bridge and now own my label as writer, I will cross this bridge.
I feel confident in the material that I teach. As a matter of fact I’m excited about the discussions my students and I engage in. We cover topics like immigration, gender equity, identity, settler colonization and other social issues. People energize me, and imparting knowledge while learning from students is absolutely fulfilling.
Dealing with imposter syndrome
Both Healthline and American Psychological Association outline ways to deal with imposter syndrome. Some include:
- Acknowledging the feelings and reframing one’s thinking
- Building connections and talking to mentors
- Stop comparing oneself to others
- Challenge one’s doubts
- Remembering that no one is perfect
Here’s how I’m handling this imposter syndrome nuisance.
I journal. A lot! And I lean on my support system. I have acknowledged my imposter feelings and I’m constantly building connections and having conversations or researching about the things that interest or concern me. Generally, I do not compare myself to others, but sometimes a sense of inadequacy rears its ugly head depending on the content I consume. It is wise to remember that we all walk our own individual paths, so comparing is not always healthy. I will add here that it does not hurt to emulate good practices.
Upon deeper introspection, my hesitancy is mostly because of my newness to teaching and the fact that my experience as an educator is so limited. The thing is too, I never set out to be a teacher. I just wanted to read and write for a living! 😁 However, I feel deep satisfaction at this point in my journey. I’m still learning and developing my pedagogical skills, and there’s a part of me that says I have some miles to go before I earn the title.
I know that I am on the right track based on beautiful gestures from my students, plus my conversations with them. Others see my value too, including my close peeps and people I have worked with or assisted over the past few years. There is tremendous joy and humility in knowing that they appreciate my input and my efforts.
I’m sharing here some sentiments of appreciation that are etched in my heart. My hope is that when feelings of imposter syndrome try to creep into my spirit, I will not only lean on my support system, but I will retrace those imprints and continue to shape who I am becoming.
As 2023 rolls in and I move forward on this new path of writing, teaching, and learning, I will continue to practice gratitude and to give the gift of grace to myself and others.
May we remind ourselves to have confidence in our competence. May we remind ourselves of how far we have come. May we remind ourselves of our wins and our ‘whys’.
Happy 2023 to you and yours! One blessed love.
Lisa J Latouche
Reading and Writing Specialist