In graduate school, you hear the phrase ‘impostor syndrome’ thrown around a bit. Everyone feels it at some point, and most of us feel it quite often. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s the feeling that you’re not who you claim to be. That you’re somehow a liar, a fraud, you’re faking it and you’ll never be making it. We feel like all of our fellow students have their research, their love lives, and their sleeping schedules figured out. We feel like they’re becoming experts in their chosen fields, while we’re just not. We feel like everyone around us is qualified to be there, and somehow, we just conned our way in, soon to be exposed.
I used to have a notecard tacked up in my cube at an old job that read something like “The hardest thing to do is quit comparing yourself to others”. In the interest of full disclosure, I also had “Anyone who pees before getting in the shower is missing out on an easy way to make their day much better” up there, so maybe I’m not the best authority (at least I’m honest!). But back to the point, it is hard to not compare yourself to others – we all do it. And, I swear to god, if you are a living breathing human with a heart that pumps blood to all of your squishy bits, I can just about guarantee that you’re not comparing yourself to others favorably. In most circumstances, you’re thinking that other people are smarter, sexier, and whatever-er than you.
I’m a scientist, so I can speak with some authority when I say that you, when thinking that, are making an assumption. You are assuming that other person is better than you. I make assumptions all the time. I assume that if a cute little fish goes missing from one of my study sites, it didn’t go out to run an errand or move in with its fishy girlfriend. No, I assume it got eaten, because that’s what happens to baby fish that are tasty and not too bright. I’m sorry if I lost you in that metaphor – had to get the marine biology in there – but the point is, some assumptions are reasonable. The evidence is there, written up by other people that have studied young fish, that the vast, vast majority of them get eaten by predators. The evidence is not there, however, that your neighbor is a better, happier human than you. Knowing that requires getting in your neighbor’s head, which you can’t do. (Note: if you can do that, please use your powers for good!)
Where was this going? Impostor syndrome? Impostor syndrome is assuming that everyone but you deserves to be there. Well guess what? Whoever was in charge decided you deserve to be there too. You are qualified. You may not be the best at everything, but you’re probably best at something and, damnit, you can learn the rest.
There’s a great song by hardcore-punk-turned-acoustic-folk-rocker Frank Turner called Try This at Home, in which Frank sings “There’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music, and some of them are just like us, and some of them are d*cks”. I find that sentiment equally applicable in most circumstances – in school, in jobs, and in life. There’s no such thing as scientists, there’s just people who ask questions. Some of them are just like us, and some of them are d*cks.
You’re not an impostor. You’re not a d*ck.
Listen to Try This at Home by the absolutely wonderful Frank Turner.