I remember when I started teaching. I was teaching English to groups of kids from all over Europe. An entirely new class almost every week- and me.
Here’s a feeling most of you know: it was months before I slept on a Sunday night. The rest of the week was more or less okay. Fridays I’d sleep like a(n exhausted) baby. But Sundays? Nope. Barely a wink. Staying up all night worrying about the next morning. Who would my students be? What would they think of me? Was I sure I had my class planned out okay? What if I was wrong? What if my students were terrible? What if I was terrible? What if they hated me? What if I got everything wrong?
You could point out that none of this fretting helped one bit. That a well-rested teacher is far better able to handle the unexpected than an exhausted one. That it wasn’t a reflection on my character if the kids were Awful. Or even that the vast majority of the kids I worked with were Lovely and I almost always loved the time I spent in that classroom.
You could point all of that out, and it wouldn’t change a thing. I heard it dozens of times. And despite the fact that I somehow managed to put fun, engaging classes together for my teens every day, I was convinced that I hadn’t a clue what I was doing.
Here’s the thing about imposter syndrome: it’s not about you.
Imposter syndrome is all about making everything about other people. Your boss. Your students, clients, or coworkers. You constantly worry about all of these people judging you.
And when you do that, you forget about yourself. You forget about what you want. You forget why you’re there.
It was at the meeting yesterday afternoon- I’d just met the others who are teaching the course, and I was feeling horrendously nervous and anxious. Imposter syndrome all over the place, you know? Full of the feeling that everyone would know. Know what, I haven’t a clue. Or that I’d look terribly young and inexperienced. (Leave it to me to be simultaneously convinced I look awfully young and inexperienced, and that everyone notices the crows’ feet sprouting from my eyes.)
Par for the course for me, really.
And then I changed my mind. I’m not sure what led to it. Maybe I was just sick of feeling that way? I thought to myself, “why are you afraid of this? Isn’t this exciting?!”
And then I remembered a moment at the funfair last summer, where the ride we were on accelerated and I took a deep breath and decided not to be afraid any more.
I asked myself why I’m spending all my time worrying about what other people think of me, instead of focusing on what I feel. What I want. And just like that, this scary meeting transformed into something exciting. I get to lecture! I get to be a lecturer! I get to teach women’s studies! How awesome is that?! It’s all the goddamn awesome. I get to share ideas with people who’ve never heard of them before. I get to hear what they have to say. They’ll think they’re learning from me but who walks into a classroom and doesn’t learn as much from their students as the other way around? I flippin’ love teaching.
It’s exciting. It’s really exciting.
And here’s a thing: anything can be taken away from any of us at any moment. So instead of worrying about being an imposter, isn’t it better to enjoy the chances, the opportunities that we do have? These experiences that we get?
I figure that as attitudes go, that’s a good one to cultivate.
I’d love to start changing my “I have to’s” into “I get to”. I so often seem to get fixated on the former. I have to prepare a class. I have to give a workshop. I have to write an article or a post. I have to go to training or the gym, even!
I bloody well get to do all those things. I get to do them because I’ve sought them out. I studied my ass off. I developed damn good workshops. I wrote for years until I got (reasonably) good at it. I get to have this platform for my writing! I paid my gum membership. I went through derby minimum skills and loved every second and now I get to chase people around on skates and knock them over for fun.
I get to do so many things. Next year I’ll probably even get to go back to college! How incredible is that?
I feel tired all the time. It’s a thing. Doing things, making an effort- those things are tough, when there’s a part of me that always, always wants to lie down. But who says that part has to win? There’s a part that wants to get up and do things as well. That part has a lot more fun.
I moved cities. I wanted to make friends but I was afraid- what will they think of me? So I’ve been here for months, hardly asking people for coffee, to hang out, any of it.
Because I’ve been focusing only on “what will they think?” and not at all on “what would I like?”
There’s that phrase. ‘Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man‘. I think that that’s what that’s about. The mediocre white man isn’t spending his time thinking about what everyone else in the world thinks of him and what he wants. He’s just doing his thing. It doesn’t matter that he’s mediocre. He couldn’t care less.
And of course, the world responds well to a mediocre white man doing his thing, so he doesn’t have to develop the kind of second-guessing that the rest of us do.
But I think that that’s how to learn to do that. How to learn to carry yourself like a mediocre white man. When your brain keeps asking you “what will they think of me?”, change the question to “what do I want? What am I excited about? What’s interesting to me? What can I get to do?”
I mean, it won’t change the outside world. But feck that. Inside is every bit as important.
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