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Anxiety and Imposter Syndrome: Perspective is Everything

by Lauren Moret

It’s not easy making a transition in your work life. All of us do it at various times in our career: take on new job responsibilities or job roles; change departments or work schedules; get behind in our work tasks and need to play catch up; or, face the well-known monster of imposter syndrome. I’ve experienced all of these concepts of change, discomfort, and insecurity over the last three years since completing a graduate program and moving to Tennessee to begin a new job in a new profession here at UT (I teach research methods on the Knoxville campus).

Since my arrival, I’ve lost countless hours of sleep worrying about if my lesson plan for the next day’s class was “good enough” or if my annual review paperwork would be formatted and provided to the tenured faculty in a way that made me look like a commodity worth keeping around in the department (Notice the language I use when talking about myself in this context. I am such a hard-working human being, so of course, I’m worth keeping around! But, the academic work environment can be tough…we are compared to colleagues, peer institutions, and regardless of the work we do with students, the pubs have to hit!). I’d like to report that these lost hours of sleep have led to greater productivity overall, but I can’t. My hours spent awake between 2-5am have led to nothing further than my binging on Netflix and Hulu. (I’m caught up on several shows now.)

Everyone should understand it is normal to feel imposter syndrome or anxious about your work. It’s a sign that you are a cut above the rest; you hold yourself to a high standard; you have expectations for yourself, and that’s ok. Many of my thoughts that make me anxious can be turned into a positive. For example, I sometimes worry about a lesson being “smart enough” for my advanced level, doctoral seminars. Now, I am eight semesters into my work at UT, and I have never had a single student complain that the content wasn’t challenging enough for them. If anything, the students show excitement by the exposure to new materials. Though I typically over plan, and we don’t cover everything assigned in the lesson, I end up leaving the students at a comfortable stopping place while giving them ideas of how they can continue their thinking and writing as they move forward.

I recently checked in with a former UT Chancellor’s Teaching Award in Excellence winner and learned that what I was doing was succession planning, which means setting students up for success in their next steps as independent scholars. Without realizing it, a concept that had made me so anxious it caused me to lose sleep turned out to be something that works in my favor, a method that supports my goal of becoming an excellent college professor. I needed a new perspective on my skills and abilities. I needed to fall back on trusting myself because I know how to do this work. I say to myself in my head, “you know this, you got this.”

I know the talking I do with myself in my own head needs to be positive and supportive, even though this is easy to forget. And while the imposter syndrome and anxiety visit from time to time, I’m getting better about acknowledging the thoughts as no more than that…just thoughts and not true descriptors about me. So now when I wake up at 2:40 am, I roll over and just go back to sleep. (Turns out, I’m a better teacher when I have a healthy night’s sleep, but that’s a conversation for another time.) You can overcome imposter syndrome and anxious feelings about the job too by believing in yourself, talking positively in your own head about the work you do, and by giving yourself the “Okay” to just be.

Header photo by Synthia Clark


MoretLauren_091014_S.Clark_125Lauren Moret Contact

Lauren Moret is an Assistant Professor in the Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement Program with a focus on Qualitative Research Methodology. Moret is a trained conflict mediator with current research interests that include the teaching and learning practices of leaders across diversities, oppression awareness and reduction processes used in organizations, and supports for the growth of author reflexivity and transparency of the qualitative research process. She loves to cook, eat foods from many cultures, and spend time outside.

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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