Impostor Syndrome, la maladie du jour.

What?!?

So with my last post, I covered some pretty heavy topics and unpleasant truth, and this time is no different, really. Last time I still had faith in my country and my senators to do the right thing. No, I didn’t, that’s a lie. Last time I still thought that maybe enough of the people elected to represent us would want to represent us and listen to us. No, again, that is a lie.

Let me start again. This time I’m going to talk a little bit about something that I face on a regular basis, in all facets of my life – sometimes with a bit of help from colleagues and co-workers that I am positive are not doing it on purpose. I didn’t cross that out, but it’s still not 100% true.
I found an email today with an excellent article on impostor syndrome in academia from the Chronicle of Higher Education, linked here. While this article specifically speaks to academia and even more specifically to the faculty that work in this field, I found some points that were salient to my own life, both my professional life (as a nationally certified sign language interpreter) and my avocation (a novelist or an author or whatever you want to call me – well, not whatever you want, that could get a little ugly). 
You see, I am really good friends with Impostor Syndrome. I’m sitting here right now – having finished working hard to get my software ready to provide real-time captioning in a class on campus and arrived at said class to find no one there and nothing in my email about why – worried that because I decided to use the time I should be typing 

Female Student: [cannot hear him/her] 

into my software I am blogging, I will be seen as a fraud and fired. Rational Adult Nancy thinks that is ridiculous. But there is another me living in my mind that not only does not share that opinion but spends a great part of our conscious hours working on plans B-Q for what we will do when we are found out to be the fraud we are.
On any given day, I know that what I do for a living isn’t easy.  It doesn’t matter that I have been actively thinking in and about a visual and spatial language since I was about 12 years old. It doesn’t matter that I love languages so much that I fell in love with the process of working between two languages and can’t crawl back out. It doesn’t matter that I have a Bachelor’s degree in American Sign Language/English interpreting from a top university in that field of study – the first one to offer said degree, if I am not mistaken (Hello Maryville College! Go Scots!) – and I was nationally certified as a transliterator (spoken English to a signed form of English) and interpreter (spoken English to ASL) by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. in 1997 and 1999, respectively. It doesn’t matter that I have interpreted for celebrities, politicians, authors, Broadways shows, and for students attending Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK.
None of that seems to be enough to make me feel confident about who I am and what I do. Currently, I’m sure that the fact that I am the only one in my family of origin without an advanced degree (my father had two of them!) doesn’t help. When you’re surrounded by grad students and people with all sorts of alphabet soup following their names and all you have is BA, CI/CT to show for it, you can feel pretty less than. But the author of the article I linked above had a great bit of insight into that part of the syndrome:

Learn to see yourself in context. If you feel like an impostor because you don’t know or can’t do a particular thing, think about that thing. Is that skill or content crucial? If so, can you acquire it? Not because you want to belong but because it may make you more effective or productive. And if it doesn’t actually matter, think about why it is that others have it and you don’t (assuming you really don’t and aren’t just being hard on yourself or inflating other people’s capabilities). Maybe there are real and good reasons why that wasn’t part of your background or education.

I don’t want a master’s in interpreting. I don’t see the point in it, to be honest. I learn on the job, every day. I go to workshops. I study other signed languages. But then I see someone sign something so perfectly, so succinctly, with so much meaning packed into such an economy of movement and handshape and I just want to turn in my letter of resignation and go home.

But I don’t do that. Of course I don’t. Not even when – on various occasions, from the beginning of my career to present – colleagues that either don’t sign at all or don’t sign well enough to interpret or aren’t really even sure what it is I do try to make decisions for me about my work. I should be incensed! I should be furious! I should stand up for me and what I know!

Instead, I scuttle back into my place in the universe and wait for the inevitable revealing of me as a fraud. Writing has done nothing to help this syndrome, either – if anything, it has made it so much worse. I give my manuscripts to my beta readers, breath held, heart rate on par with a disco beat – and I fully expect that they will look at what I have done and know that I am not a real author. My sentences are run-ons and full of too many ellipses and dashes. My characters are stock, storylines/plot so ridden with outdated tropes that you almost don’t have to read them to know where they are going. My dialogue swings madly from stilted to entirely too much in the vernacular of both South Carolina and West Yorkshire that it makes no sense to anyone.

And while we’re at it – international expat? Ha. You lived there two years, and you let the death of your pets in the first two months color the entirety of your life in the UK. You’re no expat. You’re just a frightened child. You’re a fraud.

WOW, who let her out? The author of the article goes on to mention a specific piece of advice that I am trying to follow in my daily life – something that would be hard even without the aforementioned voice screaming in the back of my head. (Interesting side note: to those that have read my fantasy series, this is where the idea for how Ben communicates with Gin came from: THIS RIGHT HERE.)

Stay concrete. Impostor syndrome feeds off vagaries and generalities. “I’m not good/smart/charismatic/funny/self-assured enough.” What’s enough? Who is all of those things? What is “good” anyway?

What happened politically in the US this weekend has cranked up the volume on the impostor syndrome, let me tell you. Remember the woman I mentioned last week? All of those feelings, all of those experiences – they not only lead to a strapping case of this syndrome but they help feed it and make it worse. Everything from why would you think anyone would listen to you to the ever present you must be remembering it wrong because why would anyone want to do that to YOU?

All this to say I don’t have an answer for this yet. I haven’t found a magic pill that will take these feelings away and silence that inner voice that delights in waiting until I’m about to fall asleep to remind me of all the reasons I’m going to be found out very soon. But I’m still looking, and in the mean time I’m trying to keep her as far as I can in the background.

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