Here we go with the impossibly long-winded blog post. i said i wasn’t really going to write about libraries in this blog, and i’m not. but i think it’s probably my turn to stoke the impostor syndrome fire that was started last week by Kate in a blog post that was so right I could have reblogged with a simple “what she said”. But here are my thoughts on the subject. keep in mind this isn’t just about libraries and being a librarian, but pretty much any role in any industry. but for the sake of experience, most of my personal worries about my ability have indeed been related to being a librarian or working with libraries. Also, I’m not even going near the topic of feeling like an impostor as a female student ina male dominated IT degree: that one can pretty much write itself, hmmmm? 😉
a year ago, in my first year as a librarian, there was a role that was up for grabs at a university, around the hew7-8 mark. my very good friend who happens to be a liaison at another university told me i should go for it, she knew what was involved, and they’d definitely interview me if i wrote a good ksc my immediate response was ‘yeah!’. for a week i worked on it, before eventually deciding not to go through with it. Not because of the ksc; one thing I KNOW I’m good at writing is job applications, so I wasn’t worried about that. i just didn’t think i was good enough or would be able to handle the role.
i did this seven times last year, for jobs that were almost entry level librarian positions. in the end, i applied for two roles: one of which i ended up in the final two (not shabby!!), and the other one which i am very, very happily ensconced in right now. Hells bells, if you think a year of not applying for a higher role was a bit stupid, try waiting a full 8 years in retail limbo land before finally having the guts to go back to uni. It took me that long to believe I was even worthy of being a librarian!?
the liaison role i thought i wasn’t ready for eventually went to someone with a very similar resume and level of experience, which was a huge lesson for me. i should have at the very least tried. i didn’t, because i didn’t believe i was capable of moving up. I’m not saying I would have had a shot, but just genuinely did not think I had the chops. I battled through the whole process of moving to my current role because in the course of 18mths i’d trained myself to believe I was very very lucky to even get into the industry, and I should probably never leave where I was lest the ‘real’ library people realise I don’t actually know what the fk I’m doing.
for me, impostor syndrome doesn’t show a lack of drive, or energy, or assertiveness. I’m very assertive. Most of you who’ve met me KNOW I’m assertive! And I’m driven! VERY driven. i don’t want to play the gender card, but i kind of feel like it’s appropriate here, because i really do believe that women have a tendency to doubt themselves or the sincerity of compliments from others about their work way, waaaaaay more than blokes, simply because we cop some pretty weak stereotypes that I think have actually stuck really hard to a lot not us; we second-guess our strength, we play down our achievements, and we think there is room for improvement. ALL THE TIME.
it’s overwhelming how out of control it can be, but also, i really really think that it is important to have this sort of battle inside your own head on a lesser scale occasionally to learn and reflect. Kim’s tweet about it sums up what i think about impostor syndrome: questioning oneself and abilities can be just as much about not having ego as it is about having self doubt. (Apologies if I totally misread the quote. Context and sh1t).
Let me also be really clear about something: ego is healthy. There is nothing wrong with having an ego. I have a big one, it likes to tell me I’m really smart and awesome all the time; I just remain incredibly aware of it, and I refuse to listen to it because with a healthy ego, I think there should also be a bit of healthy doubt. And as awesome as I am, I know stuff from a lot of books and books (I’m sorry to say this) do not hold all the answers. Experience holds many of them, and mine has been short. Hence the doubt and the second guessing about whether I even know enough to comment.
personally, i like research. i have a questioning mind, and i want to know how things work and what people’s reactions to things are. one of the hardest things to let go of when researching something is bias. and for me, bias comes from the same messed up dysfunctional family unit as assumption and ego. ego tells you that your assumptions are correct, bias tells you that anything that doesn’t fit perfectly into your pre-fabricated opinion is incorrect. When it comes to wanting to learn and understand topics that I’m not an expert in (aka everything), I’ve learned to rely on my niggling feelings of self doubt to drive and push away my bias. I can accept that the answer is not what I expected, and I can admit to being wrong. I like listening. I think it makes me a better listener, because I’m more likely to actually take on board alternative processes (like Kim’s approach).
Where ego and doubt and feeling like an impostor take the very ugly turn in your brain is usually the point where you stop thinking about things from a “maybe I’m wrong because there’s a chance I haven’t researched this correctly” space to a “I’m not worthy, I can’t do it, I am a terrible librarian” place, which is how you end up too scared to apply for higher roles and not stepping forward with legitimate points of view on topics because you don’t think you know enough to contribute. It’s a really difficult, hard distinction to make, and for me, it’s been almost as hard as turning on the bias alert in the first place that I never even realised I had until a researcher pointed it out. With every thing that I say I like and I think I’m good at, there is always, ALWAYS the other voice inside that says “big head. You have a big head. Stop talking. STOP. TALKING”. I’m not sure if guys think the same way. I know plenty that do. Maybe it’s a gender things, maybe it isn’t; I still think it is, but is that bias?? Or doubt, or assumption, or just lack of research?
I’ve held off on writing and posting this because I feel that as a newbie to the industry, I should probably sit down and let the people at the big table talk. Truth is, I don’t feel like much of a librarian. I don’t have the same experience as others. I’ve never worked a circ shift. I studied alone, so I don’t have a group of people I went to lib school with. Every time I chime in to a discussion on Twitter I wait to get told I’ve misunderstood or I’m wrong. Every single time.
But I wanted to write and post it too, because I think most of us that have been talking about this don’t even realise we actually ARE at the big table.