The impostor syndrome hit me hard last week. Being a new professional is one thing, working from home is another, and the two combines is difficult. Like many lone arrangers archivists, I have inherited incomplete projects, unprocessed collections up to my eyeballs, and shoes to fill. And while I expected it to be an uphill battle, I did not expect to do it in the comfort of my own home.
I’m the type of person who likes to complete projects well. Like many other archivists and librarians, we strive for the impossible perfection. I’m slowly learning how improbable that is. This isn’t the first time the wave of impostor syndrome hit me. It happened last month, right after I turned 30 and during my first month in a new position.
These people hired me for a reason and that reason is I’m good at what I do. But how do you convince someone with impostor syndrome of that? You don’t. Time does and actually working on a task does. But working from home makes time drag and gives you plenty of excuses to not work on a project.
Impostor syndrome is surreal and difficult to explain. It comes in waves that you don’t see coming. You know that classic science fiction trope when the character wakes up in an alternate universe where they don’t exist or their mind in someone else’s body. That’s what it feels like- surreal. One minute you are confident in your work and accomplishments, the next minute you don’t know where you are.
If and when that happens, remember the golden rule of Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic”. You just have to let that feeling roll over you, like a wave. For me, impostor syndrome is a shock to the system and a mental block that I can’t shake. It feels like I’ve lost or forgotten all my skills and knowledge.
From the Experts
The latest issue of Archival Outlook had a piece on impostor syndrome by a couple of professionals. The professionals give good advice on handling or at least facing impostor syndrome mostly relating to looking at your accomplishments, asking for help, and time. I wonder how different impostor syndrome is in the office when things are “normal”. Impostor syndrome at home is incredibly lonesome.
While I can take the advice of reviewing my accomplishments to overcome impostor syndrome, it’s awkward to ask for help from colleagues online. We are all trying to work extra hard at home to validate our positions, discipline ourselves to stay on track and focus on tasks to maintain our sanity. Being the person asking for help online feels like a distraction and a way to bring everyone down.
Time is a Concept
And time, that elusive concept that we are slowly forgetting since COVID-19. What is the speed of time during this pandemic? Does it heal faster or slower than normal? For me, it feels like another sci-fi trope of having an elusive concept of time. Like in Interstellar (spoilers) with Matthew McConaughey, time moves at different speeds on different planets, and in the end, McConaughey hasn’t aged while Earth is completely different.
The only nice thing about working from home with impostor syndrome are my cats constantly snuggling me throughout the day. And having my partner around who is also struggling with impostor syndrome. It is easy to talk to him about it. While this blog started as an outlet for me, I hope it becomes a call for help to fellow new professionals.
We cannot hide our impostor syndrome from each other. Nor can we wait for it to go away on its own because at the rate time is moving we may be waiting for a long time. Writing this post is my strange way of asking for help and offering an ear to listen to your struggles with impostor syndrome.