Insecure? Everyone is.

At a workshop when I first started my PhD, we were told a story about insecurity in high achieving people which really resonated with me.
Lately a lot of my friends (and me!) have told me how they’re stressed and insecure, how it seems like everyone knows what’s going on and what to do, and they are the only ones who are out of their depth. People also keep making comments like “You’re always so calm” “You always know what you’re doing” “You always do well, so of course you’ll do great at this”.
I don’t know where these comments come from, because I always feel like I don’t know anything, being in forensic science when the last time I did any science was in 2005. I stress about things all the time, I’m handing in assignments that aren’t my absolute best work, and I beat myself up about it even if I get a good mark. I sit in my office every day, doing this and that, wondering what everyone else is doing, because they all seem to be doing important things for their amazing research. I keep tripping over University bureaucratic red tape and getting myself in trouble. Not real trouble, but it seems like endless forms and endlessly bothering people higher up to sign my endless forms and generally feeling like a nuisance who doesn’t achieve anything except killing old growth forests for the endless forms.
Being a PhD student is so different to being an undergrad. The head of school knows my name. The head of graduate research knows my name. I have my supervisor’s mobile number. People seem to expect things from me, but I’m not sure exactly what. I feel like all the other PhD students are doing great, and that sooner or later, someone from high up in the University is going to send me an official email that says “It has come to our attention that you don’t know anything, and you are an embarrassment to our fine institution. Please leave.”
Whenever I feel this way, it’s comforting to think that everyone feels this way.
The story we were told in that workshop, at the start of my candidature, was something like this –
A psychologist was being interviewed on the radio, she was talking about a pervasive feeling of insecurity in high achieving people. She said that she had found a surprising trend in high achieving people she had talked to, people at the top of their fields, well known people, respected people. They all said they had felt, at some time or another, (and many of them felt this way all the time), that they didn’t deserve to be in the position they were in, that they had got there by accident, that they were no better, smarter or more talented than anyone else, and that in some ways, they were a fraud. Someone called in to the show, he remained anonymous but said that he had just retired from several decades as a supreme court judge, he said he’d spent his entire career waiting for someone to notice he was a big fraud, to tap him on the shoulder one day and ask him to leave. He had also spent his entire career thinking that he was the only person in the world who felt that way, because everyone else was great at their jobs and seemed so confident.
The story really clicked with me, I hadn’t ever really thought about it before, but I did feel undeserving and insecure.
Just remember; nobody knows what they’re doing or what they’re talking about. That’s why they’re doing research.

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