Growing up, I was shy, quiet, introverted, etc. However, I was always confident in my abilities as a student. I knew I was smart. I excelled in school, blew standardized tests out of the water, was involved in the gifted and talented program, defied every statistic facing a Native American child born out of wedlock to a teenage mother in South Dakota (being adopted and raised in a two-parent, middle-class, educated, white household had a lot to do with that part, but that’s beside the point). The point I’m trying to make here, is that there wasn’t anything I thought I couldn’t do. In middle school, I had already decided where I was going to college. My freshman year of high school, I had my 4 years of HS coursework mapped out so I would be able to go to my dream school. I took and aced every standardized test offered (PLAN, PSAT, ASVAB, ACT, SAT). When I found out the PSAT was the National Merit Scholarship qualifying exam, I knew I would be a National Merit Finalist. I got a full ride to my first choice college, and after changing my major five times, found a field of study that I loved and excelled in. I don’t say all of this to brag. I mention all of this to let you know that Imposter Syndrome can happen to anybody.
Sometime between graduating from undergrad in May 2011 and enrolling in grad school in August 2012, all of the confidence I had in myself as a scholar vanished. After my first week of classes, I started to feel like I wasn’t as smart as I always thought I was. Everybody in my classes seemed so confident and so sure of their answers even though we had yet to cover much beyond introductions. They all seemed so comfortable. I, on the other hand, felt like a fish out of water. How did everybody already know all of this stuff?! Was there an undergrad major in this that I somehow missed?! It didn’t help that my program didn’t function under a more traditional cohort model, making it a bit difficult for those of us new to OU to acclimate ourselves.
It all came to a head when I failed to remember to register for class for the spring semester until the end of the day that registration opened and I could only get one class. It was 9:00pm, I had just got home from a shift in the parking deck (yes, I worked in a parking garage during my first year of grad school), and I was exhausted. When I remembered it was registration day, I panicked. After I tried enrolling in classes and failed, I broke down. I sat down on the floor in my kitchen and cried. If I couldn’t even handle the simple task of registering for classes, I clearly didn’t belong in grad school. Somebody in the College of Ed had clearly made a mistake, and now everybody was going to find out. I eventually found some classes and carried on with my studies. For the entirety of my program, I was always surprised when I would get papers back with good grades or when somebody asked my opinion on something and actually listened to me.
I would love to say that I conquered Imposter Syndrome with graduation, but alas, no such luck. It still surfaces from time to time, although in different forms since I’m no longer in a classroom setting. I hesitate every time I go to hit the publish button on this blog. The thought process generally goes a little something like this: “Just publish it. No. Somebody’s going to read it and laugh at it. Actually, nobody reads it. There’s no danger in publishing if nobody sees it. Wait, why am I afraid of anonymous people on the internet? Because the trolls are out there.” Yes, this entire inner dialogue happens every time. Which is why I have less that 5 posts.
Eventually, I remind myself that even if the trolls find my blog, none of them are going to come all the way to South Dakota to tell me to my face, so I hit publish.
I also run into IS at work. When I have an idea, I’m generally hesitant to share it and risk alerting folks to the fact that I clearly have no idea what I’m doing. Instead, I write it down and save it for later or briefly mention it in passing to gauge a reaction then dive deeper later.
Any more, the majority of my IS is related to my identity and how it relates to my position. My job is specifically related to Native American students in South Dakota. I am multiracial and identify as such. I am also an enrolled member of my tribe. I was raised off the reservation, away from my culture. I don’t speak my language, dance, or go to ceremony. The name “Molly Hall-Martin” doesn’t scream POC, let alone Native American. My hair is curly, and my skin has yellow undertones rather than the more typical reddish undertones (PS: Not where the r-word comes from, so don’t even go there). In other words, I’m not phenotypically Native. My tribal affiliation is a part of my email signature, because the only way a person can tell that I’m Lakota is if I explicitly say so. How is any Native student or professional in the state supposed to relate to me or listen to anything I have to say if they can’t even tell that I’m Native and my experiences don’t reflect theirs? Beyond that, my tribe is now notoriously associated with taking money from Dan Snyder and OAF, as well as supporting KXL which is supremely embarrassing.
Beyond all of that, I’m 26, can pass for 16, and this is my first real “adult job.” I don’t feel like an adult. I don’t look like an adult. Who’s going to take me seriously if they think I’m a child?!
Through all of the feelings of doubt and all of the moments of feeling less than 100% confident, I believe in myself. In my heart of hearts, I know that I know what I’m talking about. I know my experiences and ideas are valid. At the end of the day, if I don’t believe in myself why should anybody else?
Some day, I plan to pursue my PhD, and I know that I will once again be faced with IS in an academic setting. While the thought alone makes me nervous, I look forward to the day when my younger self can whisper a quiet, “I always knew you could do it.”