Here is a little pre-view of my latest GradHacker post:
In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott wants her readers to understand that writing is physically and emotionally difficult work. She says that sitting down to write, every time, it is like putting on a pair of earphones. The left earphone plays a constant stream of “rap songs of self-loathing,” a radio station devoted to her self-doubt and inadequacies. In the other ear, she writes, “[comes] the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is.”
The parallel between Lamott’s imaginary earphones and the experience of being a graduate student is striking in three ways.
First, being a graduate student, like writing a novel, is hard. I know I do not need to tell you how stressful, isolating, and demoralizing the whole, long process can be. Yet, this struggle is often hidden away behind the closed doors of an office or veiled in the myth of a mad genius. Like Lamott, scholars need to recognize that being an academic, or an academic-in-training, is four parts hard work and one part blind luck with a little lack of work-life balance sprinkled on top.
Second, the radio station telling Lamott that she is not good enough (despite all her success) or witty enough (despite all the evidence to the contrary) is a literary expression of impostor syndrome. The deep-seated belief scholars have that they are not good enough or smart enough to be academics, that one day they will be found out and shunned with a scarlet “I” for Imposter emblazoned on their briefcase, paralyzes the vast majority of graduate students at some point in their career. This syndrome, which disproportionately affects women, can lead to some serious mental and physical health problems. But, even if it is not that extreme, as Lamott points out, it is always there in the background every time we sit down to do our work.
Third, and what I want to discuss, is the radio station in Lamont’s left ear: “You are better,” it says, “than everyone else.” And if your work isn’t appreciated, it responds: “They are wrong, because they do not understand, are prejudiced against you, or unwilling to listen.” I call this the Hubris Syndrome: a tendency towards jealousy and self-aggrandizement, which leads to professional paralysis, resentment for your peers, and an overwhelming sense of distaste for academia.
To read the full article, click on over!