People everywhere are coming up with novel ways to celebrate their own, or someone else’s, graduations from schools or programs. Degrees and certificates, worked so long and so diligently for, feel even sweeter when we celebrate together. My own frustration, not being able to see my doctoral colleagues one last time, tempts me to feel disappointed and even sad. One more boo-hoo, lobbed onto the pile that’s been growing for four months, since The Virus. But the group of people my heart longs to embrace and comfort are those who’re just now on the launchpad of career. They could be Millennials, Gen Y or Gen X – it doesn’t matter. Before you make a comfortable landing into work you love, self-doubt and apprehension can mean sleepless nights and worrisome days. The LinkedIns, Glass Doors, Monsters and Indeeds are ‘there for you’, but often lead to even greater overwhelm and despair. What makes you the perfect applicant, in a sea of applicants? What makes you unique, and irreplaceable? Are you as smart, talented and educated as you think you are; or, do you feel, somehow, like it’s all pretense?
Each time I hop on the Internet – social media, specifically – it boggles my mind how vast, but accessible, the world is. That sounds stupid to me, as I write it. But having been born long before the Internet was a ‘thing’, I have the perspective of life before the Internet of Everything. (I wonder if Kevin Ashton, the corporate CEO who coined the term, “The Internet of Things” around 1999, really knew what he was onto.) ‘Community’ meant human contact with actual people. Nothing was ‘virtual’, except in our own imaginations. There was no other ‘reality’, but reality itself. Most importantly, our lives – our shortcomings and mistakes — weren’t so exposed as they are liable to be now. We’re more vulnerable. I definitely feel it.
Becoming an adult by preparing and entering into a career is a monumental rite-of-passage. In today’s complex atmosphere, it can be paralyzing. Not only does the new graduate have to contend with economic uncertainties, and wondering if her or his qualifications – even the chosen degree or certificate –will be considered valuable. But it’s also on this stage, in the midst of this competition, that we can forget our self-worth. We can get sidetracked into thinking that other people are, and always will be, more successful than we are. Whatever ‘success’ means, in our own heads.
It was a beautiful day in May when I met my professor and mentor, in the Teacher Education program, for the last time. I’d finished my degree and credential and would be applying for jobs in the Fall. We met in the university’s coffee bar, where I had the first panic-attack of my professional life. My mentor was a brilliant man and gifted teacher, author and compassionate human being. He sensed my anxiety right away. Our coffee was meant to be a quick wrap up: “goodbye, good luck, stay in touch”. But I kept him there for an hour and a half. I finally confided that I was terrified of what lay ahead. I was certain I’d be exposed as an incompetent fraud in my very first interview. Why did I feel this way?
Blogger Megan Dalla-Camina (“Real Women”) writes about a sensation first identified by clinical psychologists Clance and Imes, in 1978, known as The Imposter Syndrome. Impacting men and women alike, professional and novice, the Syndrome is the powerful belief that, despite external evidence (say, a degree or certificate) to the contrary, we feel inferior. Definitely the feeling that I had, so long ago. And have had, over the years, in multiple professional settings. And in my recent doctoral program, surrounded by accomplished academics and published authors, the feeling was almost too much to overcome. Turns out, the Imposter Syndrome is the reason why many students fail to finish their theses or dissertations. “I just can’t compete with all of these brilliant minds.” That almost became the error of my thinking.
In this age of so much public exposure,we all tend to compare ourselves – our bodies, our minds, our bank accounts, our “toys”, our careers, and even our social connections – to others. We measure and judge our value as human beings, based on what other people are doing and saying in the world. But it’s helpful to remember that there’s at least one thing – one very important thing – that makes you utterly irreplaceable. And that is your perspective. No one sees with your eyes, or feels with your heart. No one speaks with your life-experience. No one loves exactly the way you do. No one has your exact set of natural skills and gifts. No one fully understands your own unique life purpose here, today. With, or without ceremony, that’s ample reason to celebrate.