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Archive for the ‘imposter syndrome’ Category

In the Mad Men episode “The Strategy” (5/18/2014), advertising copy chief Peggy Olson is angry and demoralized because the more experienced, assured Don Draper has suggested possible changes to her pitch for an ad. Panicky, she questions her own idea. She hates the uncertainty of not knowing whether her idea is really good or crap.

“How am I supposed to know?” she asks.

Don says, “You’ll never know.”

Peggy’s lack of confidence in her own opinion illustrates one of the series’ major themes, that is, gender issues in the 1960s. Peggy, unlike Don, is immobilized by her uncertainty and lack of confidence.  And she lacks the strategies, past successes, and self-confidence that would help her make a choice and move on.

Furious that she lacks resources and must ask for help, Peggy demands, “Show me how you think. Do it out loud.”

That an idea may be good enough does not fit with Peggy’s perfectionism. Don suggests that if it’s almost done and it’s good, then maybe you should accept your idea, but Peggy does not want “good enough”—she wants perfect.

Peggy has risen in the company from secretary to copy chief. She is uncomfortable in her own skin.  And, it is with good reason. She is routinely reminded that being a woman comes with many handicaps in business. Don’s first impulse is to show his sense of humor and his ease with the situation. He says, “Whenever I’m really unsure about an idea, first I abuse the people whose help I need” (Peggy smiles).  Then, Don says, “I take a nap.”  He’s telling her to step back and disengage a bit.

What Peggy needs are strategies that will help her problem solve. Grabbing the faithful yellow legal pad, Don says that the way he thinks is to “start at the beginning to see if I wind up at the same place again.”  The point is to go at your problem from a different angle, and don’t be invested in only one idea.

His process makes sense.  When in doubt, slow everything down and step away—take a nap (or go for a walk or pull weeds) and then look at the issue from a different perspective.  Don isn’t afraid of reframing the problem, and he doesn’t think there is only one possible answer for a problem.

So why am I looking closely at this scene from a television show? This scenario with Don and Peggy could happen only in the 1960s, right?  George Packer writes in The New Yorker, Mad Men presents a world that’s alien enough to be interesting as anthropology . . . and yet not entirely so. It’s still close enough to us, or we to it, that there’s a certain familiar pain beneath the viewing pleasure.”

ABC News reporter Claire Shipman and BBC anchor Katty Kay argue in their 2014 book The Confidence Code that women’s lack of self-confidence and need for perfectionism continue to undermine their success.

Are women in 2014 more susceptible to a lack of confidence than men?  If so, why? What role does indecision and perfectionism play in our writing lives?

What do you think… about Mad Men and Peggy? And, as a writer, how do you decide if your idea is any good?

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

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You sit down to write, and what’s that you’re doing? Without a second thought, you are checking the cnn.com weather app, thinking about how much colder it is where your grandma lives. And now you’re skimming email. What was that you wanted to check?  Oh, yes, you noticed that Marcus Mumford was wearing a wedding band during the Another Day/Another Time folk music concert on TV.  And you’re off on another Google search to find out who is his wife.

You are sitting in front of your screen, and your fingers are moving, but you are in the clutches of resistance, once again. Flight has prevailed over fight.

The Turnaround Artist

I received some praise recently—someone called me a turnaround artist.

It’s an interesting tag. Typically, a turnaround artist is a business person who is takes over a company that is falling behind.

To turn around a lagging writing project also takes drastic action, not unlike rescuing lagging stocks or companies and transforming them.

However, before a coach is a turnaround artist, the writer has to sign on for the transformation and then show up. The coach needs the writer also to become a turnaround artist.

Do Something Daring—Manage Your Writing for a One-Month Experiment

Is having a huge, long-term goal so over powering that each day you have to fight insecurities or the threat of the imposter syndrome? If you are feeling some danger around this project (that old lions-are-going- to-eat-me-if-I don’t- flee feeling), then do something daring. Hatch a plan that puts you on the front line. Challenge yourself to an experiment for a month during which you will not only write, but you will also practice oversight. During the experiment, evaluate time spent, your progress, areas where you need more learning, and personal growth.

I was talking recently to a person with a background in accountancy. She says that her decisions are data-driven, or as close to that as possible. Numbers don’t lie, she says. Taking that approach during your one-month experiment could be an eye-opener. What data could you keep track of? What is measurable in your writing process? Time spent on task on a day-by-day basis. Number of “have-done” tasks that you keep track of during the week. Number of words written or number of pages written.  And especially the number of setbacks and reworkings or restarts.

Uncomfortable Is Normal

Acknowledge that this work has unfairly brought forth all of your insecurities. You have not written a dissertation before, and so you may not have specific experience to fall back on. You aren’t on a military maneuver, and so there isn’t a manual. Nevertheless, you have survived other new and unsettling situations and you have even flourished. Look forward to flourishing, but for now ride out the uncomfortable feeling, and, if it helps, know that writing a dissertation is seldom comfortable. Over the month-long experiment, notice and collect evidence/data on how you are building resilience and courage. For instance, you could benefit from learning how many times this week/month you sat down and worked on your writing project even when you felt anxious or uncomfortable.

Practice Oversight of Your Writing for More Life Balance

Turn around your inefficient, sluggish, time-suck of a writing process. Use your professional or home-grown skills to trim and reset your project so that it fits into the time you have available. Then writing will be one thing that you do, along with having a rich personal life and a job.

It’s a good thing to call in an outsider when you need some honest talk and a different perspective, but each writer must put on the hat and glasses of the outsider and view one’s work habits and writing with fresh eyes.

How are you doing as a project manager of your dissertation or thesis? Where are you succeeding and where is your work lagging? I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

 

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You want a prediction about the weather? I’ll give you a prediction. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be gray, and it’s going to last you the rest of your life.–Bill Murray, playing a weatherman in Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day

The weather this winter in at least half of the U.S. has been cold and gray, and many days it seems as if it’s always going to be this way. Dissertation coaching clients tell me that they’ve never felt as exhausted as they have this winter. Many are balancing their dissertations with a full-time job and a family. One said, “This winter when I go home from work, I’m done. I go to sleep.”

 Another said, “I’ve never been like this.”

Perhaps you, too, have been thrown off your stride this year. Like many other writers, you may have become exhausted trying to keep up with your dissertation and so you took a break.  It may have been a break enforced by the flu or sick children or kids home because of the weather.

Many people say that they are uncertain where they left off in their writing. One client says she wound herself up, asking, “Why am I not more on top of this?” Trying to get clear on where you are in the process can trigger the imposter syndrome. You don’t know when you will finish, and now you wonder if you can ever pull this off.  You start to doubt that you have ever had what it will take. 

How do you talk yourself down, break through your catastrophizing, and find your way back to your work?

Some writers call on their mental toughness and head back into writing, but resilience doesn’t come about without careful planning and practice.

Break out of your slump

If isolation and torpor, aggravated by the weather, are to blame for your writing slump, break the pattern by talking with someone. Talk aloud about your options for restarting.

Make modest plans

Plan an easy way in with short work sessions dedicated to specific tasks.  When you reach the 30-minute mark, or whatever amount of time you had promised yourself you would work, stop.

Keep a log

Make a record of what you have done during the session.  Give yourself credit for showing up.  Then note the time spent and what you worked on.

Before stopping, plan where you will go from here. My favorite advice for getting ready for your next writing sessions comes via Joan Bolker: “Park on a downhill slope.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

She says to sketch “out in writing what your next step is likely to be, what ideas you want to develop, or follow.”

Stay focused on the present

Put off thinking about the long-term goals for now.  Don’t start fiddling with a timeline of when you can finish or when the next big mile post will be.

Enjoy the work

As you work, remind yourself occasionally that you want to keep this writing routine going. In part, you want to do this because you can. You are able to do this work, and you have everything you need. You like the way it feels when you stick with it.  One dissertation client told me that he has a goal to make his writing fun.  He plans to enjoy the work just as if it is karate.

Smile

Collect cartoons, particularly those making light of the dissertation experience.  Keep a couple close by where you can read them.

Between writing sessions, make time to exercise; talk to a friend; read to your children.

Bill Murray was wrong—it may be cold and gray, but it will not be this way the rest of your life.  For now, keep writing, and buy yourself some spring flowers. 

I would love to hear from you.  How have you pulled yourself out of a writing slump?

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com
http://www.nancywhichard.com

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Walking up to the United States customs agent in an airport after a trip out of the country always makes me feel uneasy. Will there be something wrong?  Where should I look as the agent flips through my passport?

So I stand there, feeling awkward. Finally, the agent looks at me one more time and then, with what seems like genuine feeling,  the agent calls me by name and says, “Welcome Home.”  

Whew. I’ve passed muster, but I’m also curiously touched.  I know there’s nothing personal in the greeting.  It’s predictable that the customs agent welcomes the traveler, but I always feel a bit of emotion rising in my chest.       

I guess I belong here after all.

Inception and Leonardo DiCaprio

Have you seen the movie Inception?  I got around to seeing it a few weeks ago and was particularly drawn to the ending when the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio shows the same unease I often feel as I wait to see what the U.S. agent may ask me.  DiCaprio gives a slight acknowledgment to the agent and then lowers his eyes—how are you supposed to look in this situation? And where should you look?  Finally the agent says, “Welcome home, Mr. Cobb.”

 

And the relieved and happy Cobb/DiCaprio crosses the boundary into the U.S. He’s home. Of course, he had reason to worry.  He could have been denied entrance. 

But that’s another story. 

A customs agent in the role of gatekeeper reminds me of how often we can doubt that we belong in a community or in a situation which formerly had seemed or claimed to be our home. 

The notion of home, returning home, and feeling at home in various situations goes beyond familiar settings, sentimental snapshots, or an address on a customs form. 

 

The writer’s home

Most ABD’s come to a graduate program feeling at home, challenged, but nevertheless sure that this is where they will find the opportunity, the collegiality, and the inspiration that will bring out the best in them.

Even if they had felt completely at home as they took classes or as they wrote papers for classes or perhaps even acting as teaching assistants, once the students have moved past their course work or into the dissertation process, they are too often thrown by the process and feel out-of-place as they try to finish their dissertations and earn their degrees.  

As I coach writers, I am struck by how frequently brilliant, capable ABD’s become stuck and start to feel incompetent and unworthy. 

Incompetent and unworthy

ABD’s know what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to make goals and meet deadlines and just write.  But for many ABD’s, deadlines have become counterproductive. The pressure and the isolation of trying to grind out text somehow raise such self-doubt that they start to question whether they belong in this doctoral program.  

Some compare themselves unfavorably with others who are further along in the dissertation process.  They feel such regret and, worse, they feel such shame for time wasted during the doctoral program that they’re almost paralyzed. 

Do they have what it takes to finish this degree?  The familiar situations and professors no longer seem reassuring, but rather seem to raise barriers to the extent that ABD’s start to see themselves as frauds or imposters. 

Lower the stakes

If this sounds like your situation, you could take a cue from some graduate students who have gone through periods of self-doubt and shame and have rewritten the process to make it work for them.  

Instead of focusing on the product or on finishing, focus on the present moment. Determine the block of time that you are setting aside each morning for yourself and decide what your choices will be during that time.  You can decide that you will write and that’s all, or you could have a variety of tasks to choose from, as long as you put in the time.  What is important is that you step back from the process and lower the stakes from producing something brilliant and perfect to doing something.

Ebb and flow 

The writing process will be one of ebb and flow. Some days, the writing will be crappy, and other days you might think the work you did wasn’t half bad. What is important is that you show up each day at the time you have carved out for yourself and write. Do something. And it will be good enough.

Welcome home

The block of time for your daily work is your place and your time. Rewrite the script; redesign the scenery. Make the delivery and the timing your own. This is your home place. And at the beginning of each writing session, greet yourself. I bet you would smile if you greeted yourself each morning with “Welcome Home, Mr. Cobb.”  

Warm regards,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.smarttipsforwriters.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net
www.nancywhichard.com 
 

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failure

Image by erix! via Flickr

What do you do when you have a plan for a writing project in place, but it goes terribly wrong?  What is your response?

When you slip up, do those powerful feelings that you’re not allowed to make a mistake overwhelm you? Do you label yourself as an imposter with the belief that you don’t know enough or aren’t clever enough to do the work?

If you tend to be a perfectionist, it can be hard to take the slip-ups in stride.

In the May edition of my e-newsletter, Smart Tips for Writers, I offer some thoughts and tips about what will help you be in solution mode, rather than going straight to meltdown, when you hit a rough patch.

You haven’t subscribed to my free e-newsletter?  That’s easily remedied.  Just go to my website at www.nancywhichard.com to sign up.

Nancy
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
www.smarttipsforwriters.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Gunter Böhmer: “Nightmare“, Indian ink drawing...

Image via Wikipedia

Most people I know speak of a recurring nightmare:

–Having to take a test you haven’t studied for

–Having to give a talk, but being unprepared

–Not being able to get to the location where your talk or test is to be given

–Feeling under great tension and wearing yourself out trying to accomplish something that you are unable to do

At some point, even if you’re still dozing, you realize it’s a dream.  And you feel incredible relief.

If you grew up in basketball state  in the U.S. or graduated from a university where basketball is a big sport, you may have watched some or all of the NCAA men’s basketball championship game a few nights ago.

The Butler University basketball team endured a nightmarish game where nothing worked for them.  It seemed as if the game would never end.

Whatever would have helped the Butler players— more preparation and practice on shooting two-point shots, less reliance on a star three-point shooter, an arena/ playing field more appropriate to the sport and the age of the players or . . . —  the Butler team lived a nightmare in full view of millions of people.

Their desperation was visible, as they played a high-stakes game that was not going to turn out well for them.

Over the years I’ve coached writers for whom the stakes are high . . . . Doctoral students who are panic-stricken at the prospect of writing the required dissertation, people who have given up their day job to write a novel, people who have made promises and commitments and still haven’t done the writing.

Some put off the writing for years, straining the good will and trust of family and spending the capital of advisors, bosses, or colleagues.  And now they are paralyzed with fear when they face the computer screen or empty page.

Writing, with its rattling chains, terrifies.

But in order for you to write, your goal is not to be fear-free.

The goal is to feel the fear and manage it. You don’t have to do what the fear says—you don’t need to flee or abandon all hope. Listen to what the fear is telling you to do and then ignore it.  Move past it.  You ignore that negative inner chatter of your being an imposter and that you don’t have what it takes. You tell yourself that you have everything you need to move forward with this work.

If you haven’t already, you will most likely someday have a nightmare of being unprepared for a test or not having written a paper (or your dissertation), but you can take the steps now that will make that nightmare nothing more than a dream.

How are you managing your fears and your goals?  I’d like to hear from you.

My best to you,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
www.smarttipsforwriters.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Writing is not for the weak of heart.  Writing is often a dangerous act, requiring all of the mental toughness and grit you can muster.

And no one knows that more than my clients—those writing dissertations and those who are now pushing on with writing their books or writing grant applications or articles.

Some of my clients feel like imposters who think they somehow got to where they are by luck.

Others are exhausted by the effort and by the stress of so much riding on this one piece of writing that they’ve become apathetic.  To protect them from the pain of feeling incompetent their Lizard Brain lets them think: “I’ve stopped caring.”

One client has who has been published in well-received journals and who has presented internationally now is writing an application for an important grant.  She’s leery of her ability both to market herself and at the same time offer the supporting evidence that would clinch the application for her.

This is the client whose wisdom has served her well. But now she needs to be five times bolder than she’s been in writing her dissertation or in sending articles to journals.

She felt unequal to the task until she recalled that she had been interviewed after making a presentation outside of the U.S.  She remembers the exuberance she felt as she was explaining her position and her research to the interviewer.  Fortunately, she has a transcript of the interview, and reading it gives her the push and mental energy she needs to move into this new task.

Similarly, a client who feels she hasn’t performed well on her dissertation has been surprised to hear that she’s been nominated for an award by her committee.  Initially, she felt like hiding, sure that her work would  reveal herself to be less capable than what they would expect. She thought of what they might say to her when they learned that she isn’t as far along with her work as she thinks she should be.   But she also knows that she has been catastrophizing.  Talking about the lack of evidence she has for any of these destructive beliefs gives her the will to pull on her inner resources of mental toughness and grit, and the will to plan strategies that will help her to get back on track and to stop with the self-sabotaging.

When talented, skilled, successful people are again and again pushed to produce, they can start to question themselves, question whether they got to where they are only by luck, whether they have what it takes to keep going.  It takes boldness and courage to keep trudging, but it also takes a willingness to be vulnerable and to trust those around them, to show work to others when the work is not the best, and to ask for help.

As one brilliant woman told me, “I have to do that thing where I feel like I’m typing with two fingers.”  Instead of turning on herself when she feels fear or uncertainty, she has to manage her feelings and keep plunking away, boldly and bravely.

Writing is scary, but there are ways to move quickly past those fears, and then to keep going.

How are you doing?

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net
http://www.usingyourstrengths.com
http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com
nancy@nancywhichard.com

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