At AdaCamp we were given a number of tools to help us work through Impostor Syndrome. Some of these tools focused on accomplishment and compliments. For people dealing with Impostor Syndrome (IS for the rest of this entry), identifying accomplishments can be really difficult. Even for people without IS, it can be an effort. The same can be said for accepting compliments. Those dealing with IS could simply decide compliments are not sincere or (and even worse) that the person giving said compliment will someday realize someone is a fraud.
I thought about my own experiences with accomplishment and compliments as we ran through an exercise about how to begin switching how we understand both. Personally, I do think I suffer from a minor case of IS. I know I have been trained to deal with it. This is me though. I am a of Generation X technically, but born on the cusp of the Generation Y. I happy to see the world more like the later generation. There is a lot written about Generation Y, the millennial generation. One article (Allen, P. (2004). Welcoming Y. Benefits Canada, 28(9), 51-53.) talks about how this generation looks for three things in job: meaningful work, shared values with colleagues, and reaching personal goals. For me, all three of these things are true. Then again, here are some Gen X values from the same article: “self-reliant, individualistic and determined to maintain a work-life balance” (para 13). These also can be applied to me.
I mention all of this because I don’t want to speak for all librarians and their experience. I also want you to understand why I see what I see. I am only speaking as one set of eyes in academic libraries in Massachusetts. You should contradict me and tell me your experience.
Librarians and libraries are good at sharing accomplishments. We are great at recognizing the accomplishments of others. Every year one of our major trade publications puts out a list of “Movers and Shakers” to recognize accomplishments. It’s not a small list either and to be on that list is pretty prestigious. To know someone on the list is pretty exciting. As I mentioned in the last post, many of our scholarly publications are the stories of successful programs and projects. Conferences are filled with panels and workshops with advice from those who are successful at what they do.
Most of us do not get recognized for our accomplishments outside of our library. At both my current and previous institution must earn tenure. I had to learn to sing my praises to get approval from people who had limited understanding of what my job was beyond sitting at the reference desk. To go through the yearly review process required me to look at the things I did all year and learn to make them sound more interesting than I thought they were. For example, I doubled the number of instruction sessions run by the library in 3 years. It wasn’t that high to begin with, but that’s still pretty freaking awesome. I learned how to write project plans documenting the steps involved in projects so that I could see exactly what we did and why we did it. I had to get other people to submit letters for my portfolio talking about how great I was and how important my work was to the library. To see those specific accomplishments complimented on paper helped me really see that my awesomeness was not really the delusion of a narcissist. I might not yet be a mover or shaker, but I have the potential to be one.
Here is the thing about the compliments I got, and the advice the leaders of the IS workshop providing, the best compliment is specific. It’s not that I am awesome. It is that I am awesome at doing something specific. I have been told I am great at setting a vision for a project and communicating it to build excitement. I have been told I am great at tailoring instruction to classes to not overwhelm students. This is the key to compliments: be specific. What is the compliment for and why? Gen Y may have grown up being recognized for mere participation, but they value specific compliments. Personally, I am more inclined to accept a specific compliment over a general one. I can apply it to what I value as important.
This is similar with my accomplishments. When my accomplishments relate to personal goals and values, they are easier for me to recognize. I loved badges as a Girl Scout and I still do because they are an opportunity to recognize some type of accomplishment. To be able to have the visual to relive the achievement is wonderful for me. In libraries, the idea of publishing an article is similar to getting a badge. The published article is technically two achievements. First, a recognition of the work you did and, second, the recognition that you contributed to the literature of our profession. Even contributing to a blog can serve as recognition.
Here is what is really unique about libraries, compliments and achievement. In the end it is all about the people we serve. When a student compliments me, it means more to me than anything. A professor I love to work with runs 2 sessions with me in her class. One is a traditional session where I talk about research and they forget it all. The other is a lab session where they come and work on their project and I just address their issues. She has them do some self-assessment at the end of the semester and she always comes to me and tells me how many of them wrote that their work with me was some of the most helpful of the program. These are not feedback forms, but free writing reflection. She does not prompt them other than by asking them to write what helped them most. That students would take that away from a class means more than publishing an article.
In the end it is the simplest achievements that mean the most to us. Why? Librarians help you in a very personal level. When we answer a reference question and impress a user, the thank you and compliment is specific to that interaction and that support. Our value in libraries is to support our users. The programs, projects, and field wide accolades all are in support of that core value. We organize books so they can be found by users. We create archives to preserve information for our users. We advocate for bigger budgets so we can support our users. We build communities and run programs to support our users. When the user is happy, we know we are awesome.
What I wonder is how we can use this to help people in other fields.
P.S. The Atlantic has a great article: Kay, K & Shipman, C. The Confidence Gap. (2014). Atlantic, 313(6), 14-16, http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/04/the-confidence-gap/359815/. It is about women’s confidence compared to men. The article authors have a book out as well: http://www.amazon.com/The-Confidence-Code-Science-Self-Assurance—What/dp/006223062X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405541620&sr=8-1&keywords=confidence+code