Read this!! “Women: Apply For Jobs Whether You’re ‘Qualified’ or Not”

Kristen Manes of the Little Black Book of Business nails it here with her recent post Women: Apply For Jobs Whether You’re “Qualified” or Not.

So, over the years, it’s been ingrained in women that you will only be hired for positions if you’ve proven past performance in a certain skill set.” How many times have I seen this happen, where a female friend or student will say “no, I can’t do that – I have no experience, no connections, nothing to prove I can hack it”.  Aside from competence, why is there such a need to “prove” ourselves?  I understand where this may come from – years and years of uneven playing fields mean there’s simply more struggle for women to exist.  And multiply that along various axes of discrimination (color, class, etc) and you can get caught in the track of “just” thinking.  

This phrase is the bane of my existence, as it places the onus on the woman to navigate not just her own life, but attempt to control entire cultures and systems herself, and somehow magic advantages right into her lap:  “If you just work harder, if you just put in more time, if you just wait your turn, if you just….”

How many sexist things are excused with that magic phrase “If she’d just….”

“Men don’t have this threshold. They’ve been conditioned to understand that if they have the potential – and meet only some of the criteria – they have a good shot of getting in, so they apply for the position and take their chances.”  I’d correct this to white, straight, cis men, but Manes is right on track here.  Men are expected to “go for it” while women are expected to “wait for it”.  Why is this?  Why not be cocky?  (A loaded statement!)  Why not apply anyway – if an employer is impressed enough, they should put the time into growing you.  If they reject you for not being absolutely perfect, they wouldn’t have been a good workplace anyway.


The Guilted Age

Here’s something I wrote last summer about tenuous employment and guilt.   I’ve held off posting this for a while, because I wanted to see if the emotions would fade.  But they have not.  I think it’s time now – I think this ready to go out there.  This is a very personal piece, but it is part of a conversation that needs to happen.  We need to talk about guilt and its impact on our generation.  This seems like indulgence, like navel-gazing, and it is.  It is a necessary indulgence, because I am not the only person with these feelings, and if I put them out there, it’s like sending up a flare to anyone else who may be feeling this way.  If this resonates with you, hop into the Twitter stream and let’s talk: @thinking30


It’s late summer.  The afternoons are still warm, the sun still strong, but with  the promise of autumn in a few golden leaves and swelling berries on the bushes outside my window.  I have just finished a phone call with a friend, and as I hang up, I am struck by the similar contents of our conversations.  Frustration, anxiety, and above all guilt.

We are recent products of an American state-run university.  We’re both young, barely thirty, and we majored in the humanities, following our talents and our pleasures to the level of Masters’ degrees.  And we’re without full-time jobs or more than a few months in savings between us.  Our grace periods on students loans are nearing a close, and we’re both beside ourselves with all-consuming emotions.  I sit, watching an August breeze stirring those early-turning leaves outside and I consider the one unifying factor in both our emotional storms.  The guilt we both feel underpins our lives, a shared note.

We feel guilty for not having “real” jobs.  We feel guilty for not having savings.  We feel guilty for not being “practical” and avoiding higher education.  We feel guilty for asking our parents to help.  We even feel guilty for not owning property, having families of our own, or living up to any treasured standard of the American Dream.  We feel guilty when we don’t send out resumes for five hours straight, or spend the weekend networking (for whatever that’s worth), or just for going to a movie or on a date instead of tending to our resumes as if they’re bonsai.

And it just gets irrational from there, away from practical matters of objectives and work experience.  Maybe the right combination of bullet points and serif font can mean an interview.  Or is the magic combination sans-serif and hyphens?   We feel a nagging sensation of guilt when we should be enjoying our private lives, our creative pursuits, or the occasional blessed idleness necessary for basic mental health.

It is this guilt I want to speak about.  In all the articles, op-eds, and conversations I’ve read about the constellation of financial and social crises plaguing our country in this decade, I have yet to hear much talk about guilt in any widespread fashion.

Guilt is intensely personal, private by nature.  Look at the common descriptions of people wracked, consumed, devoured, and crushed by this emotion.  These images should be familiar to anyone following national discussion of under or unemployment, or the rapidly building crisis of student loan debt.  Why is no one speaking of the burdens of guilt?

This is an odd omission.  I’ve seen plenty of blame flung around rightly placed with the theft of American industry, stability, and social mobility.  I’ve seen blame wrongly applied to students, graduates, their families; anywhere imaginable.  I’ve seen pessimism, cynicism, and all the rest.  But I never hear anyone talking about the guilt new graduates feel.  My recent graduation, for example, should have been a joyous time.  It is still an accomplishment.

Generations ago, a woman would not have been able to do what I did, especially if she did not come from a wealthy family.  I have just under a 4.0, I have taught, I have assisted faculty with research, won awards, traveled to conferences (on my own dime) to present personal research.  I’ve done “everything right”.  And now I feel divorced from all those remarkable accomplishments and evidence of my dedication and talent, and the nurturing assistance of so many others.  I have reached the dream that my family held for me.  But I feel like I have done something wrong.  And I cannot be the only one.

Lest you think this is only my issue, let me emphasize that this is common among my friends.  Combined, we have the sleeping troubles, digestion troubles, and sexual troubles of people twice our ages.  What do we have to feel guilty over?  We all did the “proper thing”.  We went to school, worked, we made ourselves useful.  I suspect that this guilt touches more than my immediate circle.  It’s time to stop and analyze what we are doing as a culture, and what silent baggage our immediate future, our young people and our recent graduates, are carrying.

Guilt is a tricky thing to talk about with any level of practicality.  Taken the wrong way, sharing and analyzing guilt can too easily turn into a form of blame, and avoidance of real, tangible problems nourishing the guilty feelings.  Take, for example, the academic pep talk I received recently:  “Oh, all that anxiety you feel about finding work in your field?  That’s all in your head!  You feel guilty and you’re psyching yourself out!” Never mind the very real nationwide cuts to universities, slashed programs, starved departments, and increased reliance on a sinfully underpaid adjunct contingent.

I feel bad for not “making it” farther than my parents, for not being more financially stable, for having to delay starting my family, for not owning a home, for still having to do the bill-panic dance each month (which can I put off the longest?).  My rational side can offset each of these with a patient, reasoned explanation of precisely why I am not doing the things my culture deems normal.  In fact, I can successfully undermine the sanctity of each of those markers of middle class American success.  But even as I recognize they are limited and limiting, and in no way mean security, the roots of this dream are deep.

Aside from the fact that I hold the marketed imago of the middle class “good life” in deep suspicion, I know logically that factors beyond mine or my compatriots’ control have shaped the America we have to live in.  And I rationally know that I have benefited from sheer dumb luck, certain social advantages, and the tireless efforts of others.  But the guilt remains.  And, as silly as that guilt may seem, I won’t be talked out of it.  It has become useful.

As suffocating as it may be the guilt I and my friends feel is now making us angry.  We can only beat ourselves up for so long before we stop caring about maintaining our guilt.  We may as well get angry.  You may as well get angry, if you’ve been feeling this way.  We all may as well get more defensive of our time and our boundaries and more active in our shared worlds, instead of folding inwards.

I think of my friend, and myself.  I consider now how much time in our finite lives we have already given to internalizing untenable ideals.  As I watch summer entering its final, bittersweet act, I consider the danger of stagnation.  Things have to change.  We cannot go on like this.

Impostor Syndrome

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Imagine this…

You’re sitting there in class, listening to the professor talk about something you barely know.  You are in the hallways, trying to find a room in a building you’re not even sure you’re in.  You are going from line to line all day, not knowing if you have the right paperwork.  College can be pretty intimidating.  Everyone around you seems so much more prepared, so much smarter, so much cooler.  You start to wonder if you can keep up, if you’re good enough.  You wonder if you even belong in college.

Or, maybe you just did really good on a test, and you got some nice comments on your paper.  You’re doing well at school, and your professors notice.  But something still feels weird.  You feel like you’re going to be found out.  You feel like this is just luck, or anything you achieved is only because other people helped you.  You worry that someone will call you out and say you’re not really good enough – that you don’t belong here.

Have you ever felt like this?  You are not alone.  This is called Impostor Syndrome, and many people deal with it on a daily basis.  This is really common, especially when you are the first in your family to go to college.  Many people feel this and struggle with it.   I want you to know that these feelings have a name, and it’s possible to work with them.  This is how it works, from the perspective of psychologists:

First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

Though the impostor phenomenon isn’t an official diagnosis listed in the DSM, psychologists and others acknowledge that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. Impostor feelings are generally accompanied by anxiety and, often, depression. (“Feel Like a Fraud?”


How does this feel ?

This can feel different for many people, even though there are common themes of feelings of inadequacy, of feeling like a fraud, of waiting to be “found out”.  In my case, it just plain kept me from speaking in class.  And when I did speak, I was less confident, I hesitated, I made pleasing other people more important than asking questions I needed to ask to learn, or presenting information that may help others.

Sometimes I would feel physically weird – a little sweaty and shaky for no good reason.  Looking back, I was really nervous, afraid that someone was going to yell at me.  I was an adult, with thoughts, opinions, and questions of my own – but I felt like a little kid playing dress up.

If you ever feel this way, your “symptoms” may be different.  But one thing will be consistent: you will end up devoting much more time and energy devaluing yourself and your achievements than you will spend learning, developing your skills, and making the connections you need to make to progress in college and your career.

How can this affect you in college?

Many of the articles written on Impostor Syndrome are composed with graduate students in mind.  But I think we need to broaden this to include undergraduates as well.  If you feel like you are not good enough and don’t belong, this can seriously hamper your progress at any level of higher education.

If you feel like you’re not as smart as everyone else, you’ll hesitate to ask questions.  You may not raise your hand, or talk to your professor.  You may hang back in study groups.  The persistent feeling of not being good enough holds you back.  The problem here is that college should be more interactive – this is where you learn to teach yourself.  In grammar school and high school, you learned to respond to the teacher, to write reports, and take tests.  These are all valuable, but they don’t reflect the demands that will be placed on you when you are an adult.  College is the place to learn to take initiative, to set your own priorities, and make your own decisions.  How can you do that if you’re worrying about being “found out”?  You can’t.  Impostor Syndrome takes a lot of energy away from what you should be concentrating on.  Eventually, it becomes self-perpetuating:

Ultimately, the impostor phenomenon becomes a cycle. Afraid of being discovered as a fraud, people with impostor feelings go through contortions to do a project perfectly. When they succeed, they begin to believe all that anxiety and effort paid off. Eventually, they develop almost superstitious beliefs. “Unconsciously, they think their successes must be due to that self-torture,” Imes says. (“Feel Like a Fraud?”

Furthermore, when you factor in racism, and sexism, this becomes more complicated:

If you are perceived as being too competent as a scholar or a teacher, you are seen as overly prideful, and thus disconnected from your home. This can be particularly difficult for those who are first-generation, working-class, and gender and ethnic or racial minorities who may also be getting some subtle signals that they don’t necessarily “belong” in academia either. (Lindsey Bernhagen of Ohio State U)

We can see that socioeconomic factors aggravate existing nervousness about achievement and merit.  This can negatively affect your entire college experience, if you think you are afraid of being seen as less than competent because of your race and/or gender, and if you are worried about being perceived as being “out of touch” because of your academic work.  This is exactly why it’s essential to talk about Impostor Syndrome, especially for nontraditional students.  The energy wasted working in this bind is energy that can be used for grades and class participation, but more importantly for developing the network of contacts and social capital necessary to pursue higher degrees and careers.


How you can deal with it: Managing these feelings

Everyone does this differently.  In my case, it was hearing someone talking about Impostor Syndrome by chance, and feeling a strong sense of recognition.  Not everyone can rely on chance, so I’ve done a little research and found two tips for you.

  • Pay it forward: Many resources say that mentoring can help with feelings of inadequacy.  If you’re an undergraduate, formal mentoring may not be an option, but before you know it you will be in a position of greater experience than others.  Even if you’re “only” getting an Associates’, you still have experience and knowledge you can share with someone just starting out – and you know what it’s like in their shoes.
  • Find your own mentor: Learn who your adviser is, and cultivate a good relationship with them.  Alternatively, if you don’t have an adviser, or your school isn’t set up for a lot of one on one time, cultivate a good relationship with a professor you like.  Remember that they often are overworked, so be mindful of their schedule and time commitments.  Even with those constraints, many will be happy to carve out some time here and there to help you learn your strengths and weaknesses and combat any sense of inferiority.

Remember, you’re neither the first nor the last to feel this way.  But you can learn to deal with it and do what you have to do!


What other people have to say about it: Outside sources about Impostor Syndrome

Change of seasons, change of heart: Taking stock with the new semester

When the season starts changing, it’s a good idea to take a little time and reflect on how things are going, especially before the rush of “The Holidays”

So it’s fall, and that means only one thing to me: Cleanup!  As summer fades away and the fall semester begins, it’s time to take stock of stuff, tie up loose ends, and get ready for winter.

This cleanup encompasses a number of different dimensions:

  • Physical: which means I literally clean house
  • Mental: which means I take a look at my schedule, budget, and commitments
  • Emotional: which means I start thinking about what has happened in the past year; what I can change and what I must accept

The reason I mention all of this, besides trying to cough up content, is to share with you some things I do that helped me as I acclimated to college and beyond.

It’s been a while, but I have been pretty much where you are now, so I know something of what your experiences may be.  What works for me may not work for you and that’s perfectly ok, but hear me out and you may learn something that does you good!

Physical cleanup

These are some actual techniques I’ve used to help manage physical clutter in my life:

  • Trash blitz – Set that kitchen timer or the great Timer site for a small chunk of time, say 15-20 minutes, and let yourself tackle one problem at a time like that messy desk top, or that out of control pantry. And when you’re done, you are done – small, attainable goals, people!
  • New space, new ideas – I have trouble sorting and evaluating drawers, folders, and so on in their places.  One trick I’ve learned is to take the take the container, if it’s portable, and settle into another room. If you’re going to do this, you have to remember to put the drawer (or whatever) back, though!
  • Freecycle –  Your mileage may vary, but I found freecycling to be a liberating experience. Various charities often need clothes, shoes, and toiletries, so if you have a bunch of stuff to let go of, check around with local community centers and churches.
  • Launch pad – sometimes I’m really stumped as to whether I need something or not.  I keep a small area by my front door for things I’m deciding on and it has to be cleared out in a week.  No exceptions. Objects in that area must either find an actual use Right Then and There, or they have to leave the house immediately via trash, recycling, or donation.
  •  What’s on it is what’s in it – labeling conventions are your friend.  This works for folders of school work to files on your computer.  With folders or files, especially in undergrad, I liked to do it like this:

Class Number Semester Project

ENG 258 Fall 2010 Shakespeare Paper

In the case of computer files, I’d add what stage I was at right in the filename, then hit save as and rename when I was ready for a new draft:

Eng 258 FA 2010 Shakespeare draft 2.doc


Mental cleanup

As you clean up excess and reimagine your personal spaces, it’s a good idea to evaluate how you spend your time and money as well.

  • Schedule:  I find it helpful to use Google calendars to track my schedule, and note when I have work and family commitments coming up.

Apps like Asana are really helpful in breaking down large projects into manageable chunks.  If you want something low-tech, there’s nothing like good old fashioned pen and paper.

Sometimes I make to-do lists on large sketch pads so I can tack up a page and visualize every project I have going on.  With all the blogging I do, it helps to keep topics and research straight!

  • Budget: As for money, I keep track of not only how much I make in a month, I keep a running tab of bills. I’ve put the due dates for those bills on my calendar.

This is especially helpful for large bills like student loan or car payments – I know that on week X I have a significant chunk of change coming out of my balance, so I know to take it easy until the next check.

  • Commitments: Family – either family of birth or family of choice – means commitments.   Invitations can start piling up this time of year, as well as the expectations that you will attend All The Things.

Using a calendar routinely can help you not just keep track of when you have plans, but also to budget your time.  Commitments are not just things other people expect you to do – it’s what you promise yourself.

Gym time, study time, prayer or meditation if that’s how you roll – commit early on to keep some time to yourself.  It makes life so much easier to build this into your schedule.


Emotional cleanup

I’m not a counselor, or any sort of professional, and I barely hold myself together most days.  But I’ve been through a lot early on, so I know what it’s like to deal with emotional issues.  It’s not easy, and there will be good days and bad days – and that’s ok.  You’re allowed to have bad days.  But taking stock of your feelings every so often, and considering if there’s better ways to react to what life is throwing at you – that can be very, very helpful.

  • Accepting change: The cliche says that change is the only thing that stays the same.  And that’s very true.  Nothing will ever stay just the way it is.  Developing ways to deal with constant change and thrive despite it will help you go far in life.

 College is a great place to practice your coping skills, because there is still change, but the rhythms of class, research, and homework provide you a good core.

  • Moving step by step: Noone can shit out the Mona Lisa.  Noone is perfect, and noone ever knows completely, 100% what they are doing at any given time.  Give yourself a break – you are learning, and you always will be learning.

While you should strive to improve, learn to make small attainable goals for yourself so you get used to knocking them out of the park (eg improving study habits to pass a test).  Then when it’s time for the big stuff (scholarship app, degree, or transferring to a larger school) you are able to run that marathon rather than try to sprint and get burnt out.

  • Learning new responses: I had a lot of trouble with this myself, due to my upbringing.  We were on assistance, and my mother was very ill for much of my teen years.  Things were hard, but this changed.

When I had my own household, I still felt like that little kid in the ER or on the line at the local welfare office.  With time, I learned that I was still making choices and responding to life as if I was that kid, even though I am now older with a different set of circumstances.  to remind myself to act differently, I regularly take stock of where I actually am (socially, financially, etc)  and emotionally “clean house” on a regular basis.

  • Continually redefining success: Speaking of taking stock of reality, this is another thing that helped me, having a different idea of success.  While I don’t advocate settling, I think we do ourselves a disservice to talk about one way of life being the image of success: house, mortgage, car 1, car 2, constant buying.

My definition of success right now is: Are the bills paid?  Are the lights on?  Do I have a little savings? Am I and my loved ones happy and healthy?  Do I have time to enjoy simple pleasures?  OK, good, achievement unlocked!

 So, we’re at the end, then…

This is something I started doing when I first had my own household, and now that I’m (allegedly) grown-up, it takes on more importance. It’s a series of things I’ve picked up after years of trial and error, so I thought I’d pass it along to anyone who wants to riff on it.  Some things may work for you, and some may not – that’s quite alright!  Take all of this as a jumping off point and find what works for you yourself!