Living in France: Dealing with Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome. noun. [im-pos-ter sin-drohm ].
If you've never heard the term before, lucky you! No, it has nothing to do with Among Us (throwback to 2020).
It's a feeling that many people – any age, any gender, any background – can face, especially during a global pandemic that has completely changed the world... and the job market. It is often women, particularly women of color, that are hit harder by this phenomenon. But what is it, exactly?
According to Dictionary.com, it is "anxiety or self-doubt that results from persistently undervaluing one’s competence and active role in achieving success, while falsely attributing one's accomplishments to luck or other external forces." In other words, the feeling of not deserving to be where you are. Your career, your studies, even your relationship can be affected by imposter syndrome, in my opinion.
For me, as a current lectrice in France and even throughout my postgrad life, it has had me constantly questioning and second-guessing if what I'm doing is "right," incessantly thinking that I could be doing better than I am. I never feel good enough. Self-doubt and frustration often fight for the front lines in my brain, leading me to procrastinate simple tasks and spiral into more anxiety. It definitely doesn't help that there is very little guidance at my job, where I teach English at a French university. Each position differs, but honestly, I've been thrown into classes that I don't necessarily know that I'm qualified to teach, with scant direction about what I'm supposed to do (no shade, I know my coworkers and bosses are busy).
And yet, despite the fuck-ups and the nerves, the key to overcoming imposter syndrome is focusing on our successes and acknowledging our own active role in them. After all, I'm doing it! I'm going to work every day, doing my best to help my students learn and become more comfortable and confident speaking English, building relationships with them and taking the hiccups as they come, trying to use them as learning opportunities.
I deserve this.
I have two years of experience assistant teaching, a Fulbright grant under my belt, a summa cum laude degree from a Top-10 university in the States, good grades in my M1 in France... For god's sake, I've moved to a whole new country on my own. Honestly, it can feel extremely uncomfortable to put our own accomplishments into words. It can feel like bragging, like showing off, like getting a big head (des chevilles qui enflent, in French!). Some women often make themselves smaller, especially in professional contexts, reticent to be proud of themselves for fear of seeming arrogant.
Let's change that narrative. Read on for testimonies from three of my friends, who also work in education in France and who have all felt like an imposter at some point in their careers. We're not alone!
I was lucky to get this job. I didn't necessarily expect to get it. I think some of my colleagues had doubts about what I could do because of my young age, but I'm proud of what I accomplished. I think that you can't blindly move forward without questioning yourself.
- Charlotte, 27, English teacher in a French
private secondary school
I feel like I can do my job, but I don't feel that I'm qualified. I feel like I've been able to fly through with a bit of luck – this job sort of fell into my lap. I think I do my job, and I do it well, to the best of my abilities. Now that I've established myself as a teacher and I'm comfortable in my role, I don't mind [my students] knowing my age. I don't feel imposter syndrome in my day to day work, but on the macro scale, maybe about saying that I'm an English teacher at a uni. For women, it's common that you have to be grateful for your opportunities rather than feeling like you deserve them.
- Sara, 23, English lectrice at a French university
I thought to myself, 'I could never be a teacher in a high school.' I wasn't confident at all. I thought I would need a ton of training. Now that I'm doing it, I'm not like 'Oh, I shouldn't be here.' It's not as bad as I thought! You always feel like you can't do something until you do it yourself.
- Lynzie, 28, English teaching assistant in a
French high school
Do you have any experience with imposter syndrome? Share your story in the comments, or reach out on Instagram to continue the conversation. And above all, croyez-en vous, even when it seems impossible. Bisous <3