I am not sure that holding a leadership role needs to lead to being struck by the impostor syndrome, but the relationship between the two does fascinate me. I have felt the impostor syndrome creep up at times over the years. Some of the reason for this is that I habitually downplay my abilities but some of it, I believe, has to do with the way in which teachers have become accustomed to working
It seems that most teachers have a high tolerance to hard and relentless work. Early mornings begin frenetic days during which we may cross paths with as many as 6 classes of 30 children. Break duties and the other roles that we play within the school community mean that we are engaged in 100s of human interactions every day — each one trying to be positive, each one trying to be meaningful.
We manage teams, we attend regular staff meetings and we connect with our colleagues over emotive issues. We continue into our early evenings making parent phone calls during which we may engage in sensitive or highly charged issues. Then we shift gears and focus as go home to cook, to see our own families, to plan our work for the next day, to mark our books and catch up on emails.
I will say it again, teachers have a high tolerance to hard and relentless work.
When, after a few years of working in this way, I got to the point of seeking promotion, I realised there was a peculiar irregularity in my response to the process.
When it came to the task of filling in an application form, it felt far from taxing. In fact, dare I say it, the process felt enjoyable and actually quite easy. Yes, of course, it took some time, some refinement, some redrafting but it was the kind of time that we rarely allow ourselves in education. Frenetic as we all are, the time to clarify, to synthesise, to review, to reorganise and to polish is scant. Our work is often precised, is hurried and is usually the best we can do in the time available. This, on the other hand, was a luxury, a moment to expand, think creatively and draw breath.
And there it began, the kernel of the idea that for me promotion was somehow easy and that, perhaps, because of this, in any job I subsequently earned out of this process, I would surely be an impostor.
The feeling popped up every now and then through the course of my gaining steady promotion over time. My first successful leadership interview was another example.
Like most leadership interviews this one took place over two days. I had already been through the process a couple of times and been unsuccessful. In a strange way I found the occasion of this interview challenging but not gruelling in the way that my frenetically paced day job was. Indeed, the two days spent reflecting on and talking about education — proving myself and my ideas, were stretching but utterly rewarding, tiring but not stressful.
When, at the end of the process, I was rewarded with the offer of a new job, my elation was short lived and my bubble burst with a feeling that this had not been earned. Here I was again, the impostor.
More recently I have been looking at working practices that nourish me and I have been questioning the notion that I have harboured for so long that for it to be deserved, I need to work myself into the ground. I have been challenging myself to feel deserving of lightly earned recognition.
As we enter another working week I’d like to pose a question to you. How hard do you feel you need to work in order for your recognition to feel deserved?