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Impostor Syndrome: parenting edition

November 7, 2013

Like every other academic, I occasionally suffer from toe-curling anxiety over not being “good enough” to be where I’m at and fear being exposed as inferior or a fraud.  A solid group of excellent mentors has helped train me to ignore, if not silence, those pernicious doubts.  I credit these years of intense academic training for successfully volunteering to be a soccer coach.

My wife signed my kid up for this local, non-competitive youth soccer league and, because she was annoyed that I wasn’t answering my phone right at that moment, left a message saying I had 15 minutes to respond or she was signing me up to coach the team.  Needless to say, I missed the cutoff, so I bought a pair of cleats and showed up for the “coaches training session” at the beginning-of-season soccer jamboree.  The jamboree was two soccer fields and a hundred kids worth of chaos.  Persistent questions finally landed me at the coach’s training session and years of rigorous training in silencing self-doubt were the only thing that kept me there.

The gender balance and number of people were very similar to those of the afternoon seminars in one of the departments with which I’m affiliated.  The only demographic differences were that just a few of the people at the coach’s training were over 50 and that there is usually at least one other female at the seminar.  No one was rude.  No one made any explicit comments that suggested that I was not welcome.  And yet, it took every ounce of doubt-crushing willpower I possessed to stay at that session.

As the head coach repeated the “three L’s” (no lines, no lectures, let them play), I silently repeated to myself how qualified I was (over a decade of soccer experience, years of parenting experience, pulse) to combat the crushing feeling that the tall confident men were the real soccer players and coaches.  Being the only woman in the group made me worry that I was unqualified to herd a group of 5 to 7 year-olds for an hour.  Crazy, right?  It would have been so easy to just drift away and let the experts take care of it and do it right.  Fortunately, the content of the session was simple (the three L’s, have a plan, when in doubt, scrimmage) because making myself stay there and controlling my body language to appear casual and confident took up most of my mental energy.

Professionally, my opinions are acknowledged and respected.  I work in an environment of high mutual respect, so day to day feelings of being an impostor in social situations are rare or mild.  Feeling so squirmy at this low-stakes, supposed-to-be-fun coach’s training session totally surprised me.  As did, in a different way, how swiftly and intensely my mental coping mechanisms to combat those doubts rose to the task.

Interestingly, “coach’s training session part 2” was held a few weeks later in an elementary school cafeteria.  It was a little larger, and this time there were two other female volunteer coaches.  After it was over, we introduced ourselves.  All three of us were affiliated with a STEM department at the University.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  But I suspect not.

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