June 4, 2015
Back in late winter, I heard about an event that was happening in far distant August called Digital Pedagogy Lab. From what I gathered it was going to be a summer camp of sorts where participants would spend days swimming in critical digital pedagogy, doing networked learning arts and crafts, and sitting around a campfire telling stories about digital identities. In addition, it would be held together loosely by counselors who—from my perspective as a still very young academic—are pretty much the coolest kids in the lunchroom.
Camp DPL sounded like an amazing opportunity and so on a brave moment, I applied for one of the fellowships feeling equal parts giddy at the potential of being accepted and realistic that my minuscule amount of academic experience would most likely lead to a “We regret to inform you…” tiny envelope.
And then (which you know must be coming because had this not happened I wouldn’t be writing this) a little while later I received the following words, “We are pleased to inform you…”
I read the email like a love letter, savoring the feeling of being chosen, of belonging, and the thrill of getting to attend summer camp.
After a few days, the euphoria began to wear off and in its place came the sinking feeling of “What if…” What if I show up as one of the chosen fellowship recipients and everyone expects me to be super smart and they find I sometimes choke when I have to write APA? What if it was all a mistake that they chose me and they really meant to choose another Lisa? What if someone finds out I’m actually a graphic designer and four years ago I couldn’t even use the word “pedagogy” in a sentence?
In light of all these feelings I did the only sensible thing—tell myself August was a lifetime away and presently the vast world of beer, books, and brownies was more than adequate to harbor me from all the “What if…” voices.
Wanting something that would easily transport me, I began reading the first Harry Potter book. The opening scenes, with owls and shooting stars, swept me far from the spinning narrative in my own head. Then I got to the part where Harry begins receiving letters about attending Hogwarts, learns he is totally unaware of his true identity as a celebrity, and arrives at school with the first thought not being “Here I come to save the day as the chosen one!” but rather, “What if…”
Though I know Harry Potter is fiction, I will confess there was a small part (alright maybe a large part) of me that read this part of the story, exhaled fully, and said simply, “Me too.”
This evening the cohort convened for our twice-monthly check-in + check-up session. We are all in the beginnings of summer research, crafting of our magical research questions, and hoping to pack in enough summer research sustenance to fuel our fall dissertation proposal writing. It is good to have these meetings to stay grounded. After going over how everyone felt about their research amounts (low levels of guilt but we all reassured each other it’s not really quite summer) and personal mental health (high as we’re still feeling the happy glow of surviving doctoral course work) we talked a bit about imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is the nagging feeling that you aren’t actually as good as your accomplishments project you to be. Though you experience successes and good things, your own inability to internalize those triumphs leaves you living with a permanent feeling of being found out…a permanent small voice whispering that all the good is actually just a mirage. Imposter syndrome is a nuisance because it makes you unable to be fully present in whatever is actually happening right in front of you. In addition it makes you hide when the very thing you need most is a community who can call out the good things in you that are real and true. In talking about these ideas openly with no shame, we all had a moment of “me too” as we realized once more the power of connection and the gift that is giving and receiving truth in your life.
According to the countdown clock on the Digital Pedagogy Lab website, in 67 days the tents will be pitched and a small community of eager camping pedagogues will converge in Madison. Though I’m doing my best to leave it behind, I have a feeling some shreds of imposter syndrome will sneak into my suitcase—burrow their way into my pockets and down into the folds of my sweaters.
There’s a large part of me that wants to arm myself with as much reading and research as possible for the next 67 odd days so that when the voices begin to whisper, I can silence them with citations and clever sound clips of people much wiser than myself. This is good stuff, and I think necessary, but even more I hope 67 days from now I have the courage to engage with the new community I encounter in a fully present manner from the truthful place of wherever I happen to be. 67 days from now I hope I have the courage to reflect back to everyone I meet (who most likely will be dealing with small anxieties of their own) not more things to feed the “What if…” monsters but rather a presence that listens well, engages critically, and makes space for, as much as possible, “me too.”