It’s now been just over a week since I returned from the sci-comm-palooza that was the 2013 ScienceOnline conference (aka Scio13). The annual event in the North Carolina Research Triangle brings together a mix of journalists, scientists, museum and institution outreach directors, narrative writers and educators, as well as many people who label themselves with several of these titles. There are conversations and sessions about all aspects of how science intersects with the digital realm, including how to deal with trolls on science blogs, the ways institutions are using online tools to reach new audiences, transitioning from blog writing to book writing, collaborative online research tools and the best apps to expose kids to science. And of course, my specialty, online video.
One of the themes floating through this year’s conference was that of Imposter Syndrome. The conference wiki page for this session quoted the Wikipedia description:
"The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be."
This is not unique to the science communication community; I have had many conversations over the years with my fellow creative folk out here in Hollywood-land about Imposter Syndrome. Questions about creative worth constantly float through acting classes and writing workshops and therapy sessions. What happens when they find out I'm not really talented? That I don’t really know what I’m doing in this role? That I have no idea how to write? That I only have one idea and will never be able to write anything good again?
Part of the problem when dealing with recognition of one's own creative achievements is that the means of measuring those achievements are often subjective. Much of what we deal with involves someone "liking" or "responding" to our work. But even those who have attained the awards or box office success that are the universally recognized signs of achievement in Hollywood still experience Imposter Syndrome. Daniel Radcliffe, the star of the Harry Potter movies, talked in a 2011 interview about this:
"...There are some days when I feel like, 'Yeah, God, I'm actually learning something, this is great!' And there are some days when I go, 'Oh God, I'm never going to feel good at this. I'm never going to feel like I'm not a fraud."
The award-winning Tina Fey, one of my comedy idols, has her own set of doubts. When doing press in 2010 for her movie Date Night, she was asked about whether she felt powerful, given her recognition for 30 Rock, her incredible SNL Sarah Palin impression and general reputation as one of the funniest ladies in the entertainment industry.
And now I must deal with my own unique combo of art-meets-science Imposter Syndrome. I want to write something about Scio13, but the more time that passes, the harder it is to do so. Somehow it’s easier to browse the web and spend my time reading other folks’ lovely posts on the event, growing ever more insecure about what I could write that would be as compelling, than it is to put pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard) and pass along my own version of the experience. Or as Janet D. Stemwedel wrote on her blog about the topic:
"Do I feel powerful?...Not at all. There is no time to walk around and feel powerful. You want to know how I really feel?" she asks.
"In this business there is always the imposter syndrome. The beauty of the imposter syndrome is that you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of, 'I'm a fraud. Oh God, they're on to me,"' she says, with a smile.
Whether piping up to share what feel like insights is reasonable, or whether you are just wasting people's time.
In the end, though, the words “my version” are what I must remember. I am the only one who will have my particular take on the event. Just as I bring my own unique set of experiences and training to the acting and hosting work I do, I bring that same particular perspective to whatever I write. So over the next month or so I'll be diving into my notes from Scio13 and putting together a few choice nuggests from the conference. Stay tuned...