Thursday, May 9, 2024

Imposter Syndrome Kicks into Overdrive


I went to UMaine on Friday for a couple of ceremonies. One gathering was for two friends--great professors--who are retiring. Go, Susan and Jim! Susan works with teachers of little people. Jim has been an administrator for maybe a decade but started out working in special education. Our university has been a better place with Jim and Susan sharing their writing, teaching, and kindness.  

Part of the other ceremony was for me. I've been directing our online graduate program in writing for the past 3 years, serving on the President's Council for Retired Employees, serving on doctoral committees, advising grad students, serving on a half dozen state and national boards, and working with the Maine Writing Project... all pro bono.  I've also taught six or seven online courses and have been paid well for that work. Thus, this service award.  

Our school's director,  Professor Shihfen Tu, introduced the The Apple Service Award. During her talk about me, a gigantic picture of pale-faced me loomed on one side of the stage on a huge screen. Shihfen read some of my past accomplishments from my vita. This made me uneasy... 

Once she finished, I grabbed my fancy box and started to dart back into the audience. Nope. "Say something," she said. The dean said, "Oh yes, do say something." People clapped. 


I began this way: 

"I live in the western Maine mountains. For the past 3 years, 7 days a week, except for one ten-day period, I've gotten up at about 6 a.m. and read for two hours. Then, I write for four hours. In the afternoon, I'd hike with my dog. In the evening it's email and Netflix. This is to say, I've lived alone with my dog for 3 years doing exactly the same thing most days––I love it––so if you're looking for thoughtful, inspiring words this afternoon... they're not coming." 

Then, I tried to thank our dean Penny Bishop and Shihfen, mentioning the positive presence the college's Facebook account showcases; same with the college's website. Finally, I recounted a story of my first day on campus: 

"On my first day at UMaine, I was walking from Shibles Hall to the Union for coffee. I was on edge--the whole professor-thing made me nervous. On the sidewalk, I ran into our associate dean, the quite wonderful, Anne Pooler. With a big smile she said, 'Good morning, Professor!' and I returned, 'Good morning, Dean.' a few steps later I stopped in my tracks and my imposter syndrome kicked into overdrive." 

I have no idea what I said after that other than "Thank you." 

Afterward, a very polite Academic VP and Provost came to my side, shook my hand, and congratulated me. He said something like, "I'd like to know your secret to a happy retirement." 

I answered, "Come to the mountains of western Maine, and I'll show you." 

I should avoid public speaking at all costs.   


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