Updated: Mar 13, 2021
Hi it’s Fabian again, back from a long week in the think-team. I’d like to share something I’ve been meaning to talk about. Something a bit more personal.
I’ve had lots of conversations with our CEO Tak, about many work- and non-work-related topics. He told me once in my early days of working: “Researchers are like rockstars.” It’s a tough game. Both researchers and rockstars work really hard to get recognized. Rockstars probably start out with small gigs, performing at local cafes and bars to get their name out there. Researchers are not so far apart, writing research papers that in reality no one will read. I think around 80% of research papers just get left in the dust. He reminded me that researchers don’t actually get paid for writing papers. But recognition will give you opportunities and open doors. Soon enough you’ll climb up the ladder. But in the end, not everyone can make it. Your paper may still even get rejected. It is really competitive.
This got me thinking of the movie Ratatouille. If you grew up watching Pixar movies as a child and plan to revisit some, put Ratatouille on the top of the list (or at the bottom if you are that best-for-last type). Whether you are in your early twenties figuring what you want to do with your life or a grown adult in the top of the food chain of your field, this movie hits close to home regardless where you are at. In the movie, the international star Chef Gusteau would always say in his interviews “Anyone can cook!”. Is that really true? This seems like the opposite of what Tak said.
We live in societies where every environment is competitive. To be anyone you want, you are told that there is someone better than you. You have to work really really hard to earn your spot. There is a hierarchy at every field. That there is an expert in something and they demand respect. I think especially in Asian societies, this is more apparent. We were programmed to believe that we must spend so much time before we can call ourselves a [insert job position or talent]. And even then, you may not. I think this mentality can become very problematic for those willing to learn something, because the world is constantly telling you that you are not good enough. This could be motivating to some, but definitely discouraging to many.
After entering su-re.co, to say that I’ve never questioned “what am I doing here? Am I even qualified? would be a big lie. I got quite intimidated after my interview. I was also really challenged in my first month. After I finished University, I was so sure that my passion was in Neuroscience. I didn’t think I was going to giving a presentation about Agroforestry to actual experts.
So when people ask me what I do, I always explain my actions rather than who I am. People would respond, “Ah so you’re a scientist” or “Oh you’re a dancer?” I have trouble answering these questions. I feel like I am none of them. I feel like an impostor - I had the Impostor Syndrome. Defined by Langford and Clance (1993) as “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud"”. I simply cannot claim I am anything. Maybe I did not want to be held accountable for what I preached, because I do not know enough yet. I’d rather be here, than to believe I am an expert in my own eyes.
The more I grow older the more I meet people with this syndrome. I didn't see it as a problem, until I realized this mindset may have affected my performance more than my actual skills have. So I knew I have to shift my mentality. Not long after, Tak and a bunch of others changed my perspective.
At some point Tak would tell me, “You will never be a researcher if you only say, “I want to be”. You have to say “I am a researcher.”” I caught him once saying “I am no rockstar” and immediately changing his mind to say “wait wait I am a rockstar” as we both laughed. I think this ties in really well with what he taught me earlier. The other puzzle piece I was waiting for. This is also very aligned with what we’ve been working on in su-re.co. Creating visions. People find it difficult to believe before they see. But visionary people believe first and then they make it happen. Tak covered this in his blog about the mindset of founders.
This also reminded me back in November 2019, when Meredith and I was practicing for our presentation for su-re.co's fourth workshop, as I explained in this blog. We were invited to Tak’s neighbor’s house to practice in front of several Parents. One of them used to work at the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) specifically in Syria. I asked her what that felt like. She told us that no matter how old or where you are, you are bound to question why and how you arrive there. This actually gave me comfort. Realizing the journey of doing seemingly ‘random’ things never end. Because they are probably not so random.
Back to Ratatouille, the movie ended with Anton Ego, the most terrified food critic, peacefully enjoying his food while making a bold statement. I think there are so many meanings to this movie, especially this scene. I will cover it another time. But he said he finally understood Gusteaus’ statement of “anyone can cook”. He interpreted it with
“not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” - Anton Ego
My eight-year-old self when I first watched the movie didn’t understand this. But now I really do.
I learned so many valuable lessons here. For one, it’s a cliché, but really anyone can be anything. Tak taught me that you have to believe it first, chef Gusteau taught me that your background doesn’t matter, and the ex-UNSC worker that it’s a never-ending battle to discover who we are.
After all, I think my biggest fear is to let someone know that my entire self is defined by that one word. A researcher. A dancer. Sometime today I scrolled through the instagram of one of my favorite dancers, Batalla. He explained in this post
“To the question... how do I approach my style? Do I have a style? I don’t have “A” style and I’m not searching for one. Having one style would put me in a box. Would put limits on me. I want to have 100 + styles and all different from each other.” - Batalla
This to me, concluded my day very well and gave me the comfort to finish this blog.
To conclude, there is no space for the impostor syndrome when you realize you are not defined by concepts made by the industry. The antidote to the impostor syndrome is to (obviously) not overthink about. A more practical advice is to just do focus on doing it. Tak started su-re.co because he didn’t want to just study, but he wanted to do something. This is I think the beautiful concept to think-do-be. You start by thinking and envisioning who you want to be or what you want to do. Then once you do what you've intended, you’re slowly going to represent it. Once you’ve become this, you kind of develop an authentic self, something no one can take from you. The impostor syndrome maybe important so that we remain humble and not be under the illusion that we are the most competent. But we certainly do not need to feel so worried about why we are where we are.
There are certainly many other perspectives to this topic and I am not saying this post is a magical elixir to cure the impostor syndrome. But I hope I brought a new perspective that will take some weight off your shoulders.
Take care and see you next week!
Langford, J., & Clance, P. R. (1993). THE IMPOSTOR PHENOMENON: RECENT RESEARCH FINDINGS REGARDING DYNAMICS, PERSONALITY AND FAMILY PATTERNS AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS FOR TREATMENT (Vol. 30).