It feels like a weird thing to do, write a letter to your younger self, but when given the opportunity earlier in the year my whole mindset changed about the process. Finding the opportunity to reflect and spend time with our thoughts don’t come frequently enough, but I found this experience so cathartic.
I decided to lean into the feelings of a challenging time in my life when my self-worth was at it’s lowest and my inner critic was holding me back. As previously mentioned, I was a little skeptic at first, but it was incredibly rewarding to look back at how far I’ve come.
Eight years ago you graduated from Ph.D. in Neurobiology from The University of Warwick. You remember that interview like it was yesterday, a tour of the lab and the university grounds, meeting the current Ph.D. students and professors who you could potentially be working alongside. A few days later after the interview, you received the surprising email that you’d been offered the position. The feeling of dread washed over you in the realisation that perhaps the university had made a mistake – surely they couldn’t have picked you?
Those nagging feelings of self-doubt never really left you throughout your entire time there. There were some periods when you were able to turn the volume down on these thoughts, however, your head was always heavy with thoughts that you were a fake, an imposter, simply playing a role that really wasn’t meant to be your own.
Yes, you openly admit that your Ph.D. is one of the hardest and mentally challenging things that you’ve ever done. On a daily basis, you were surrounded by these super intelligent beings that you were and remain in awe of. You always felt like a fish out of water, but you knew that it was entirely up to you to either sink or swim.
For the most part, your self-esteem was in tatters and every day you were questioning whether you should be there or not. You never wanted to let on that you were struggling, so tried to stay under the radar as much as possible – never asking questions during the regular lab meetings in fear of looking stupid.
It wasn’t until your driving test came up and your post-doc encouraged you, “Jemma if you can do electrophysiology you can pass your driving test” that something clicked. It dawned on you that you weren’t just playing around in the lab, you were conducting a research project that would add to the scientific literature, using highly intricate techniques and reading intellectual research papers just like your fellow peers. Perhaps you hadn’t given yourself enough credit that you’d deserved all because you were afraid of failing or being found out.
I know you’re a perfectionist by nature and it’s a mental struggle if you make a mistake and it can be hard to take on board. Looking back I’d tell you that it’s OK to make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that you’re not talented or unable to do the job. It just means that you’re human, like everyone else. Moreover, your worth isn’t measured by achievements; always remember to be kind to yourself, because you’re doing the best you can and that’s all that matters.
Despite it all, you graduated in July 2014 and achieved what you thought was impossible. Somehow you overcame it all, persevered, dealt with the imposter syndrome and came through the other side with a wealth of knowledge about your research topic as well as about your research project. You didn’t sink after all.
With gratitude and so much kindness,