Tuesday, January 16, 2007

how do you know you don't suck?

I've been tossing this question around in my head for almost a month now. I haven't gotten anywhere with it.

I wanted to ask the internets because you are all wise and experienced in the ways of these things. However, I was afraid that by asking this question it would appear as if I wanted pats on the back from the internets, and that's not the case. I would just like some guidance on this issue, or confirmation that indeed it's all a crapshoot.

My question is this: how do you know who to trust when it comes to people evaluating your work?

Specifically, when profs say "this is good, you could publish this," I tend to look askance at them and say something like "you're kidding." Then they look at me all askance and say "uh, yes..." with the implied "why would I kid about that?" At that point, what goes through my mind are all the things I know about the essay I just wrote: I thought about it all semester, I had a good argument, I did a bunch of research, but really I wrote it all in the last week before class. Then I think about how my process for seminar paper-writing isn't any different than my book-writing-during-another-lifetime, and then I think but it should be.

The profs who say these things to me, they're our best teachers and scholars and I have nothing but the utmost respect for them. I plan to pattern a great deal of my future teaching methods after their own. But they haven't published anything recently, and by "recently" I mean in the last ten or fifteen years. And then I think "but, dumbass, they've been teaching and mentoring and being administrative for all those years, leaving no time for the publishing!" So, I don't know why I'm skeptical about their ability to judge me.

I suppose it all boils down to a touch of imposter syndrome, but I don't really think it's that. I'm just beginning this whole graduate school thing. I have all of eight graduate seminars under my belt, whoop-de-do. I'm not supposed to be any good at this yet. Thus, I sure don't feel like a fake, just a beginner. I don't attribute my success to luck, because I know I work hard (although not as hard as I can). I don't have a problem with thinking my stuff is good, should it eventually be so.

Maybe this will all be different at the next level, when everyone is a overachiever, as opposed to my current school where decent students in my program are few and far between. Or maybe not. I don't know.

I guess the question really is: how do you know when you're being measured with the appropriate yardstick?