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Why Am I Not an Expert in Anything?

Womxn in Student Affairs
April 27, 2021 Eileen Baruch College

I almost had a breakdown while figuring out what to write in my annual performance evaluation. The self-doubt settled into my body and the typical questions flooded my mind. What have I actually accomplished this year? How can I prove that I am a valuable asset to the team? What should my goals be for next year? Can I just write “survived”? These performance reviews amplify the voice that says you don’t belong and you’re a burden. How can any set of accomplishments ever compete with that? Despite all the literature around impostor syndrome and self-care, I can’t seem to shake this endless feeling like I am not an expert in anything and I have nothing of value to contribute.

It does not matter if my bachelor’s degree is in graphic design, I know little of the current trends and therefore I know nothing. Who cares if I worked in an Office of Health and Wellness for three years, attending trainings and seminars, I do not have a degree in a relevant field, so I cannot have a deep understanding of these complex concepts. And what if my MsED thesis project focused on the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community on campus, I will never really understand. So what if I have been an academic advisor in an honors program for the past three years, that is nothing compared to the decade of experience my colleagues have – they are the experts. I could never be.

All that to say, of course, the above statements are intrusive thoughts that have little truth to them. I have value. I am knowledgeable and thoughtful. My students (I hope) appreciate having me as their advisor as they navigate the challenges of college. To quiet the inner voice of doubt, I listened to the podcast, The Happiness Lab by Dr. Laurie Santos with guest speaker Dr. Kristin Neff. In their episode titled “Dump Your Inner Drill Sergeant”, they discuss self-compassion as a means to take better care of one’s overall well-being. Dr. Santos states “the secret…is simply to be nicer to ourselves.” Through self-compassion, one can build on a growth mindset which benefits our well-being, our goals, our teams, and our personal relationships. Dr. Neff goes on to say “shame is the end result of self-criticism.” She discusses the difference between critiquing behavior instead of one’s self. Change comes from identifying the true nature of a problem, the behavior. In comparison, shaming one’s self and overall sense of being causes real harm and leads to an avoidance of the changes that actually need to be made.

By practicing self-compassion, I can better support my students by noticing their feelings and reactions now that I have more practice quieting that painful voice for myself. Feeling present and at ease with my own being allows me have less doubt regarding the contributions to the space I am in. It has been easier to correct mistakes because they do not feel like a bruise that will never heal, but rather an opportunity to learn and be a better version of myself. Higher education professionals may frequently come across the idea of compassion fatigue. Supporting students can be demanding on one’s empathy and compassion capacity. Working with students in crisis can take a toll. Through meditation and mindfulness practices, I have found that this compassion fatigue is also lessened. I can be present with a student without taking the potential emotional drain into other spaces. I do not have to carry worries with me everywhere I go.

I am not a mindfulness expert, and psychology is not my field of study. My self-compassion practices are not perfect and I need to remind myself of this effort regularly. That said, I do not need to be in a state of perfection, but rather in a state of constant learning. If I have a hurtful thought, I can actively stop and notice the feeling nonjudgmentally. This helps to move forward in a way that embraces my abilities and strengths, and appropriately correct mistakes. As I write this piece, I feel myself doubting whether I should go forward and submit this. So, if you are reading this, I took the leap of faith needed to treat myself like I would a good friend. I took a moment to believe in myself.

Citation: Santos, L. (2021, January 4). Dump your inner drill sergeant. [Audio podcast episode]. In The Happiness Lab.

Eileen Makak is a Senior Academic Advisor at Macaulay Honors College. She holds an MSEd from Baruch’s Higher Education Administration program. As an alumna of Baruch, she has worked with college students for a number of years in the Office of New Student Programs teaching First-Year and Transfer Seminar courses. Eileen has also worked with Baruch’s Health and Wellness Office, running events and campaigns surrounding issues on environmental sustainability, intimate partner violence, and sex education. In her free time, Eileen has volunteered to produce films and design sets. Prior to becoming an academic advisor, she served as a Graduate Assistant in the Honors Program, producing films and answering students’ questions. Her dedication students’ well-being and a holistic educational experience informs her approach to advisement.