a dissertating audience

While working on my dissertation, I’ve had severe bouts of dealing with impostor syndrome. I’ve had extremely difficult trouble getting over the hurdle of “I KNOW NOTHING.” I sit down in front of my computer and I try to write. ONE. WORD. It won’t come. I can sit for hours. NOTHING. HAPPENS. It’s all right there, in my head, but I just can’t force it out.

And I know so many colleagues and professors (both local and national whom I respect greatly) have written about this on blogs and talked about it in person. I know everyone gets it and has been there to some extent at some point in their academic careers. But when you’re in the middle of that whirling vortex of self-doubt, it can be the loneliest place in the world.

I don’t feel smart. I don’t feel intelligent. I don’t feel like I belong. I don’t feel like anything I’m doing really matters.

That’s when it’s bad.

Lately, I’ve been worried about not being an expert, not being well-versed enough in my study to be a person someone may want to engage with to discuss this. And all of this points to who I have been thinking of as my audience.

Was it my colleagues, fellow doctoral students and candidates who are working on amazing projects of their own? No.

Was it my family, who supports me and often tells me that even they, who, for the most part, are not academics, are interested in reading my dissertation because they think the topic is interesting? No.

Was it my committee, who wants to see me succeed and develop into a productive, mentoring professor in my own right? No.

Who was that audience I’ve been thinking about?


No, no. Not ANONYMOUS. I’m not sure many of them would be interested in my research.

It’s that faceless, voiceless, apparition that I’ve built in my head. It’s an audience that is all-seeing, all-knowing. And that audience is the one that is going to rise up and strike me down the moment I utter, or type, a single word. It is that audience that is going to tell me that I’m a failure, that I’m stupid, that I’m not fit. It’s that audience that is going to call me out and shame me for trying to break out of the bonds that have held me for far too long.

That’s a dark place to dwell because it’s all in my head, all in the nooks and crannies of my cranium that have, for a lifetime, said “You’re not good enough.”

Then, when I think that I can’t go on because NOTHING is still happening and I’m beating myself up far worse than anyone has or could, along comes a wise person to help me out of my hole that I’ve dug for myself. The sage doesn’t have to do anything. This person will just say the right thing at the right time, and the clouds clear, and I can see the road again.

And I can write.

One. word. at. a. time.


  1. Josh Welsh

    One word at a time will get it done! I think it’s like shoveling the drive way. Keep waling back and forth, and eventually the snow is gone. Until it snows again?

    You can do it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.