Conquring Insecurity in Academia: An Experiment in Self-Care

If one were to look up “insecurity in academia,” a plethora of studies, blog posts, news pieces, and advice columns would appear. Most of us in academia (if not all) struggle, some more than others. I’ve posted before about the struggles that I have faced since moving to Germany, but my imposter syndrome and anxiety have been existent for as long as I can remember. To me, it is amazing that I am insecure in my intelligence and contribution to my work and research, but very confident in other areas in my life! I believe that I’m an attractive person who takes great selfies. I know that I’m a good friend to those who are close to me. I definitely work harder than most people I know. I can say with certainty that I make a mean gumbo from scratch (though my mom’s is better). The list goes on, but my insecurity surrounding my intelligence is the one piece of me that I have not eliminated in the slightest.

I just got back to Trier from the IATEFL conference in Birmingham, UK. While at the conference, I met many wonderful educators and researchers in ESL/EFL. I was able to engage in many thoughtful, intelligent conversations. In one conversation, I brought up my intellectual insecurities. I was met with a positive response, to which the person said “We all feel this way.” While spending a night with a friend in London, after having a conversation about my research and aspirations, he told me “You’re going to go far!” While leaving the UK to return to Germany, I was on the plane sitting behind one of my colleagues who was completing a cross word puzzle. She asked me and another colleague for help.  I’m not very skilled in trivial knowledge, but I attempted to help. After a while, I said “Ugh, this makes me feel so stupid.” To colleague turned around and said something to the effect of “Do not devalue your contribution or your voice.”

After a reflection of the conference and these conversations above (along with others), I made a profound realization: The only person who gets to determine my intelligence and worth is me.

With this realization in mind, I wanted to try an experiment: For one month, I refuse to say negative things about myself.

It seems like a really simple task, but is it really? According to Renee Jain (reporting for the Huffington Post), it’s easy for us to ruminate on negative thoughts, but it has also been said that affirmations can be helpful for maintaining positive thoughts. So, will it be helpful to not speak these negative thoughts?

One additional piece of this experiment is to transform some of my negative thoughts into positive ones- not just about my intelligence, but about my whole being. By writing a negative thought down and then making it positive, I hypothesize that it can become a more personal affirmation- one that might hit closer to home because it is closer to me.

So here’s an example, and day 1/30! Starting easy with an affirmation about my body!

Day 1: I gained an inch on my stomach during vacation.
Positive: Weight fluctuation is normal, and my worth is not determined by body fat. Besides, I’m more to love now!

I will report about to you in 30 days with a report on how well this experiment went! In the meantime, I invite any teachers, students, or others to join me in this experiment! It would be interesting compare and contrast our experience!

Thank you for reading, friends!



  1. “[M]ore to love now”. I like that. 😉 … It’s true in academia, though: People often feel stupid–but won’t admit it. Reason might be the high degree of specialization of knowledge and methods: I just happened to write a chapter for a book edited by analytical philosophers, who had an entirely different tool box of methods at hand. It was very hard to even understand what (!) they were criticising not to speak of the why and how… Their way of reading, writing, analysing was entirely new to me and I felt totally insufficient. But I believe that if I had been editing the book (and setting the rules) they would have had similar problems with me asking: Why does this matter? How is this fun? How does this open a new space for productive discourse? Where are the ambiguities and the speculations that make readers use their own minds…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. No scales for me, at least not on a regular basis. Just leads to obsession!
    About academia: I’m afraid things are gonna worse with citation indexes, numbers of followers, views, shares etc. Everything gets quantified and the administrators like this kind of bean counting. Quantity over quality for everyone to see.


  3. This post made me smile, James! Not because it makes me happy that you feel like this, but this post actually demonstrates so many of the things that make you great! Your humour (“I believe that I’m an attractive person who takes great selfies.”) for a start, your reflective nature, your eternal optimism and contagious positivity. I can own up here to being one of the colleagues on the plane doing the cross-word… and we asked you because we had no idea… So I guess we’re all in the silly boat together (as I’ve said many a time before!). I love the 30-days of positive thinking, though, and look forward to hearing all about how you’re getting on!
    C x

    PS: Am sharing this on Twitter, and hope that lots of people join in the challenge!!


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