Black Woman in Progress

***by Mica – Reposted from Feminist Mormon Housewives (fMh)**

In the fall of 2015 I will start the fourth year of my PhD program, at what others describe as the “tender age” of twenty five; in two years I will be a doctor. I was thirteen when I decided I wanted to be a psychologist and my path up to this point has been rather seamless. I got excellent grades in high school, got a scholarship to University, declared my major at orientation and haven’t looked back since. I was invested in my goals and others invested in my potential. I basically had every opportunity to succeed. Got all of the right internships and research teams to make me a competitive applicant for graduate programs. Applying to grad school is expensive, and exhausting, but it was so worth it. I had more than one offer and ended feeling like BYU was the best fit. The summer before classes began I hosted a bbq and became acquainted with some of my cohort. I fell in love. I fell in love with them, with academia, with my program, really with my life.

About a month into my program I encountered a phenomenon called “imposter syndrome.” My thoughts sounded something like this “I don’t belong here, everyone is smarter, more competent, and just all around better than me.” This sparked an anxiety in me that I had not known before. Granted I think it takes a bit of an anxious (maybe even neurotic) type of person to get admitted to a PhD program, but this was different. My anxiety triggered a paralysis of sorts; it caused me to procrastinate everything. I pushed assignments until the last minute; I agreed to work on projects with the full intention of putting in the work, but I would fail to complete them. I became the queen of excuses. Behind my smile and outward confidence I was a mess. In college I was the student with a key to the building so I could work in my research lab until 2 or 3am transcribing recorded interviews by hand, and I became the student watching hours of Netflix when I should have been working.

The pressure to succeed when you have always been successful is monumental, but when you are a woman of color the pressure becomes bone crushing. I have more dreams than I know what to do with. I want everything. I want it all. Finishing my dissertation, matching for residency, getting licensed as a psychologist, beginning my career, completing my book, working with all of the social justice issues that are near and dear, all while staying sane is the short list. I also don’t know anyone personally who looks like me and is actually doing what I am working toward. The pressure to beat statistics combined with not seeing a more progressed version of myself in my world is paralyzing.

As much as I hate it, and know that it is detrimental to emotional well-being to seek the acceptance and approval of others, I still find myself “impostering” as a way of tricking my mind. If I can create an imagined narrative of success then I won’t be at a loss for lack of an embodied role model. Sounds like a solid plan until I find myself cycling in anxiety induced paralysis. Several projects are always hanging over my head. I often wake up with a knot in my stomach as my slumber can no longer band-aid my to-do list. Eventually I get things done, but it’s painful. Especially when writing is involved. I can talk all day and my linguistic mistakes are quickly forgotten, but the written word is forever.

My anxiety isn’t nearly as distressing as in years past, but I still struggle. Right now I have a to-do list a mile long. Reports for work, papers for class, readings, dissertation research, posts for blogs, and really important emails to send. Yet, I sit here in a local juice bar typing this blog post and sipping this deliciously earthy combo of green leafy veggies and sweet green fruit, waiting for the next meeting where I will surely “imposter” about something.

So what will happen to this young black woman in progress? Will the weight and force of the pressure break me or will it create a diamond? The end is yet to be written; in the meantime I’m going to enjoy my green juice and not be too tough on myself. After all I am creating my own role model, which isn’t an easy feat.

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