Success and Shame: Letting Myself Off the Hook, Act II

Not long ago, I talked about shame, specifically around socially expected knowledge. I have long felt a sense of shame or embarassment at the possibility (or reality) of not knowing certain information, especially knowledge linked to cultural expectations. For example, the type of knowledge that leads to appreciating classical music or knowing which fork to use if you’re a member of a certain social class.

Ah, the classic dichotomy: upper versus lower class.

The Pretty Woman syndrome.

These social class issues are often connected to formal education. Someone educated at a university is often* viewed as part of a certain social class, versus someone who never obtained a college education. If that education occurred at an elite institution or the person went on to graduate school, the expectations re: knowledge and social class are even more rigid and specific.

*One of my limitations here is a tendency to overgeneralize; while I acknowledge there are nuances to these rigid views, I want also to point out that there exist social expectations that influence behavior. Nota bene: I have already pointed out that I am acutely sensitive to this issue, which may throw into question my ability to objectively study this issue. Luckily for me, there’s no such thing as objective.  But I know not all audiences espouse this belief, which is why I feel such unease with factual knowledge – I know it’s expected, but another part of me believes it’s bunk.

Stereotypes.

Many people would agree that a person with a Ph.D. conjures up a certain set of images. A Ph.D. is often equated with Professor, academic, scholar. Somewhat elite, old, stodgy, stuffy. Expert. Absent-minded. Nerdy. Elbow patches.

I can’t help but wonder how many of these adjectives are my own, rather than belong to this elusive “many people.”

Imposter syndrome. Again.

I have a Ph.D. It was a long road, and I worked very hard. A part of me is tremendously proud to be part of this elite group.

Yet I am also ashamed at my degree.

I am overwhelmed by the attention I sometimes get. And scared sh*tless that I’ll be found out to not have the knowledge I’m expected to have. Feeling pre-emptive shame at the possibility of being exposed as not knowing things. Especially because now people think I should possess certain knowledge because I have a Ph.D. I have ratcheted up my social capital such that I am more visible, respected, and better regarded because I have this degree. Expectations are now higher for me, the person with a doctorate. I am the doctor, after all.

“So, what’s your dissertation about?”

In social groups, I wither at the thought that I’ll be asked to dissertate on some topic simply because I have a higher degree. That I’ll be encouraged to tell everyone about my dissertation.

This terrifies me.

I accomplished the Ph.D. for myself, for my own edification, not so that I could be legitimized to go on a diatribe about an obscure topic. The last thing I want to do is share my knowledge, particularly concrete or factual knowledge (personal or emotional knowledge, such as what I learned while completing my degree, is another story altogether. I’d willingly “lecture” about the emotional aspects of graduate education – clearly a topic of a future post). I am really uncomfortable sharing specific, factual knowledge.

Maybe because I’m afraid I don’t have any.

I’d rather keep to myself, share my ideas (especially academic ideas) with my close friends. Sure, I write and research, and I have been published. I want to continue to be published, in fact. So I’m not interested in completely hiding. Yet, especially when asked to recount factual information,

I have this paralyzing fear I’ll be found out to be completely incompetent, uncultured, and not terribly smart.

It all comes down to money. And social class.

It occurred to me while discussing financial matters recently that there is a correllary between the embarassment I feel around my “lower class,” poor  upbringing and the shame I experience related to knowledge expectations, my current social class, and higher education.

I feel an Act III coming on.

 

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Taking the Learning Out of the Classroom « Dawnrey

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