How Mentoring Helped Me Overcome Imposter Syndrome (or at least start to tame it)

Headshot of Biz Gallo

by Biz Gallo

Biz Gallo has served as the Manager of Audiovisual Preservation at George Blood, L.P. since 2013 and recently accepted the position of Statewide Digitization Initiatives Coordinator at the Library of Michigan. She received her Master of Science in Information from the University of Michigan School of Information and has since been helping cultural heritage institutions preserve their audiovisual collections through archival reformatting. She serves on SAA’s Oliver Wendell Holmes Travel Award Selection Committee and Preservation Section Program Committee.

“I don’t belong here.” 

“I don’t deserve to be here.” 

“They’re going to find out I have no idea what I’m doing and will escort me from the building at any moment.”

Impostor Syndrome: That feeling that you have tricked those around you into believing you belong, but knowing that you aren’t as accomplished or experienced as those around you. I have often spoken with colleagues on the subject and I have yet to find anyone that hasn’t felt the same way, at least at one point, in their career. I have even attended conference panels and presentations on the topic where every seat was filled and space to stand was scarce. 

So when I saw the call during last year’s Society of American Archivists annual conference for mentors for their Mentoring Program I had reservations about volunteering. I was looking for a mentor myself and hoping to find some guidance on my own career path. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might be on the other side of the scenario. However, it was clear there were many out there like me that needed mentors, many more than were willing to mentor others. I had served as an unofficial mentor for several interns, but nothing formal. This was official. What could I have to teach anyone? I am still fairly new to the profession. There had to be someone better than me to mentor a burgeoning archivist…wasn’t there?

I signed up anyway. 

There were clearly more mentees than mentors, more people needing advice than feeling available or accomplished enough to provide it. But maybe, just maybe, I could have something to offer someone who needed direction. I did not know with whom I would be paired or what part of their life they might be at, but at the very least I would meet a colleague. 

I am so glad that I did! 

My mentee is great, a recent graduate, and in their first job in archives. They’re specializing in the same area that I specialize in and we have similar paths to our chosen fields, so we were a good match as mentor-mentee. 

I quickly discovered that I do have a lot to teach, that I have learned and experienced a lot over the past few years since graduating. I’ve learned how to navigate office politics, how to handle the stress of a new position, how to overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things you don’t know and how to take pride in the small, incremental accomplishments that add up to big changes. Best of all, I learned how to share my experiences with my mentee.

I have always found that the old adage the best way to learn is through teaching to be true. Teaching others helps solidify what I know, becoming more confident in my own understanding every time I explain something. Connecting with my mentee also helped identify gaps in my own knowledge that I can focus on filling. They have helped keep me up to date on advancements in the field. I found that as I met with my mentee I would be reminded of articles or books that I wanted to (re)read, or learn something completely new! 

I also realized there are things that I don’t know that can’t be learned through reading, only through personal experience. Even if I haven’t had that experience, I probably know someone who has and can connect my mentee with them. If being a good manager is the art of getting things done with other peoples’ time, perhaps being a good mentor is not having all of the answers, but instead guiding your mentee by whatever avenues will lead them where they want to be, even if it’s not your path.

In a field filled with its fair share of introverts, putting oneself out there and saying “I have something you should listen to” is terrifying. 

What if I’m wrong? 

What if I sound stupid? 

What if I don’t have the answer? 

But what if you’re incredibly helpful? What if you have the perfect answer for that person at a time in their life where you wish you had someone in yours? What if you help the next generation of archivists stand up for themselves in a job that is taking advantage of them? Or make better decisions for their collections by giving them the confidence to hold firm in their recommendations? And maybe you’ll be reminded of that wisdom yourself. 

We rarely take the time to step out of our own situations and reflect objectively on our careers, but doing that for a mentee also reminds you to do it for yourself. Serving as a mentor has been so rewarding, both personally and professionally. I feel so much more confident in my own experience and abilities than I did before, and I invite you to see how serving as a mentor can do the same!

One thought on “How Mentoring Helped Me Overcome Imposter Syndrome (or at least start to tame it)

  1. Yay Biz!! Thank you for your wise words about mentoring. And congrats on your new position! Thank you for all your help and patience while at GB! Best wishes, Jolene


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