Be Not Afraid: SBL and the Specter of Imposter Syndrome

In a few days I am leavin’ on a jet plane for San Diego for the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting. It is, of course, an exciting time of catching up with friends, new and old, and eating good food, and learning lots of new things—and buying books or drooling over books I cannot afford.

But many people, including myself, feel imposter syndrome (IS) when we attend this massive event. Do I really belong? Am I important enough to be here? What if someone finds out how unimpressive I really am? It is an unfortunate reality that imposter syndrome is common, especially amongst students and early career attendees, and even sometimes for us “old” folks.

Be not afraid.

Fear and intimidation stops us from enjoying things, all too often. But how to overcome the specter of Imposter Syndrome?

1. Bring a friend, meet a friend. SBL can be very lonely, if for no other reason than the massive crowds. I set up meet-ups with old friends to make the experience more personal.

2. Go to sessions designed for new people to meet. SBL does a pretty good job having student-oriented sessions that connect new people. Imposters unite!

3. JOTE, not FOMO. Fear of Missing Out keeps us in a mode of looking around at what other people are doing, how many friends they have, and how cool they are. But I have tried to practice JOTE – Joy of The Events. There are so many interesting and good events, but we get distracted by what other people are doing. Just enjoy what is there.

4. Talk to normal humans, it’s fun. When scholars go to SBL, they cease to be normal people. They are these weird aliens with nametags and something to prove. And it can be intimidating or just annoying. So, talk to normal humans when you feel IS, like the conference volunteers and workers. It’s fun.

5. Stay focused – why am I here? Nobody says to themselves, I am here at SBL to be popular and cool! We are there to enjoy the conference, meet new colleagues, connect with old friends, learn something new—and buy books. You might need to write down a short statement about why you paid for this conference, so you don’t get lost in FOMO or IS.

6. Say hi to me. It’s a big conference, but if you see me, say hi. I will try and say, “I’m glad you are here!” I am glad—enjoy the conference!


One thought on “Be Not Afraid: SBL and the Specter of Imposter Syndrome

  1. Hi Dr Gupta. I am Danny Moses (worked under Dr David Wenham and Dr NT Wright) for my PhD (Wycliffe Hall, OX), thesis published by the Sheffield Academic Press, JSNT Supplement Series 122 ( Matthew’s understanding of the Transfiguration). I am asked to teach a course on Pauline Theology, at the Lanka Bible College and Seminary Centre for Graduate Studies, Colombo Sri Lanka – where I was director for the past 4.5 years, but due to my wife’s health challenges am now in Perth, where we had lived since 1992). I am in the process of preparing to teach at LBCS CGS in Jan 2020. I was amazed at your grasp of NT studies! please come to Sri Lanka and teach a modular course (we will look after you in Sri Lanka). Love to meet you in person too. I am a UBS grad (BD 1980, Dr Richard Howel was my classmate), then did my MA at London Bible College (under Dr Dick France), then on to Wycliffe Hall, OX.
    My phone number +61423759792 (Perth, Australia).

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