Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Impostoring and Keynoting

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I’ve got another blogpost in draft for DAYS now and I’ll get back to it eventually. Inshallah 

But this one. I NEED to write this one. As I prepare for my OEPS keynote next week (virtual) and have had to respond to more keynote invitations with “I can’t, but could I do virtual instead?” and only agree to a few… I still have a strong case of impostor syndrome. I’m always wondering “are you talking to me?” and “why me?” and inevitably “ah yes because of course it’s kinda cool to have a headscarved person from a developing country – diversity yay” (then I feel ashamed, because I’m not giving people the benefit of the doubt, not properly anyway). Because of course there are many women who wear headscarves or come from developing countries and they’re not getting invited to these things, I am. Then I think of all the wonderful women around me who don’t get invited and I think it’s not fair to them. But then again, I write and tweet and vconnect like crazy and I’ve built all this social and cultural capital which is a heck of a lot WORK, I swear it is. But it’s still personality. And personality is hard work. But it’s not…everything that’s important. It’s probably the “in” for people to notice what’s more important. 

I sometimes feel pain for getting more international recognition than local recognition, then I look at the work I do and it’s so cutting edge it’s never going to be mainstream locally. And if I had to be honest, I do get local recognition and every now and then it’s elating. But it’s not like my international recognition. It’s not in the way people internationally (ok in a very niche field of digped and opened and a bit of mainstream edtech) respond to me. Because of course i write in English about issues a Western audience is more interested in because i work at a Western institution that’s closer to that discourse and I’m so aware of how this doesn’t generalize back into the local that I’m really careful what and how I write for the Arab audience. So I get invited into Western endeavors (NMC recent digital literacies report as an example) and occasionally Arab ones (missed an important Arab MOOC conference, Edraak’s first in Jordan and an important ministry of Education event in Cairo because I was at DigPedLab UMW. And i don’t even really travel THAT MUCH people!) 

A comment by Kate Bowles on my last blogpost struck me in several ways. I agree w her that impostor syndrome is largely a result of systemic aggressions, which explains why women and minorities feel it most. I mean, of course, when you can’t find a role model who looks like you, something seems…off, right? Must be in the wrong place, right? What am I doing here, eh?

She also noted the focus on the negative and I’ll admit these things

  1. I focus on negative feedback more than positive on surveys and such. I know the most negative people put comments but i also believe many negative people stay silent. So i care. I also want to know how to improve. I don’t necessarily feel that way about peer review coz it is often clear that a peer review “doesn’t get it” in the first place
  2. I focus on any negative/criticsm about myself because I want to listen but I know I don’t always… But i need the extra humility 

I am only truly horrible at getting feedback on my motherhood because wow that’s the mother of all impostor syndromes and While i am actually quite professionally confident, the whole motherhood thing scares the shit out of me. So I am really sensitive to feedback on that in the sense it REALLY hurts me deep down and I reject it instantaneously no matter who. My elderly friend Lesley (may she rest in peace) was soooo smart that way. She never gave me advice. She just told me stories of her own motherhood and indirectly helped me learn new things. All the time.

Anyway. So I got this post out of the way and my OEPS keynote half done with parts to remove (always better than parts needed to add).

8 Comments

  1. Imposter? Preposterous!

    “You mean there is another Maha Bali?” “Of course there are others. They keep me up at night.”

    “You mean there are other mothers?”
    “Of course there are. But I’m the only one who’s yours. You keep me up at night.”

  2. BRB traveling to Cairo to give Maha some local recognition.

  3. Sometimes who you ARE is public and anyway, someone has represent you and who knows best than you?

    Hopeful story on hospitality: Two years on, has Angela Merkel’s welcome culture worked in Germany?
    One Syrian family’s story of adjusting to a new life speaks volumes about Germany’s attitude towards refugees on the eve of national elections
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/30/two-years-on-has-angela-merkels-welcome-culture-worked-in-germany?

  4. Fascinating ponderings.

    Did the ‘headscarf’ get my attention at one point? Might that be a ‘diversity’ box someone’s checking off an official list while organizing events, consciously or not? Maybe. At the same time, it’s ironic that a thoughtful person like yourself might find unfair advantage of some sort in being a Muslim woman, while old straight white guys like myself have to work to remind ourselves that our worlds – however challenging – lack many of the struggles of those not in our demographic shoes.

    But is popularity or range of voice unfair? Unbalanced? Unpredictable? Absolutely. We are not rational creatures, and certainly not thoughtful or fair about such things. Once you have A voice of any merit, the momentum sometimes becomes self-perpetuating. You are called because you were seen or heard. You are seen and heard because you were called. Perhaps that’s the universe directing things as it wishes, or maybe it’s just random luck. In any case, that part is out of your control.

    If I had any sort of authority or credibility, I’d grant you full absolution for things beyond your control. I’d say something wise about the only challenge being what you do with those open doors, those microphones, those webby cameras, etc. What you say, how you introspect, who you touch, etc.

    But I’m just a random voice thinking he needs to comment, so… speaking only for myself, and not knowing who you think might be the ‘better options’, I’m rather glad. You make me think and want to be more thoughtful as well. Plus, you write real good (as we would have said in Oklahoma), so that’s pretty nice.

    Thank you for what you do – however it is you come to keep doing it.

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