The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Talking About My Generation

Even moreso than the impostor syndrome article, one column has really been making the rounds. In an his NYTimes column, David Brooks coined the term odyssey years for the period in between adolescence and adulthood where young adults try new things, travel, and join knitting circles. Brooks lacks insight into my generation, but he has, once again, coined a term that I fear will stick. He has a narrow and dated outlook on what it means to be a young adult in the 21st century.

After having grown up an Organization Kid, I have now entered my odyssey years, which means I’m a Gen Xer who works too hard. In fact, if you erased one paragraph and replaced a pop culture reference here and there, the column could be from over a decade ago. I also suspect that people have been talking about the new fluidity in categories of thought of young people since at least the late sixties.

I think it’s also important to note Brooks’s formulation of the twenty-something American envisions a population of highly motivated, white, upper- and upper-middle-class young adults. As is often the case in his column, he is not talking about the general population, but rather a tiny slice of overachievers. He’s talking about me and my friends.

But he’s not shedding light on what it means to be a motivated millenial. In the article, I am endowed with contradictory personality traits. On the one hand, I desire the traditional, but I also avoid the old-fashioned recipes for success. The only way for this not to be contradictory is to interpret it so vaguely that it could apply to almost any twenty-something in the last thirty-five years.

Brooks says that people my age are traveling more after college, and are taking longer to get settled. Well, duh. For Brooks though, this means we’re not adults. After all, being an adult means having a stable job, getting married, and having kids. It’s his concept of adulthood that should be questioned. Settling down is not maturity.

Adults, even in Brooks definition of the word, aren’t equating their selves with their jobs anymore. When asked, “Who are you?” even the middle-aged self-identify with the activities they do rather than with their jobs. People are no longer teachers or bankers; they are poets and rock-climbers. When (or if) I get married I will be a husband; when (or if) I have a kid I will be a father. These categories do not make me more of an adult just something new.

What Brooks needs is a more fluid definition of what it means to be an adult. But maybe that’s just “the spirit of fluidity that now characterizes this stage” in my life

I’m an impostor.

The other day a friend asked me, “dude, why do you always need to change out of your work clothes the moment you get home?”

“I just don’t feel like me in them. It feels like a costume I put on to play the part of a teacher. I feel like such an—an impostor.”

I often feel like an impostor. No matter what I do, no matter what I accomplish, I often feel like I’ve just been faking it and that I’ve just gotten lucky not to have been outed yet. To a certain extent, I have been incredibly fortunate, but I also realize that whenever I do feel like a phony, I feel the need to work harder.

There’s a new “syndrome” that is being discussed by overachievers across the US—the impostor syndrome. Overachieving academics are packing workshops all across the U.S., trying to overcome this affliction where you’re unable to internalize your accomplishments.

I imagine Dr. Valerie Young, the popularizer of this “syndrome,” driving from the workshop to workshop in a newly bought Porsche SUV, day-dreaming whether her next vacation—paid for sufferers of her syndrome—should be in Pago Pago or Paris. The brilliant part of the character trait that Young chose to pathologize is that this “syndrome” tends to come with a degree of self awareness. I suspect that many sufferers have this nagging belief they have talent, but they are afraid to embrace it. Plus, who doesn’t like to be told they’re talented at a workshop?

I suffer from impostor syndrome, and I hope I’m never cured. Sometimes I try unsuccessfully to have impostor syndrome. Whenever I’m arrogant or pompous, it’s when I have successfully internalized my successes. People are driven by their little neuroses. For many people, I think the impostor syndrome can be that force gnawing at you, telling you that no matter what you do, it’s not enough. It keeps you driven and makes you think out your ideas and your life more thoroughly.

Maybe I can make my first million by writing books and holding workshops on how to be an impostor. I’d create a legion of impostor impostors. They’d keep buying my books too, because they’d never believe they were successful. They’d just keep striving.


As I sit at my computer, I’m surrounded by mounds of essays that I mistakenly promised to get back to my students today. I didn’t get them done in time. Every interstitial moment of the past couple weeks, I’ve been either grading or feeling guilty about not grading. With so many students,  properly reading over, correcting, and grading a paper is a time-consuming and exhausting activity. I guess I sort of knew this in the abstract, but I certainly hadn’t fully internalized it. Everyday I teach I gain more respect for my old teachers. I love being in front of the class, where you have the chance to inspire, to learn something yourself, and to make real connections. The “you” that is in front of the class is the person who will be judged by all of your students. This more public part of teaching is obviously important, but at least it will be remembered by all of your students. However, all the work that goes behind the scenes is thankless. At least as a student, I knew I took it for granted.

In my case with 170 students, if each person turns in a 1,000 word essay it adds up to 170,000 words. For reference, Moby Dick is only 208,000 words. I have to copy edit the grammar, make suggestions about structure and content, and come up with a final grade. After a full day of teaching, I can only drink so much PG Tips before becoming too tired to grade fairly. The papers range the entire gamut from the slapdash to the profound. In the less successful essays, the English grammar is often difficult to correct, and in the truly insightful ones, it’s painful to reduce my students’ passion to a letter grade.

I have an idea to improve the lives of teachers. A colleague of mine at Shue Yan told me that it wasn’t just me but that all teachers treasure a little acknowledgment every and now again that some one has noticed that what they’re doing matters. I don’t need much recognition—I’m just a temporary visitor to the teaching profession—but the real teachers, who have devoted their careers to it, really do deserve more. I’m open to new acronyms but right now I’m calling the movement BARTAB, which stands for Buy A Real Teacher A Beer. From now on, I pledge that every time I’m at a bar or pub and I run into a teacher I will buy that person a drink. Not only does does the teacher probably need the drink, but the teacher deserves a little recognition now and then.