The imposter within
“Did I do anything wrong today,” he said, “or has the world always been like this and I've been too wrapped up in myself to notice?” ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Just over a month ago I:
- started doubting myself;
- felt like I wasn't adding value or achieving much;
- felt uncertain of my skills, the work I was doing and my career;
- was comparing myself to others which made me feel inadequate;
- found it difficult to concentrate and focus; and
- felt like a hypocrite.
This fraudulent feeling led me to neglecting simple things like contributing to my blog. Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened to me. My inner imposter was once again "shining" and I was left feeling inadequate.
He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it. ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Imposter syndrome 1 is getting a lot of attention within our community probably because research 2 has estimated that 70% of the general population has felt imposter tendencies in some part of their career.
It's not a disease. It is a misshapen reality concocted by self-limiting beliefs and feelings of inadequacy. This reality remains solid even when information is presented that disproves it. The mind clings to the emotion rather than the fact.
In my research on this topic, a common underlying message stands out: nobody really knows what they're doing all the time. So the best anyone can really do is to just try, fail, learn from it and try again.
Logically I know this. Yet here I sit in my trough period trying to get out once again. So instead of being hard on myself I am just accepting that right now it may seem bad, but this too shall pass.
To help me progress, I can try to understand the compounding feelings that contribute to this state of mind. By dissecting each one I may be able to make small adjustments to help me progress out of this:
I'd far rather be happy than right any day. ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
I've been a software developer for a long time now. In my mind, I don't live up to my own expectations (which I have learned are exceptionally high for some reason). There is still so much I don't know, so much that I am uncertain of.
How can you persuade someone to understand something if you have little confidence in your own understanding? Doubt destroys confidence. Self-doubt destroys confidence in yourself.
Logically I know it's impossible to be certain of everything yet doubt looms over me like a towering monster in the dark. I know that we simply have to figure things out as we go, remembering that it's okay to be wrong provided we learn from it. Some days are just better than others for me.
There are many techniques 3 to aid those suffering with self-doubt such as:
- Remember past successes and know that you had a role contributing to it.
- Talk to your peers about it. Chances are they are feeling the same.
- Keep a journal. Write down the good and bad and try to find a pattern.
- Don't beat yourself up.
- Don't compare yourself to others. It's unfair on yourself as you may have different focus areas.
- Land an interview even if you're happy with your job. It can be a great reminder that you're skilled and valuable.
- Everyone struggles of something. Accept this, then punch fear in the face.
That's what I mean about A-Z plans, you see. I had no idea that things were going to turn out like this, so there was no way I could have planned things out. You just have to cope with what's happening, and deal with the next bit when it comes. ― Michael Marshall Smith, Only Forward
Uncertainty (depending on the context) can sometimes make me very anxious. At work, I don't like hearing myself say "I don't know".
Yet this happens regularly. I don't know how long something is going to take to work on, the impact it may have on the system or on the user, the complexity that may creep in, the right people to talk to. I don't know because I don't have all the facts. What I can do is figure it out as I go.
The beauty of our industry (and life in general) is that there is still so much we don't really know. No one knows everything no matter how fanatic people can be in certain areas.
There is no right way of doing something. There is always a better way. So we figure things out. We put different pieces of the puzzle together. We troubleshoot and fix things that are broken. We learn. We create.
Some techniques 4 we can use in the face of uncertainty include:
- Know that certainty is an illusion. Things can change in a heartbeat.
- Focus on what you can control.
- Get confident about your coping and adapting skills.
- Prepare for different possibilities.
- Accept constant imperfection.
- Don't get attached to everything. When it changes you tend to suffer.
- Reconnect with the constants in your life.
- Practice mindfulness.
Ask yourself these three questions:
- What do I think is the worst possible realistic outcome of the situation?
- How will I feel about it?
- What will I do about it?
We are water. We evaporate, we freeze, we fall, we cool, we crash in waves, we ebb and flow, we soothe, swim and foam. A part of us looks the same to a mind that wants to condense and categorize, but in the end, we are constantly recreated anew. ― Disqus user drb74
Comparing yourself to others
The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else's highlight reel. ― Steven Furtick
We can't see the full picture of everyone around us. We don't know the troubles they face, what makes them really tick, what fears and weaknesses they battle out each day and what circumstantial history they have.
Instead get better at knowing yourself. You have the full picture of someone truly amazing right in front of you, no matter how flawed you think you are.
My final thoughts
Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now? ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
I started this post on Monday but I couldn't finish it. It's been a real struggle trying to write about something that I keep telling myself no one will really care about. This time I got hit hard by imposter syndrome.
There is a lot of talk about it in the community to raise awareness for this struggle that plagues most of us. It's just a state of mind that can be controlled.
When I started this post, I reached out on Twitter for some peer guidance and the responses made me feel good.
Let's give them a shout out based on my question "Anyone suffering from imposter syndrome lately? I'm writing a post. If you have any advice you wish to share let me know."
- Far too often. I’m getting better at overcoming it, though. I wrote a post on the topic recently. ― Pavneet Singh Saund
- Imposter syndrome isn't just for "actual" experts. It's for everyone in-between who has their own little area of expertise ― James Mallison
- All the time ― Joshua Lewis
- I think most of us suffer from it ― Christoff Truter
- Yup, and also found out what a negative impact it has on the rest of my team. Working on keeping it suppressed, as it should be. ― Johan Meiring
- Go land an interview, even if you're happy with your job. It can be a great reminder that you're skilled & valuable ― Chris McClellan
About Imposter Syndrome (Navigate back)
- Imposter Syndrome Wikipedia
- The Impostor Syndrome GOTO 2016 presentation, Gitte Klitgaard
- Imposter Syndrome: Overcoming Self-Doubt in Success PrairieCode() 2016 presentation, Heather Downing
- 21 Proven Ways To Overcome Impostor Syndrome StartupBros, Kyle Eschenroeder (2016)
- High-achievers suffering from 'Imposter Syndrome' News.com.au (2013)
- Research (Navigate back)
Clark, M.; Vardeman, K.; Barba, S. (2014). "Perceived inadequacy: A study of the impostor phenomenon among college and research librarians". College & Research Libraries. 75 (3): 255–271.
Techniques to deal with self-doubt (Navigate back)
- 10 Powerful Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt So You Can Move Forward in Life The Positivity Blog, Henrik Edberg
Twitter, Chris McClellan (2016)
Cited "Land an interview even if you're happy with your job. It can be a great reminder that you're skilled and valuable."
- Embrace your inner Imposter
Coding with Empathy, Pavneet Singh Saund (2016)
Cited "Everyone struggles of something. Accept this, then punch fear in the face."
Techniques to deal with uncertainty (Navigate back)
- Coping with Unknown Outcomes Corporate Programmer, Clarice Bouwer (2016)
- 5 Ways to Let Go and Embrace an Uncertain Future Tiny Buddah, Lori Deschene (2009)
- 7 Ways to Deal with Uncertainty So You Can Be Happier and Less Anxious Tiny Buddah, Lori Deschene (2010)
- Comment on 5 Ways to Let Go and Embrace an Uncertain Future Disqus user
Cited "We are water. We evaporate, we freeze, we fall, we cool, we crash in waves, we ebb and flow, we soothe, swim and foam. A part of us looks the same to a mind that wants to condense and categorize, but in the end, we are constantly recreated anew." (2009)