You may or may not know the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and if you do, you know how big a deal it is for people right now in the tech scene and other scenes. It’s something that many people experience without even having reason to – and we have not figured out a way to tackle it, so I decided to ask the internet (well, Twitter) how they currently deal with their own experience of imposter syndrome.
As usual, the internet came through for us here:
Amos Baynes, a North-Carolina-based Web Developer says “I’ve felt this way my whole career because I do not have a CS degree and am not a ‘neurotypical’ engineer.”
Additionally, Aaron Marks, a Software Developer stated that “I have a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in this thing and have been slinging code for a paycheck for 6 years and I still fight with impostor syndrome. I wait for my boss to figure out I am an idiot and fire me.”
A pattern I noticed throughout the response is that Impostor Syndrome leaves you feeling like you ‘defrauded’ your way to your position or height in life. Impostor syndrome is an open secret that all high achievers share — that in their offices or cubicles at work, they all share the feeling that they are not good enough for their positions.
Why is this always so for high performing career persons?
Dr Valerie Young, an expert researcher on the reasons why over-achievers feel like they are frauds, has categorized these reasons into five subsections which we will discuss later in this post.
You May Just Be A Perfectionist
Take this little test and we may just have a reason why you think you are a fraud at something you do so well. Credit for these questions go to Melody J Wilding of The Muse.
- Do you feel like your work must be 100% perfect, 100% of the time? No? Yes?
- Do you have great difficulty delegating and for the little times you do so, what do you always think about the results? Awful?
- You set a very high mark for yourself and when you do not achieve it, do you beat yourself up about not being the best for this job?
If any or all of these questions are true for you, then your reason for feeling like a fraud at what you do well, is that you are a perfectionist and want to do better. That is a great trait found in successful people, and you can manage it to your own advantage.
Here is how;
According to the responses we got on the thread, Adora Nwodo— A Software Engineer at Microsoft andAaron Marks all recommend a unique solution, which points to the fact that “You’re deserving of the job, and that is why you are hired in the first place.”
Coming to that realization alone should ease up the doubt you feel about your abilities, just because you feel you can do better. Yes, the only way to do better now, is to understand that you deserve the space you currently occupy.
The Super Woman/Man Syndrome
Do you feel you can solve everyone’s problem? Do you think you can solve the company’s problems alone? Answer these questions to know if you have the Superwoman/man syndrome;
- Do you stay later at the office, though you have completed your tasks for the day?
- You know its true that you feel uncomfortable when you are not working. You know.
- Did you have to sacrifice your hobbies for your work?
- Do you feel you have some more things to prove to people before you earn your title? “This software dev thing, you sure I am truly one?”
According to Wilding, Impostor workaholics are addicted to the validation that comes from working, whether internal or external. They just want to be busy all the time and the moment they are less busy, they feel sad, stressed or depressed. One way to solve this is to learn to detach your validation from your work.
Also, take feedback seriously and not personally.
In a response by Erica Pisani — a Fullstack Engineer at BenchSci she says, “Been there. I used to write down things coworkers said I did a really good job on so that on the days the impostor’s voice got a little nosy, I had physical evidence that I was doing better than I thought I was.”
Looks like Pisani found this useful, and encourages you to use it.
The Natural Genius
Now, you look at your productivity through the mirror of ease and speed, and not effort. You are worried that this line of code took you 3 hours to figure out, instead of one hour (the time you feel your fellow geniuses take). You are worried you no longer come up fast enough with those catchy copies, captions, titles etc.
You are just like the perfectionist, only that you beat yourself up for not getting things done at the first try. You call yourself a fraud for this too. A good way to check this is to see if you tick any of these boxes;
- You usually get things done the first time.
- All your life, people have called you a genius.
- You excel in your academics without much effort.
- You feel ashamed when you do not perform well. Like you are letting the whole world down.
- Now you shy away from challenges because you do not want the ‘shame’ of not getting things done the first time, or done well?
If you experience or have experienced any of these, you need to see yourself as a work in progress, and not a finished work. You should get comfortable in failing the first time and trying harder the next time, till you get it.
Not to go into popular rhetorics of motivational speakers, but they are right when they say the biggest failure is ‘not trying’. You should also learn how to try the challenging things, even if a failure will evoke that feeling of shame, just get on with it till you complete it.
DashiellBark-Huss, a Twitter user on the thread says, “the more I’m honest about what I don’t know, the less I feel like an Impostor.”
Eli J. Donahueadded that “The field (tech) is too broad and growing that no one person can know everything about one topic, or even something about every topic.”
Eli says you cannot know everything and the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. In tech, you learn by doing. If you are afraid of doing, because of the shame associated with failure, then there is no way you will learn.
You Want to Do It All By Yourself? Like Seriously?
It is okay to be independent. What is not okay, is to refuse assistance because you feel the more people help you out, the more you are unable to prove your worth through that work. Check if you tick any of these boxes;
- You are more focused on finishing a job without help than finishing it excellently.
- When you do want to call for help, you frame it as the project’s requirement.
Here’s something you may be very comfortable saying to your supervisor “The optimization project will need three more hours and a crocodile’s feather,” instead off :”” Nah, the truth is, you need all those things but you’d ask for more time than call for help. And when you’ve exhausted all the things you required and the project is not done, you end up feeling like a fraud. Well, you’re not!
You just need to realize that there’s no shame in asking for help. Most of the world’s biggest companies thrive on the principle of teamwork and collaboration. If that is the case, you can also build yourself by talking to people and collaborating.
Talk to your colleagues, ask questions and you would be surprised that they are also winging it as much as you are.
John Horner, a twitter user and a Sydney based software developer put it succinctly, “I spent a lot of time thinking that other people coded things from scratch before I realized that nearly everyone was using templates, modules, plugin and slapping them together.”
There are a lot of things you could discover the moment you open yourself up for collaboration and you will feel a lot less like an Impostor when you realize that everyone is struggling with different things as well.
You Measure Your Competence Based on What you know?
You feel your competence is attached to what and how much you know. In a field like tech that keeps evolving, you feel like a fraud when you cannot grab a concept. Now you fear being exposed. You are one of these persons if you;
- Shy away from applying to jobs you do not tick all the job description boxes.
- You are a certification junkie.
- You try to hide when someone calls you an expert, or by your earned position.
- You’ve done your job well since you started, but you still feel like you do not know enough to be in that job.
In combating this, you must focus on the things you know. Let’s hear from other developers on this particular case.
Simi Oluwatomi, a Software Developer responded to my thread via Twitter, and he said “Yes! There are so many things that I don’t know but I know something!” Of course Simi. You Know Something! “Also, I tell myself we are all learning, even those guys up there,” Simi added.
Bolaji, a Software Developer who works in DevRel with Hashnode also says “fighting imposter syndrome? Accept that you’re not alone, stop comparing yourself to others, realize that nobody knows anything well enough, build a growth mindset, document your progress and figure out your best learning patterns.” If this feels like a summary of the whole article, then that is what it is.
If you tick any of the above boxes, you are lucky to be among the 70% of people who have impostor syndrome in their career. And that is a good thing because think about it–true impostors do not suffer impostor syndrome.
They are the most normal people until they are caught because they knowingly ‘defrauded’ their way through to where they are.
For you, you have worked hard to get to where you are and the worse that can happen is for a project you have worked on, to have several mistakes. Now tell me that one great person in your field who has made no mistakes.
Of course it will be difficult to capture all the individual responses shared by the public in response to this thread, however, I’ve collected a major part of it into this post to help you get a quick grasp of it. Here’s also a number of other external resources shared in the thread that you might find helpful;
- Fighting Impostor syndrome — A thread by Bolaji Ayo
- Impostor syndrome and individual competence — A talk by Jessica Rose
- Growing your skills and career through teaching — A blog post by Ali Spittel
- Why do software developers suffer from Impostor syndrome — A blog post by Muhammed Rajeef MK
- Beginners and Pros share this common Insecurity — A Podcast by Jeffrey Way
- You’re not the only Imposter at the office — A blog post by JKoe Chrysler
- Impostor Syndrome — A Ladybug episode with Kelly Vaugn, Emma Wedekind and Ali Spittel
- Developing a growth mindset — A talk by Carol Dweck
- The fear of publicly not knowing — A blog post by Evan Peck
Written by Peter Ekene, Developer Advocate at Flutterwave.