Dealing With Imposter Syndrome

Dealing With Imposter Syndrome

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

A crazy thing happened to me the other day. I recently accepted an offer to be a part of something really exciting. It’s going to stretch me and help me become a better developer. I am very excited about this opportunity, but a crazy thing happened just after I accepted this new opportunity: I had an Imposter Syndrome meltdown.

It doesn’t matter how many times I have told new developers that these feelings of inadequacy are normal and no you are not an imposter and no you didn’t fool anyone, I still was having these crazy feelings of “Crap! What am I getting myself into? You just faked your way into this and now everyone is going to find out how big of a fraud you are.”

Luckily, I have some very important people, especially my wife, who talked me back down and reminded me that no I am not a fraud nor am I an imposter.

Looking back, I have had many times that I have felt like an imposter. When I got my first dev job, I definitely had it. The first time I presented at a meetup. When I presented on CSS-in-JS at work. When I gave an intro to React Native at a conference. When I got my second dev job. When I lead a book club discussion on a technical book and so on and so on. Imposter Syndrome never goes away.

Imposter Syndrome Isn’t Always Bad

Looking back, every time I have suffered from Imposter Syndrome, I was doing something that was pushing me and stretching me. This is a good thing. You always need to be pushing yourself, otherwise, you will quickly be left behind.

Imposter Syndrome can be humbling. Being humble is an important part of growing and learning. Having a large ego can keep you from learning new ways to do things and can result in bad experiences working with others. By putting yourself in a situation where you are feeling like an imposter, you are probably keeping that ego in check.

Imposter Syndrome Can Be Very Harmful

If you allow Imposter Syndrome to control you, it can be very harmful to you and the project you are working on. Unchecked, Imposter syndrome can result in high anxiety, low self-confidence, and over-focus on past mistakes and problems instead of future solutions.

Signs that imposter syndrome is becoming unhealthy can include fear of admitting that you don’t know something. Not only does this hold you back from being able to learn and grow, but it can also set false expectations with your co-workers and bosses.

It can make you timid and fear failure to the point of in action. We can be so scared of making a choice that we end of making no choice or making a choice too late to have it make the impact that we need.

It can also result in us favoring being agreeable over what is best. Being agreeable isn’t a bad thing. The world could benefit from more agreeableness. But if you favor it above voicing your opinion on what is right or what your view is best, then everyone suffers.

What Can You Do About It?

First is to recognize this will probably never go away. If you are pushing and learning new things, you should be hitting the limits of your knowledge and feeling uncomfortable which is likely to cause you to feel like you are an “Imposter.” It doesn’t have to hold you back, but understanding that this will come and go is important.

Practice. I watched a documentary about phobias and one of the more successful therapies to phobias was to not just teach strategies, but to also expose the individual to what they were afraid of regularly. The intention was to help them practice dealing with the fear so it wouldn’t control them.

Start saying what is that? If someone says, you know what XXX is right? Say no. If you say yes out of habit or fear, correct yourself and say “actually I don’t.” There are very few people who will look down on you for asking, and it’s very likely that if you don’t ask and then show you don’t know, they will more likely look down on you then. If someone with less experience shows you something you don’t know, tell them. Practice saying I don’t know.

Call it out. If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or others, call it out. Give it a name. To paraphrase the theme of Harry Potter books, fear of the name of Voldemort gave the villain even more power. Admitting you are having these feelings helps you recognize that you not only should do something about it, but you CAN do something about it.

Imposter Syndrome is hard. It’s a sign you are learning and growing as an individual. Left unchecked it will hurt you and your career. With the right tools, it can become a great tool to help you become a better person and developer.

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