IndustrySlaying the Dragon: Imposter Syndrome

Emily Schweiss
writes on March 29, 2017

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Another day, another new JavaScript framework. And another person on your team who is somehow already an expert on it. How does everyone else keep up in the ever-changing world while you feel like you’ll never know nearly enough? When will everyone else notice you’re a hack who’s barely keeping up? How long can you keep up this charade?

Here’s the thing, you’re not a fraud. And while everyone feels like an imposter in their role at some point(s) in their career, it happens on a daily basis in the field of Software Development. Technology is changing at a ridiculous pace, and while you might feel like you’re the only person falling behind, the truth is no one person is on top of it all. Instead, get to know Imposter Syndrome beyond the buzzword so you can conquer it.

Technology is changing at a ridiculous pace, and while you might feel like you’re the only person falling behind, the truth is no one person is on top of it all.

Own your Awesome

Imposter Syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. The main takeaway time and again is the fear of being exposed as a fraud. That feeling of being an imposter. But let’s shift our focus a bit. The real problem here is the inability to internalize accomplishments. For years whenever anyone complimented me on something at work, I would respond with, “I got lucky.” Meanwhile, I would simultaneously berate myself for any mistake no matter how trivial. Someone finally called me out on it and pointed out all the work I had put in that got me to the “lucky” moment (and much of that work included mistakes which became learning opportunities.) 

I’m not saying I easily celebrated my wins from that day forward. It continues to be a process for me. But, the key was actually becoming mindful of the problem. When those wins happen, pause and celebrate them! Recognize all the hard work you put in that got you to this moment. Software Development by nature pits you against many failures and few wins. It’s challenging work, which is likely what attracted you to the field at least in part. Embrace the process.

Own your Mistakes

New tools and technologies are released every day and nobody can keep up, yet we all feel like we should be able to. This is defeating only if you let it be. When I get stuck in a series of mistakes I grab a can of WD-40, but not for the reason you might be thinking. Do you know how it got its name? The chemist, Norm Larsen, called the formula “Water Displacement #40” in the lab as it was his 40th attempt to create the substance. We could easily think of this as 39 failures. But I challenge you instead to think of it as a 40 step process. Learning is a journey. View these missteps as an opportunity to learn and move forward. 

Don’t suffer in silence. You will constantly be using new skills, which means mistake will happen frequently. By acknowledging them and seeking input from others, you will not only improve but likely learn that others deal with these obstacles consistently as well. Knowing that your colleagues and counterparts also feel inadequate at times can help ease your distress.

Learning is a journey. View missteps as an opportunity to learn and move forward.

Own your Knowledge

While it is important to lean on others when you need assistance with a new tool or concept, it is equally as important to support others as they learn. By definition those who suffer from Imposter Syndrome are high-achievers. And I think with that achievement it is easy for others to assume that we’ve got all of our ducks in a row. But I’ve learned one of the best ways for me to collaborate with my team and mentor others is to pull back the curtain and let them see my flaws. The struggle is real, and sometimes the pressure we put on ourselves is normal, and sometimes it is irrational.

Knowing how devastating Imposter Syndrome can make you feel at times, make sure you are not contributing to someone else’s suffering. Support others who are new to a thing, especially when you happen to be the pro in the room. They likely know something you don’t and will be able to return the favor some day. By sharing the load and balancing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, Imposter Syndrome becomes manageable.

Work to shift your perspective. If you can own these three items – your Awesome, your Mistakes, and your Knowledge – you will be well on your way to conquering Imposter Syndrome.

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4 Responses to “Slaying the Dragon: Imposter Syndrome”

  1. Emily Schweiss on May 2, 2017 at 8:51 am said:

    Glad to hear this is resonating with so many of you – Knowing you’re not alone helps so much!

  2. Jyotendra Sharma on April 18, 2017 at 5:08 pm said:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this. I was suffering silently, thinking that no matter how hard I try there’s still a lot to know and learn, despite the fact that I have learned and implemented so many things in relatively short time. I acknowledge myself now 🙂

  3. Posts like this help you to gain perspective, especially when it seems like everyone else is doing something better! Thanks for writing it.

  4. Jonas Stiernström on March 29, 2017 at 10:21 am said:

    Really awesome post! Imposter syndrome can be a real problem, but learning how to handle it Can actually turn it into a strength (going back to the high-achiever part).

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