Lean into it, so you can stop caring and focus on providing value instead.
Much of the information below was collected during a discussion of developers during a weekly book club that I attend. I have the wisdom of other developers to thank for the useful tips to help you, and myself deal with the curse of imposter syndrome. It’s irony I suppose, that writing a post about imposter syndrome makes me feel like an imposter.
What is imposter syndrome?
The tendency to feel like an imposter in your position. The feeling that you don’t really know what you’re doing and can’t possibly match the expectations of others.
It takes away from your ability to focus on getting work done. It corrodes your energy. It reduces your self-worth. Unfortunately, it gets worse the better you are because expectations grow to match your ability.
There’s another version too. Sometimes you really are an imposter. You haven’t done what you’re trying to do. You are a new junior developer joining your first team. You are an intermediate developer mentoring other developers for the first time. You are new to programming, and your head bursts with buzzwords and jargon. You are new.
Because of this, you might feel tempted to posture, to be defensive. It’s the junior developer who talks the most about how much they know and the senior developer who admits they don’t know much at all.
The social media jungle encourages us to feel like we all need to pretend to be more than we really are. We judge ourselves amidst a sea of false comparisons and posturing. You are told to “fake it ‘till you make it.” You are told to sell yourself in interviews. You are pressured to act as though you know more than you do. Everyone online is an expert, so why aren’t you?
Stomaching the idea that you aren’t that good is painful. Human beings go to great lengths to avoid confronting our inadequacies. But, I’ve been thinking lately — maybe admitting our faults is the solution to feeling like an imposter.
How do you deal with imposter syndrome?
Let it go. It’s not your job to decide if you are an imposter or not. It’s your job to do the best work that you can and to provide value to others. Sure, you might be an imposter, but that’s not for you to decide.
Don’t judge yourself, others will do that for you.
- Gary Vaynerchuk
Get specific about why you feel imposter syndrome.
Don’t let your imposter syndrome remain vague. List reasons for why you feel like an imposter. List the knowledge you don’t have that you need to get not to be an imposter. Make the unknown into the known. This will help you be more rational about why you feel this way and help dampen the feeling.
To avoid negative spiraling, avoid letting yourself repeat the same idea and force yourself to be concrete.
For example, when prompted to do this, I said, “I don’t have a computer science degree.” Still, my friend probed me to go further because “having a CS degree” isn’t actually knowledge or something that has historically held me back from getting a position.
A better answer might be, “I lack deep knowledge on the fundamentals of computer science.” Then, probing even deeper, I might articulate the specific concepts I don’t know, leading to creating a learning plan.
You are not what you want to be
You never are. It’s the curse of being human — particularly being a human being who strives to be more than you are. But you are something. You are that which has the ability to improve itself.
But you can become what you want to be
More specifically, you can be the person who works towards what you wish to be. Of course, you cannot wave a wand and be your ideal self. But you can create a process in your life of working towards the person you want to be.
If you feel like you are an imposter, you can humbly admit that you might be. Then move forward confidently, knowing that you can grow yourself into what you wish given enough effort and time.
Every second you spend doubting yourself is a second you could spend creating the things that grow you into the person you want to become.
So go become that person.