Thoughts on Imposter Syndrome

You’re at your workstation, struggling to understand the current task in hand, or devise a solution for it. It’s over running and people are asking when it’ll be ready. You can’t give an answer. Then the brain kicks in, questioning itself, asking “am I really cut out for this? Maybe I’d be better in some other career.” The thoughts dwell on, perhaps keeping you up at night, as you wonder if you’ll be found out soon, and given the chop.
You’ve just experienced Imposter Syndrome. A pain in the bum inflection where self-doubt and worry you are not to the standard expected, in your field, is prevalent. The funny thing about it is people seldom want to talk about it, as they fear letting on that they are having doubting thoughts, over their own skillset, will lead to a lack of confidence from their peers.

But it’s nowhere near as bad as you think…

You Are Not Alone

I’ll let you in to a little secret: almost everyone gets it. Even those that seem the most confident or regarded in their field will have those doubting thoughts creep in. If anything, it would not surprise me if it gets worse the higher up you go. If you’ve received a promotion, and now heading a team of people, or a department, you want to ensure they have the confidence in you to lead. That pressure itself can be the cause of IS.
The thoughts of “I’m not as good as they think”, “If they knew how easy it was, they’d do this better than I can”. For some it may come and go, or just be an occasional nagging doubt. For others, it may manifest itself as a 24/7 anxiety.

xkcd on the subject…

Dealing With It

When IS hits, ask yourself:

  • Did you pass your probationary period?
  • Have you been in the job longer than a year?
  • Is the work you’re doing fairly well received?
  • Have you had a variety of roles, in your chosen field, across multiple companies building up a wealth experience?
  • Are your reviews, from your superiors, generally favourable?
  • Is most of your work completed on time, to a good standard?
  • Is what you do more difficult than you’re giving yourself credit for?
  • Have you built up a wealth of experience, in various roles?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, relax; you’re doing fine. If you answered yes to all of them then you have nothing to worry about. If you answered yes to only a couple then you still have a good footing, and can build on that. If it’s your first job in your chosen field, there is a high chance you’ve answered no to all of these. It’s not uncommon for Imposter Syndrome to affect brand new starters. Paradoxically, the absolute start of your career is when people expect the very least from you but, as you are keen to show you can do the job, you put the most pressure on yourself so IS hits. A similar feeling can occur when starting a new job, in a different environment. Here you can feel as if you’re beginning from scratch. There will be new processes to learn, a wealth of information to take in, and a lack of understanding about the business. It can be overwhelming, but you’ll be given the time to settle in and get a feel for the way things operate. Take the time to get to know people, learn the skills required for the job you will be doing, and be prepared to learn a little in your off-hours. But remember you’ve learned loads in your previous roles that you can adapt and apply in your new position. After all, if you’ve been taken on in a mid or senior position, they’ve hired you for exactly that.

What I Do Is Easy

This can be a weird phenomenon: the more you understand something, the easier it becomes. The easier it becomes, the more you start to think anyone can do it. The more you think anybody could do it, the more you start to think you aren’t all that special; if you’re managed to learn this, then anybody could, right? Give yourself some credit. If you have a job, in the IT world, then you’ve probably been learning for many years; through academia, home learning, work experience, or a combination of all of them. You have built up that knowledge. The years of study, you undertook, have made it look this easy. Remember how hard something felt, when you were first learning it? That’s how someone brand new to it will probably feel.

Don’t Suffer It In Silence

By this, I don’t mean approach your boss and tell them you’re suffering IS. Simply have the conversation that you had difficulty understanding some of the previous work, you were assigned, and want to remedy that. Ask if there is support or materials available to you in order to understand that particular subject more. Maybe ask for their feedback on how they feel you’re getting on. They’re your boss, after all; if they have any problems, they should know. Don’t be afraid to speak to some of your colleagues, should you want to read up more on something, and ask if they have any pointers you could refer to. If you sit in silence, afraid to pipe up, things will get worse for you. If you demonstrate you are eager to improve and understand, you will get more help.

Don’t React Negatively To Criticism

Everyone has their own idea of how they’d approach a problem. Some may have more experience with the tasks you are working with than you do. Listen to other opinions. If someone suggests doing something differently then don’t take it personally. You can thank them but, if you feel you’re solution is the right approach, give constructive counter arguments as to why you have chosen your way. You may find they agree with you. Promote healthy discussion, not needless arguing. You may feel their suggestion would be better. In that instance, take that on board, and see how you can implement that into your work, going forward. Feeling someone is better than you is a natural precursor to IS but you should never expect yourself to be an expert on everything all the time. Take criticism as a chance to learn from the people around you and develop yourself.

Help Those Around You

Never be afraid to share your knowledge. Helping someone else not only helps you realise that you might actually know what you’re talking about, but also helps breed a healthy team. Teams that talk and share information are a lot more productive than those that don’t.

You Will Have Bad Days

Accept the fact that there will be times where you leave work annoyed at yourself, failed to deliver something, or have something that’s carried on later in to the week than planned. It happens to the best of us. I’ve had it when I’ve let a bad day get to me, despite the previous days I was blasting my way through other tasks and getting nicely ahead. Are you having more good days than bad? It’s only a short term issue and, once you’re over this hurdle, you’ll back into doing something you’re far more at ease with.
Also be prepared for going back to your work, at a later date, and asking yourself just what the fuck you were thinking when you did that. That happens.

Keep Learning

Always be aware that you don’t know everything, and probably never will. There are those that seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge about everything, but even they have areas they are uncertain about. You can always keep learning. Never be afraid to realise that you have areas for improvement. Sure, you may have struggled with delivering a particular problem. But you know what else happened? You learned how to cope with it more effectively, next time.
Personal projects are a great way to improve your knowledge (pssst, there’s a reason I started up this blog with tutorials and such). There’s less pressure to deliver, there’s no deadlines, and if it goes wrong then it’s not a problem. As an aside, you should relish things going wrong in a personal project. If everything just goes absolutely swimmingly, your brain probably isn’t taking in what it needs to learn correctly. Problems cause your brain to actually have to think on it’s feet, and that’s where it develops self-understanding and the ability to cope with issues.

Embrace It

All anxieties are there to perform a function: to keep you safe. IS is your brain’s mechanism to ensure you keep your performance up, such is the fear of being sacked. If just starting a new job, anxiety is your brain telling you to be cautious as it hasn’t done this before. As pesky as it is, if it weren’t there, you could risk becoming a victim of your own complacency. And that could be much worse than not feeling you’re good enough. In its own weird and wonderful way, it’s helping you.

One thought on “Thoughts on Imposter Syndrome”

  1. Way back in a previous century, I expressed similar thoughts to my boss, even though I didn’t know the term Imposter Syndrome at that time.
    He patted me on the back and said “Don’t worry, we may not be much but we’re all they’ve got.”
    Ever after that I recalled his words, and concluded though I might not be meeting my internal standards, I was doing something others relied on me to do for them and I was way better at it than them.

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