What if it’s not imposter syndrome?

What if you’re just not any good?

I’ve written about imposter syndrome before, but never like this.

Imposter syndrome is that nagging feeling that you don’t deserve the success that you’ve earned.

You’re a fraud. Soon, everyone will find out how unqualified you are. You didn’t earn that job; it was given to you by accident. You didn’t earn that 4.0; your professors were just being lenient. You’re not a good writer; that viral article was an accident. You don’t really know how to be a software engineer; you’re relying too much on libraries and frameworks. Copy, paste. Copy, paste.

The problem with imposter syndrome is that no matter how much we accomplish, we sometimes lose the ability to reason with ourselves.

First, understand that there are 4 stages of learning.

  1. I’m excited to learn! I’m going to be the best at this.
  2. OMG. This is hard. But hey, I’ll try my best.
  3. I suck at this. I don’t think I’ll ever get any better.
  4. Oh, wait. I think I got it.

After stage 4, we get reinvigorated, and the cycle repeats.

But when we suffer from imposter syndrome, we get stuck at stage 3.

This is when we begin to ask ourselves…

What if I’m just not any good?

Try to reason with yourself.

  1. What exactly have you accomplished? Put it into words. Quantify it if you can. Give credit where credit is due. If you have accomplished something, you must be at least somewhat good at what you’re doing.
  2. Has anyone else praised your work or trusted your expertise? Think about the times someone has commented on your articles, or the times someone has come to you for advice. If someone else has given you credit, you must be pretty good at what you’re doing.
  3. Do you know more now than you knew a year ago? This means you have grown. You are better at what you’re doing now than you were a year ago. This should tell you something.
  4. Do you ask a lot of questions? Do you feel like you improve when you find the answers? Experts ask questions. Experts keep learning. Imposters do not.
  5. Did you make a mistake? Have you hit a rough patch? It’s normal. Experts hit rough patches. The best writers occasionally have flops. The best doctors consult with their colleagues when they’re unsure. The best programmers have other programmers check their work. Experts make mistakes. Experts are able to admit when they’re not sure. Experts are comfortable saying, “I don’t know!”. Imposters are not.

Remember that imposter syndrome often strikes immediately after we achieve success.

In some ways, it’s a defense mechanism. Sure, it’s easier to play it safe and to stay in that entry-level role. It’s easier to quit writing or to quit programming. You got into med school? Eh, it’s easier to do something else, right?

No, not right. We need to understand that this instinct is a natural reaction to the unknown. Imposter syndrome is all about fear.

It strikes when we start a new job, or when we succeed quickly or unexpectedly. It strikes when we finish a challenging project. It strikes the moment someone else recognizes our work.

We are not comfortable praising ourselves or giving ourselves credit for a job well done. But is this rational? If someone else had accomplished the same thing that you just accomplished, what would you think of them?

Furthermore… have you ever considered someone else a total fraud? It’s unlikely that anyone has looked at you that way, either.

Can’t convince yourself that you deserve what you’ve rightfully earned? Here are a few more ways to overcome imposter syndrome.

The data says I deserve this, but I think not. There must be something wrong.

Learn to feel comfortable with the unknown.

It’s okay if you don’t know what’s going to happen next. When you learn to accept the unknown, it gets a lot easier to recognize your own accomplishments.

Ask for feedback.

Not sure that you’re doing a good job? Why not ask someone else? Soliciting feedback is a great way to remind yourself that you’ve earned this. Ask for a recommendation on LinkedIn, or share your most recent accomplishments with those close to you. Ask your supervisor for feedback. Ask an expert in your field to give you some actionable next steps.

Share your goals and accomplishments.

Don’t keep them to yourself. Are you about to embark on a challenge, such as #100daysofcode? Tell your friends and family. Share it on social media. Share your accomplishments each and every day. You’ll feel a sense of validation when others view your work.

Track your accomplishments.

Data doesn’t lie. It might be difficult to see progress hour by hour, or even day by day, but what about month by month? Year by year? It’s unlikely that you’re in the same place you were a year ago.

Make a plan.

There are always new things to learn and new ways to grow. Instead of leaving it to the universe, propel yourself into your next learning opportunity. Remember this moment: this is your new baseline. Where will you be a few months from now?

The bottom line is that you’re probably not a fraud. Chances are that you’re good at what you’re doing. You might even be fantastic at it. Try to reason with yourself. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and look at your own work from someone else’s perspective.

What do you see?

Connect on LinkedIn.

technical writer • site reliability engineer • engineering leader • all views are my own • kerisavoca.com 👩🏻‍💻

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