I recently heard somebody say something along the lines of (you already know I’m going to butcher it): God is most pleased with us when we’re taking risks. While I’m not certain it can validated biblically one way or the other, the idea is that we shouldn’t live our entire lives always playing it safe. I’m not that old yet—well, that depends on who you ask—but I reckon I won’t get to the end of my life and wish I had just played it safer. So we take risks, we try things, we get out of our comfort zone and we give it a go. You end up doing something crazy like underwater basketweaving or starting a career in IT.
As difficult as it is to believe, we all start at the ground floor. We know nothing. We can’t tell the difference between our butts and a keyboard, or a bologna sandwich and a syringe, or a blue dress and a white and gold dress. We’re at the entry point, at the foundation with nothing but plans of what we could build on it. So we absorb all we can, we watch, we learn, we take it all in. At first it’s rough, we don’t grasp the high level concepts much less the fine details. We don’t know what we’re talking about, we don’t know what we’re hearing, and we manage to somehow ask stupid questions that even the people who say “there are no stupid questions” can’t help but laugh at.
But then something happens. You start finding your rhythm. You find out what you’re good at and some of the things you’re throwing against the wall are sticking. “I finally get it!” you shout as your confidence grows. What once baffled is now trivial; awkward fumbling is replaced with muscle memory. To your surprise you’re actually getting good at it. So you move on to an increased difficulty, a promotion and more responsibility, a shift in leadership and seniority. People are listening to you and your words have weight because your increased expertise in a subject.
And then it hits you, seemingly out of nowhere. That strange feeling that contradicts everything you are up to that point.
I’m an imposter.
\\\What Is Life???
If you have never experienced imposter syndrome, just wait for it. It’s coming. And when it does, it can come in many different forms. Just to give you an idea, consider these real world examples from completely real people:
I’ve been a senior developer since my senior year in high school, and I have absolutely no clue what I’m talking about.
What on Mars am I even doing here?
Everybody in my field knows more than me. Yes, even that guy with the stapler.
It was my first good idea ever. It was just luck, that’s all! Now they want me to do it again.
Don’t act like your field is worse than IT, we all know IT is the worst. Just kidding…….sort of. Really, this could be any career path or field and isn’t limited to IT. You wake up one day and feel like you don’t belong where you are and you’re not sure how your cover is still intact. Imposter Syndrome is a phenomenon where we have feelings of self-doubt despite all of our experience, expertise, and accomplishments. It can affect even the highest achievers. Now, I know what you’re thinking…there are some actual imposters out there. You know, Susy Slick who exaggerates her previous role and elaborates on how her pre-bedtime routine involves writing advanced formulas in Excel for the heck of it. She tells everybody that story about how her parents almost spelled her name SUSE instead of Susy because her future in IT was already written in the stars. She insisted it was going to be in all caps too, no cap. That, my friends, is an actual imposter and not what we’re talking about here.
The real question though is what do we do when we experience Imposter Syndrome? You can probably find guides and information and articles throughout the interwebs on how to combat it and fight imposter syndrome. Techniques like reminding yourself of all of your accomplishments or holding your breath for 30 seconds… Wait, that last one is for hiccups. Please disregard. But in my opinion, although there are plenty of times where it’s blown out of proportion and unwarranted, I think when those feelings arise we can use them to our advantage. Don’t be sus, embrace the imposter.
–All That + Bag of Potato Chips
Firstly, you’re probably not as awesome as you think you are. There, I said it! Having a healthy slice of humble pie every now and then is very healthy for you. This is like a gluten-free, non-GMO, carb-less, Keto-friendly, paleo pie. Maybe stop referring to yourself in third person, or taking off a few of those extra letters before and/or after your name. Realize that you always have more to learn and stop building your forever home at every new milestone of your career. Confidence is not arrogance, but it can be a slippery slope. Don’t build yourself up so much that when you find out you’re human you’ve devastated yourself.
–Off to Work I Go!
Secondly, whenever you feel like you’re an imposter, identify the areas that are making you feel that way. Is it a specific subject in your field that is causing these doubts? Or maybe a subset or something you feel you should already know? Identify these problematic areas that need more attention or a refresher and hone in on them. If you need to brush up on something, brush it! If you need to get a better grasp or trying something new, grasp it! And by golly if you need to cook up something with a cookbook in chef, get in the kitchen my boy! I often find that taking that challenge or reinforcing a skill can help assuage those feelings of being an imposter by actually improving your skill or expanding your knowledge.
–Wish I was a Little Bit Taller, Wish I was a Baller
And lastly, stop comparing your journey to everybody else’s. I’m sure there is more to you and your story than just your LinkedIn bio. You are more than the words in your resume or a plaque on the wall. We love to define ourselves by titles, positions, or accomplishments, but those tend to be superficial. And just like there is more to your story, the same goes for that world-class expert you keep comparing yourself to. Sometimes, they don’t know as much as they lead on. They have probably felt Imposter Syndrome before too. And if they do happen to be an overachieving OP of a savant, we usually fail to see the tireless time and effort they pour into their craft to get where they are today. As difficult as it is to admit, often times we just don’t have the same level of commitment they have. Be frank with yourself (or whatever your name is) and refuse to bring somebody else down to get a leg up. Celebrate others and use it as fuel for your own growth.
So when you feel like an imposter, pivot that table and make it useful. Remember to stay humble, identify the areas you can improve on, and don’t get stuck comparing yourself to others.
Have you experienced imposter syndrome before? How did you use it to your advantage?