Learning to stop listening to your inner monster
Happy new year everyone! I’m sure you are all aware it’s that time of the year. That time of year in which we all review our past year, our accomplishments, our defeats, our struggles, our happy and sad moments. We also set goals to improve ourselves and become better. Because we feel like we’ve been given a fresh start, and who doesn’t love a fresh start?
Last year my main resolution was to be less mean to myself. To silence that annoying little voice in my head always bringing me down. I had no idea how complex self-care could be when I made this resolution, and how many areas in my life needed some love from me. One of the key areas I focused was my career, which included my day to day job.
I am an impostor
Well, I constantly feel like an impostor at work, in meet-ups, or any other place where people can talk to me. I feel like I am pretending, and that one day someone will discover that actually, I have no idea what I am doing. I’ve stopped myself from asking questions, writing blog posts or doing talks because I believe I have nothing useful to say. I would try to hide my real self, my authentic self in fear it would not be enough.
So I needed to work out why I wasn’t being authentic, where this fear was coming from. Thankfully there are a lot of smart people out there that have studied this, and while researching I found Brené Brown. She specialises in shame and vulnerability, and after watching one of her TED talks I had one of those mind-blown moments. It made sense. So, of course, I tried reading all of her books, reading her recommendations, investigating further and, doing a talk about this amazing discovery I had found out.
I’ll explain what I discovered, and what I did to start feeling less like an impostor and more authentic.
We experience shame when we believe we are flawed, imperfect, and therefore unworthy of belonging or being accepted as we are, as the authentic version of ourselves.
We are afraid, and sometimes terrified, that we are not enough: funny enough, smart enough, geeky enough… We are afraid that what we have to offer to the world isn’t enough, so we bury our authentic persona underneath of layers of decorations.
I realised that shame is that voice in my head constantly telling me I’m not enough. Telling me, who do you think you are? Every time I take a risk. That’s the voice I need to silence. Because that voice comes with overwhelming feelings of confusion, fear, anger, judgment and sometimes the feeling of wanting to run away and hide.
Impostor syndrome is shame. We are afraid someone is going to find out that the authentic part of ourselves is not enough.
Shame comes attached to vulnerability. We hide our authentic self because we are afraid of being vulnerable. Vulnerability is what we feel uncertain about, is that feeling we get when we take risks or when we are emotionally exposed. And we all have situations that make us feel vulnerable, almost every day of our lives.
We try to avoid feeling vulnerable because we don’t want to be perceived as being weak. But as Brené says (yes in my mind we are on first name basis),
Vulnerability is not a choice; the choice is how to react when facing it.
So we should start embracing that naked feeling, take risks, make talks, we should start embracing authenticity.
I want to be more authentic. And this was my first step towards bringing out the authentic version of myself, understanding my shame. Knowing what I feel shame about so I can see it coming and prevent it from reacting. Preventing that little voice in my head of taking over.
I saw this exercise from Brené Brown and it worked for me. The idea is that you write down what you want to be perceived as, and what you don’t want to be perceived as. After you write them down you try to understand where are these expectations coming from, and how realistic they are.
I want to be perceived as a ninja developer, as a good speaker, tough, but also nice and kind.
I do not want to be perceived as too emotional, as not technical enough, or as soft.
These are my shame triggers. If someone tells me I am a bad developer, I feel shame, because I feel I’ve been exposed. But, after doing this exercise I realised that I cannot be tough and nice and yet not be perceived as emotional. To be nice and kind I need to feel emotions. So that was my first step. Understanding myself better, understanding where my shame triggers are coming from and what they are.
This is how it started, this new self-discovery process. And from there I found little actions and little self-reflections I could practice. I still feel like an impostor, I still go down shame loops when I feel I am not good enough or worthy enough. But I am getting better, and now I know how to get out of the loops, it’s not immediate but at least I am not stuck there forever.
Stop trying to fit in
Start belonging. There is a difference. Fitting in is about becoming who you need to be depending on the situation. Belonging is being accepted for your wonderful true self. For your authentic self. We are often so worried about what other people think and we try so hard to be what they want us to be that we lose our authentic self.
So how do I stop myself from trying to fit in?
It is not easy. There have been way too many years losing myself to try and fit in. It requires so much self evaluation and a lot of practice, it also requires fighting some of my instincts. My strategy is to remind myself who I want to be, not what society wants me to be, what my authentic self wants to be. And that will define my actions. When a bad instincts kick in, I remind myself that is not the person who I aspire to be, and I try to stop myself from doing it. Of course I still make mistakes, sometimes I cannot avoid the little voice in my head from taking over. Mistakes are (unfortunately) part of the process, but we can reflect on them to reaffirm that’s not who we are nor who we want to be.
I try to stop hiding my authentic self to fit in.
I am not just my work
You are not just your work either. As developers it is super easy to attach ourselves to our code. We’ve spent time, effort, tears, and sweat on the apps we’ve built. It is ok to attach ourselves to our work, as long as we don’t attach our self worth to it. Sometimes we believe our worthiness comes defined with how our code, blog posts, talks, are perceived. If people like our work, we are good, in fact, we are awesome. But, if they hate it, we are unworthy, we are not good, we’ve failed miserably.
I try not let my attachment to my work stop me from being authentic.
So I need another reminder for when I am second guessing myself, when I am afraid of failing, when I am afraid that no one will come to my talk, when I am afraid to take risks. A reminder that whatever happens, even if I fail flat on my face, it will not affect my worthiness, I will still be enough, and I am being more authentic when I do it.
We can receive a lot of criticism, from coworkers to internet trolls, so we need to learn to filter it. We need to learn how to only accept criticism from people who we truly trust and with whom we have mutual respect. People who care for us.
I try not let haters stop me from being authentic, stop them from getting into my head.
I have two plans for this one, plan B being the fallback option. Plan A is trying to block it, stop it from reaching me. When I notice that a criticism is affecting me, especially if it’s around a shame trigger, I try to imagine a mental wall or hand and I try to block it. When it bypasses my imaginary hand block, and I feel shame and spiral into the “I am not good enough” loop I trigger plan B: talk to someone who I trust, and ask them for their opinion. Someone who knows the authentic part of me, and still likes me for it. Someone who will help me continue being authentic and tell me the truth. I want to improve and be better, but only people who I trust will help me get there.
I am not perfect
And chances are that you are not perfect either. And that is completely fine. We hang on to this perfection myth, trying to write the perfect code, trying to be the perfect developer, trying to be the perfect spontaneous dancer… Experience taught me that there is no such thing as the perfect code, and now I am learning there is no such thing as perfection elsewhere.
It’s all in our heads. It is the monster voice in our head (again) bringing us down, choosing unreachable high standard and when we don’t reach them, when we fail, it tells us it’s because we are not perfect. We need to choose improvement over perfection. Mistakes don’t define us, because even when we fail, we have learned something, we have improved. That is what we should aspire to.
I try to stop unrealistic standards or goals from bringing me down and stopping me from being authentic.
To try and remove the perfection myth from my life, I try to set myself reasonable reachable goals. It’s another learning process, knowing what are those goals for me, learning how to estimate the time for them, learning that it’s ok when I don’t meet my own deadlines, and learning to let go if the goal is no longer relevant.
This is how I started to practice being more authentic. As I’ve said before it’s an ongoing process, there is still a lot of work to be done.
If you’ve enjoyed the post don’t forget to give it a bit of love, clap, tweet or share it ❤️. I would also love to know what other techniques you use to embrace vulnerability or stop feeling like an impostor.
My talk on the Authentic Developer got recorded at Droidcon London 2017, along with my awkward jokes, you can check out the video here.
The following post will be around amplifying authenticity for you and for others, so keep an 👁 out for it.