When Will You Stop Feeling Like A Fraud Working At Google?
Shawn is not your typical tech person.
With a background in philosophy and theology, he stumbled into a tech career sometime after college, and found that it suited his problem-solving personality. A software engineer by title, he truly has an engineer’s mind. He enjoys being stimulated by intellectual challenges and getting to solve problems. Ten minutes into our conversation, he told me, “In the time we’ve been talking, I drafted two notes to create better processes and systems.”
Like many men in the tech field, he uses his lofty intellect to think through, and fix, most problems.
But he has identified some problems that his own mind cannot solve.
“I got to my 30s and realized I’m not living up to the vision I have for myself,” he told me. He derives his self-worth from his professional life. He describes having inertia or dread when he approaches a new project, wondering if he’s inadequate or deficient in knowledge. If he doesn’t sit down and code every day, he feels guilty. “I need to feel like I improved myself or actualized my potential,” he says. This leads to endless self-recrimination and doubts about his worth.
It doesn’t help that he works for one of the largest tech companies in the world.
Tech culture fosters a fast-paced environment. It is a demanding culture where you must prove that your mind can outperform a machine. Shawn speaks to a greater cultural trend when he says, “In the Bay Area, everything has to happen faster. My company is moving to faster processes, and the result is everything is out of control. There’s always anxiety around: how do you control something that’s out of control?”
Anxiety is the most basic foundation of human existence. Part of what appeals to people about technology is that it provides an illusion of control.
Many people are drawn to working in technology because of the promise of control it offers. Not only do you work in an in-demand industry, but you get to spend your time making programs that optimize daily life. Technology offers us an endless array of options for making better choices.
But, what happens when your professional life actually increases your anxiety?
According to a recent study technology can be a palliative for anxiety, but can also lead to greater anxiety. Part of the appeal of technology is also its very problem: It promises that we can be in control, but then points to the stark gap between that fantasy and its reality. The culture of technology sets the bar for being human as being superhuman, more machine than man. In such a high pressure environment, it’s no wonder that Shawn feels like he’s never performing well enough: he’s a mere mortal in a world of machines.
While this can feel like an impossible conundrum, there is hope.
Here are Three Steps to Address Professional Anxiety For Men in Tech
- Recognize the illusion of control for what it is: an illusion.
Unfortunately, humans are limited. You can’t be in control of everything or even remove all the problems of being a human. Now the hard work is figuring out what you can and cannot control, and let go of what you can’t control.
2. Find one area outside of work that fulfills you.
Your professional identity is only one part of you. Who are you outside of your work? Find things you enjoy doing and that remind you of your real size and scope. Going on walks in nature remind you the world is bigger than any of us. Go for a swim in the ocean and be reminded of how little power you have.
3. Talk to a therapist.
You want to optimize your life and your potential. But you can’t do this alone. This is where a therapist comes in! A therapist is someone particularly trained in the intricacies of being human. A highly qualified therapist is uniquely suited to listen to your problems and provide you a space to work through your sense of inadequacy. Therapy can have real impact in helping you achieve the goals you want to accomplish, in developing a sense of yourself outside of your professional identity, and locating value in parts of your mind you never knew existed.
Above all, talking to a therapist provides an opportunity to have a conversation about what makes you most human. It is a problem that even Google has yet to resolve.