We’re all just searching for who we really are

Battling Imposter Syndrome

What if I told you that most people around you had the same fears and anxieties that you do?

I sat behind my computer with Google Slides open, drinking as much water as humanly possible to clear my throat. I was about to give a presentation to all of engineering on the projects that I had been working on during my internship. Saying I was nervous was an understatement. I just thought to myself, These professionals are all so experienced and smart, what do they have to learn from a 20 year old intern? They probably have better things to do. What if I say something that’s wrong? What if I am too vague or too descriptive?…. Even as I began to speak, these thoughts continued and went through my head during the entire presentation.

As I finished up the slideshow, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that it was over. I had made it through the gauntlet of a single technical presentation, but in my mind, I was backtracking through each slide; going through all the mistakes I made and how it could of been better. I could have said this slower, or have explained this one topic more, or….DING! A Slack message appeared on my computer…

Hey! Good job on your presentation! I really enjoyed it 😄

I’m going to have to look more into those topics now. They seem pretty interesting!

…As I was critiquing myself into a post-presentation panic attack, I almost missed the compliments and words of encouragement that my more-senior engineers were giving me. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad about my presentation. I sat up a little straighter, and thought to myself, “Hey, you know what, you built a pretty cool thing, and people noticed.” As a junior developer, I can’t tell you how much just those few messages of interest and encouragement meant to me. In some ways, they were the validation that I was headed on the right track, and that I had accomplished something.

That day, and almost every day of my life, I have dealt with Imposter Syndrome. This is a feeling of low self-confidence in a situation that is unwarranted. Imagine being in a room with Beethoven, Einstein, Isaac Newton, and any other group of ultra-famous people you could think of. Pretty A-List party, wouldn’t you think? Would you feel out of place if they asked you to give a presentation on music, calculus, or science? You’d argue that someone else there would be better equip to talk on the subject than you…That is the feeling of Imposter Syndrome. Even if we have the knowledge and ability to talk about or share something with our peers, this is an irrational fear of being judged, ridiculed, or personally attacked because of our lack of understanding, mistakes, or anything we might have missed on the topic. I know that for me, this comes from a feeling of low self-esteem and low confidence in myself. Even writing this blog post, I’m self-conscious of every work that I’m writing!

Would you feel out of place if they asked you to give a presentation on music, calculus, or science? You’d argue that someone else there would be better equip to talk than you…That is the feeling of Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome (I.S) is the elephant in the room that no one likes to point out, because modern professional life has pushed a notion that its wrong to bring personal matters into the workspace. Its not that black and white in my opinion. My thoughts and emotions affect my personal life and my work life, so why can’t they be addressed together? If we as professionals can foster a better environment around encouragement, empowerment, and acceptance, then I believe we can tackle this hidden culture of Imposter Syndrome. I know for a fact that I am not alone in this. You are not alone in these thoughts and feelings. Everyone faces bouts of Imposter Syndrome; it’s just natural.

The world is filled with incredibly smart people, but when you chart everyone’s cognitive abilities and intelligence, most of us fall around the middle of the normalized bell curve. This also means that most of the people around you also fall in the middle. So then why do we compare ourselves with everyone around us like we are significantly less? Why do we sometimes treat our ideas and opinions as if they don’t matter?

Obviously, people become more experienced as time goes on, and that experience should be taken into account when weighing their ideas, but we each bring a different perspective the communities we are a part of, and that diversity in perspective is what makes success in the workplace possible. A junior developer should feel as open with sharing his/her ideas as a senior developer. They might not be as practical from lack of experience, but the sense of empowerment, responsibility, and confidence in one’s ability to voice their opinions is an incredible gift that we ought to build up in the world.

Most of us aren’t extreme geniuses, so stop pretending like everyone around you is.

I recently read the article I am a Mediocre Developer by Nikita Sobolev, and I think its extremely relatable. People often hear of these hot shot, perfect, 10x engineers who can complete tasks blazing fast with incredible efficiency. Well, in reality, they rarely exist. In math, it’s sometimes said to not compare one point against the outliers in data. So then why do we personally compare ourselves, or potentially our peers/employees, to these unrealistic, rare expectations? We are humans. We don’t need to be 10x workers. We just need to be the best we can be and have self-growth goals. We need to stop comparing ourselves against those around us, and instead see the personal growth and improvement we’ve accomplished over time.

I am not alone in this. You are not alone in these thoughts and feelings.

Everyone in this industry, or any industry for that matter, is just trying their best to make an impact and do their best. How often do we actually recognize our peers’ efforts? This could be co-workers, friends, students, family members, or anyone. I know for myself, it meant the world to hear a more senior engineer’s words of encouragement and support. We need to give these words of encouragement to our peers, especially the ones with less experience, who might find it harder to see accomplishments in a time of self-doubt. To battle Imposter Syndrome, it takes a community of support and caring individuals. I know most people aren’t used to anything more than small talk with their co-workers, but c’mon people! If we want to change the culture of feeling inferior to our peers or not feeling ‘good enough’, we have to be the first step towards progress! If you see someone do something worth noting, say something and give them a confidence boost! They’ll pass it on to the next person, and they’ll feel better about their work as well.

I want to be the catalyst to healthier, better, and richer relationships in my communities, and it starts with building each other up, not putting ourselves against another. Reach out to someone and give them encouragement this week. And as always, God Bless.

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A guy just trying to live his best life. Software engineer @Heroku. This is my non-technical blog…Technical blog: https://dev.to/dstarner

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Dan Starner

Dan Starner

A guy just trying to live his best life. Software engineer @Heroku. This is my non-technical blog…Technical blog: https://dev.to/dstarner

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