Dealing with the Impostor Inside All of Us
I recently graduated from the Denver-based code school Turing School of Software and Design, and it was the first time I came face-to-face with my impostor.
Impostor Syndrome is a term coined by psychologists back in 1978. It is essentially a way to describe the feeling many people get when they are unable to internalize their accomplishments and fear they will be discovered as being a fraud or impostor. Psychological research done in the early eighties suggests the syndrome occurs mostly in high-performing individuals with an estimated two out of five successful people suffering from it.
Before Turing, I was unaware of impostor syndrome. While I experienced feelings of being a fraud throughout my years as a news producer, I never revealed the feelings, fearing they would expose that I “faked” my way to success. My first day at Turing, I remember specifically thinking that I fooled the staff and somehow just slipped through the application process and would soon show everyone why I didn’t belong in the program. Months went by, and despite my success and ability to quickly learn the new concepts, I still never felt like I actually deserved to be in the program. I joined a lunch group in the school where others who felt these feelings could share techniques of coping and changing one’s mindset.
Since then, I have acquired several skills to deal with feeling like an impostor and ways to prove to yourself that you are accomplished and deserve to be in whatever situation that is causing you concern.
Track your progress and accomplishments — While this may sound a bit trite on the surface it’s easy to lose track of your accomplishments and dwell on failures. During my time at Turing, I found myself chalking successes up as fake, attributing them to ridiculous reasons (i.e. I made the instructor laugh, so, of course, they gave me good scores), while using failures as proof that I’m a fraud. This realization led me to begin keeping track of my successes. For months, I have saved all meaningful projects, reviews and feedback in a specific folder in my computer. While I don’t look at it that often, any time I start feeling like I am fooling the world around me, I open it up and remind myself of the journey I have taken to get here.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to others — Many people with impostor syndrome tend to have a similar mindset when it comes to reaching out for support. We believe asking for help or guidance is a sign that we’re faking our way through a situation. This thought process couldn’t be any further from the truth. I have found that many times I concealed my worries or concerns I came across as withdrawn leading those around me to become withdrawn and hurt productivity. Seeking support will not only help others become aware to your train of thought, it will also help ground your thoughts and shift your mindset. I have never once explained my thoughts of being a fraud to someone and had them affirm my concerns. This leads me directly to my next tip.
Remember we’re living in reality — This is a weird one, I know, but I find it extremely helpful. Many times I get lost within my head, trying to use logic and analytical thinking to problem solve emotional issues. As I have found out time and time again, logic and real-life don’t always play well together. Many people drawn to coding and the sciences are familiar with this thought-process. While using logic to solve problems is great for our craft, it can be hard to turn off and is not useful for solving emotional issues. When I start to have thoughts of being a fraud and begin to connect “logical dots” that confirm my suspicions, I have to step back and remember that my conclusions are not grounded in reality. Be sure to find healthy ways to de-rail your negative train of thought and bring you back to “real world.”
Overall, impostor syndrome is a relatively common thought process and it is manageable to live with. It has been one of the many learning experiences I went through while attending Turing, and gaining the skills to deal with those thoughts in a healthy manner are invaluable.
For more information on how to overcome impostor syndrome, I suggest you check out this Harvard Business Review article, and you can find more information on the syndrome on the American Psychological Association’s site.