You’re worth more than your Impostor Syndrome wants you to believe
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to be a source of medical advice or analysis and does not constitute medical advice.
You stare at your task, and ask yourself how they let you into the office in the first place. Other people seem to be busy, they’re probably smarter and more experienced than you. They’d finish in time, yet here you are, wishing you were at home because, clearly — you’re not qualified. “What was the Recruiter thinking? I’m in over my head”.
We’ve all been there, and even if you’re consistently delivering your tasks, this feeling returns. It’s important to remember that this voice is your Impostor Syndrome speaking. But when did it start? And how can you challenge it? Here are some findings of my own personal experience with Impostor Syndrome.
Where can Impostor Syndrome come from?
Impostor Syndrome is that diminishing feeling of incompetence towards a goal, and the sensation that you aren’t qualified to meet the requirements. Even with past success, you’re convinced that you don’t deserve the position you have. The good news is: You’re not alone! Let’s explore its potential origins.
Somebody tells you that you can’t do something. Whether their intentions are pure or not, don’t assume that they know more about something than you do.
An example from my personal experience, is when at a previous company, I suggested a project change which would involve my switching roles. I was well-prepared, ready for any challenges. When my manager said “no.”, and offered no explanation. I felt that my ideas were worthless, and that kept me captive for years. I was really unhappy, but didn’t think I deserved better.
After some time, and at a new company, I went ahead with this role change, and proposed the same change with great success. My past self would have been really proud!
You keep repeating to yourself: I’m not good enough. One day, a task that you’ve done many times seems totally unfamiliar. The more you look at it, the less achievable it appears. Enter: The flight feeling.
I was wrong, they’ve mistaken me for somebody else, I shouldn’t be here.
What you need to know though, is that instead of fighting this feeling, you need to get to know it. This way, you can take advantage of it. We’ll explore that later.
There might be times when you feel you’re not up to a challenge, and sometimes, you might be right!
No one has all the knowledge. We’re all learning, all the time. We can thank books, mentors, successes and failures for that. Little by little, our experience grows, and it’s normal to find ourselves in front of a problem we’ve never faced before. This, however, doesn’t mean it’s the end of your path, it’s just something you’re yet to learn!
How do I challenge my Impostor Syndrome?
Understanding why your Impostor Syndrome is kicking in can help you to manage it.
Stay away from external triggers
Triggers can take many forms: words or even body language from others. Once you can identify them, you can manage your exposure to them.
Professional relationships, whether it’s with co-workers or clients. The individual may not have anything against you personally and their triggering you could be down to their communication style, or lack of understanding that there’s a human being behind the task. Speak to someone you trust, like a line manager, mentor or your HR representative, so that you can manage the relationship with minimal impact on your self-esteem. You might also want to think about whether this is just part of your company’s culture, in which case, it could be time to move on.
Friends and family members. Hopefully, you feel able to open up to that person about your triggers. You might need to ask them to put some extra trust in you. If they choose not to, you’ll want to think about implementing boundaries in that relationship.
Remember that there’s always more to learn
You’ll always have new challenges to face, and that will inevitably bring times when you feel puzzled. Remember that the feeling of discomfort is a positive thing, and it’s helped you to get where you are today. The road ahead might be steep and long, but it’s doable — you’ve done it before!
At times when you feel totally capable of solving a problem, it might be because you don’t know what you don’t know! This is the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Realizing that you don’t know everything, means you’ve deepened your understanding. Keep learning and working. Fake it till you become it — everyone does!
Know that someone has placed trust in you
Somebody has noticed that you’re capable.
Sometimes, feeling like an impostor just means that someone has more faith in your ability than you do, based on what they’ve seen from you. Give yourself a pat on the back!
It means you care
Would you worry about not being capable of something if you didn’t care? Impostor Syndrome is closely linked to fear of failure.
We want to impress others, get the best out of ourselves and get that dopamine hit when we successfully complete a task. Knowing that we may not succeed is scary but is just a small pebble in the path.
Learn from your mistakes
You slipped and something went south. Don’t worry, mistakes happen every now and then, even to the most experienced people. What can you learn from it? You won’t make the same mistake again.
If something’s still not clicking, read a book, take a course, or meet an expert.
You don’t need to know everything
When you’re past the downwards curve in the Dunning-Kruger chart and are already an expert, your Impostor Syndrome won’t disappear!
That’s because there’s always something new to learn, but you don’t need to know everything. Embrace the joy of missing out on learning, accepting that you cannot know everything and your time isn’t limitless. One day you’ll notice that your Impostor Syndrome is a little quieter. And when it inevitably returns, refer back to this guide or other resources!
Here are just a few examples from some successful ‘Impostors’! Serena Williams would often copy her sister.
There were two Venus Williamses in our family. It was crazy… my parents would make me order first, but once she ordered, I’d change my mind. It was tough for me to stop being Venus and become the person I am.
No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’
Tina Fey understands that you need to embrace Impostor Syndrome in all of its phases.
The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania, and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.
It happens to the best
Joana Estafanell, a talented Android Engineer I have the pleasure of working with, has also gone through this.
I’m very demanding with myself and realizing the huge quantity of knowledge I don’t know is really challenging. I try to remember that I would never place these demands on my colleagues, and then try to treat myself equally.
I’ve learnt to make two exercises:
- Be actively aware of the things I don’t know and that I choose not to know. It helps me realize that it’s not all worth my attention, and makes me feel freer.
- Be actively aware in what areas I’m better than others, in a healthy, self-rewarding way. It helps me realize that I add value to the team.
I’ve been there (and I still am!)
I love that I’m not the best at everything on my team. I still have so much to learn. But Impostor Syndrome still gets the best of me at times. For some context, I started my professional career as a Backend Developer. When something about this wasn’t feeling quite right, I decided to become a Full Stack web Developer. I still didn’t feel I was pushing myself to my limits, so I decided to shift to Android. At this point, someone told me I wouldn’t be able to make such a leap in my career, and that had a massive impact on me for the next couple of years.
After some really negative interview experiences, I realized that I needed to trust in myself and my abilities, whilst acknowledging that I’m not perfect. That did the trick and helped me land my first Android developer position.
I’m still working as an Android Developer, learning more and doing something I can do well, because I’ve also been there: telling new joiners that having Impostor Syndrome is okay if they can benefit from it, just to remember that they deserve to be here.
Working as a mentor and buddy has welcomed a new Impostor Syndrome into my life (am I making sure this person is safe here? Maybe somebody else should be doing this!). But I have a beautiful path in front of me, an opportunity to learn.
Ask for help
Hopefully you now know a few things, now; Impostor Syndrome is something that persists in our everyday, it can be used as something positive, but symptoms should always be under control to some degree.
If this feeling is causing you more than spare moments of doubt in yourself, it might be time to seek further help in the form of counseling or therapy.
Let’s wrap it up
Impostor Syndrome can be a threat to your development and mental health. Whether it comes from others or ourselves, it may affect us in the deepest parts of our mind, and it’s very difficult to manage. If we can consciously control the negative feelings and take advantage of the positive ones, it can be a powerful tool for personal improvement.