5 Ways to Make Imposter Syndrome Feel Less Terrible
As a relative newcomer to the field of Data Science, imposter syndrome is something that I deal with on a regular basis. You can read more about my background in my previous blog, but I recently made a COVID-19 inspired career change into Data Science by enrolling in a Bootcamp back in July 2020. Rather than having a tech background, I came from producing large-scale events and jumped with both feet into Data Science. Needless to say, my cages have been rattled on more than one occasion and my coding journey has had its fair share of bumpy roads. I’ve often felt like projects weren’t good enough or that I didn’t actually know what I was doing. This feeling is, at best, annoying and, at worst, crippling. Being someone that doesn’t easily back down from a challenge, I set out to find several ways to combat these feelings. Throughout this blog, I’ll detail my 6 methods for dealing with imposter syndrome, but first, let’s talk about imposter syndrome itself.
What is imposter syndrome?
According to a quick google search, imposter syndrome can be defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. You know that feeling in the back of your mind when someone is complimenting you on achievement you don’t actually feel like you deserve? That’s imposter syndrome. For those of us in the world of programming, imposter syndrome is a very real issue that a large majority of us deal with.
Imposter syndrome can manifest itself as just feeling like a phony and that at any moment, people will find out that you’re not good and you don’t actually know what you’re doing. You feel like you don’t belong and that you’ve only just been lucky up to this point. As someone who suffers from these feelings more often than I’d like to admit, I can say that the experience can sometimes be debilitating.
However, with the correct mindset and the right practices, you may actually be able to turn imposter syndrome into your secret superpower. Without further ado, here are my 6 tips for dealing with imposter syndrome.
1) Know That You’ll Always Be Learning
The first person to introduce me to coding is a 30-year veteran software engineer who has held every type of position at every type of company you could think of. The best piece of advice that he offered was “there’s no such thing as an expert.” While there are certainly coders out there who know their languages and packages inside and out, this field requires being a lifelong learner. New technologies are emerging all the time and at an even faster pace than ever before and it’s silly to think that even the most experienced coders know everything that’s out there.
The simple fact that no one can be an expert also lends itself to even experienced engineers experiencing bouts of imposter syndrome. However, in times when we’re struggling to crack a new package or when it seems like we’re spending all of our time googling solutions to coding problems, we need to remember that no one’s an expert and we’ll ALWAYS be learning.
Google is your friend!
…or your preferred search engine.
2) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Feedback
If you’re like me (and if you’re reading this, I think you just might be), there’s a point in every one of your projects where you lean back, stare blankly at your code, and think, “This is garbage! I have no idea what I’m doing!”. It’s a totally normal feeling, especially when you’re in the thick of things and your notebook’s a mess. It’s definitely not a fun feeling and these negative thoughts are no help to the process. In fact, imposter syndrome in that setting can sometimes be debilitating!
This is a great time for you to bounce your code and ideas off one of your peers. There have been many times, even as recently as this week, where I’m so deep into the issues with my code that I can’t actually see the big picture anymore. All I see are the errors or areas where things just don’t seem to work. It’s at this point that I’ll ask for an extra set of eyes and some feedback from a peer. To my constant surprise, my peers never seem to focus on the tiny bits that may not be quite right and tend to point out all the positives of the project. It’s a great bit of perspective and definitely can help you work through a particularly rough patch of imposter syndrome.
3) Practice Makes Perfect!
Okay, so practice won’t actually make perfect…but we like the sentiment, right? A big aspect of imposter syndrome is feeling like you don’t actually know what you’re doing and that, sooner or later, everyone else is going to find out. One method of being able to increase coding self-confidence is to constantly be writing code. Like anything else, the more you do it, the more comfortable you will feel while you’re doing it.
Think back to when you first started to drive a car. At first, your head was on a swivel with your hands in a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel at 10 and 2. As time went by, you continued to drive and became more relaxed behind the wheel and eventually you get to the point where you’re not even really thinking about it anymore. Autopilot! Take the same approach with your code. Practice…practice…practice. Eventually, you’ll be on autopilot with your code and the moments of imposter syndrome will start to become much more infrequent.
4) Lean On Your Peers
If you’ve read any of my less-technical, more-inspirational type blogs, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m a firm believer in the concept of “strength in numbers”. I have no doubt that the pack has the capability of being much stronger than the lone wolf and that idea can be applied to situations where we may not be feeling as confident as we should be. It may feel like a moment of weakness when you reach out to a pal to talk about feelings of inadequacy, but isn’t that what friends are for? Talking about your problems with someone is not only just a way for you to unload your bad feelings, but your buddy may have some great pearl of wisdom that can help you through it.
We’re lucky enough to live in a time where people are more comfortable with discussing mental health issues in an open forum. In those particularly dark moments when imposter syndrome starts to become borderline unbearable, don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend and talk about it. You may be surprised to find out just how common these feelings can be.
5) Remember That You’re Not Alone
Perhaps this is the best wisdom I could possibly offer. When you find yourself trudging through a knee-deep swamp of imposter syndrome, remind yourself that you’re not alone. We all, at one point or another, feel the same way and if anyone claims not to, they’re lying. Trust me.
In times of deep imposter syndrome-related despair, take a step back, breath, remember that everyone finds themselves in that same position, and work your way through some of the methods that we went over here today. Ask for some feedback, reach out to a friend, treat the project as a learning experience and a work in progress. Hopefully, this will help you work through these feelings and get back in the zone as the confident, awesome coder that you truly are.
If you think that what you’re feeling may extend beyond imposter syndrome and you’re starting to experience symptoms of more serious depression or anxiety, I urge you to please reach out to friends, family, or a mental health professional for help.
If you happened to make it this far, thanks for reading! Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think.