Dear person who is anxiously dreading “(D)iscovery-day”… this article is for you.
Who am I? Like you, I have survived yet another day on the surface without being ousted as an imposter…
In 2015 I was your run-of-the-mill millennial graduate. I moved into an amazing job and was surrounded by incredibly talented professionals who inspired me to push myself harder and harder…until I tripped over myself and discovered that I had been walking on a fine line between high achieving professional and imposter.
Yes… that disgusting word that creeps into our mind, filling us with doubts about our abilities, and holds us back from growing. I have spent the better half of the last 3 years finding the answer to the question of coping with imposter syndrome.
And while I may not have THE answer, I wanted to share how I’ve reconciled with being my own worse enemy and how I am conquering imposter syndrome every day with the hopes that at least one line helps one other person.
Everyone Is An Imposter
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with an engineering mentor of mine about how they overcome imposter syndrome and this was his reply.
Why should you get stressed about it? Everyone is an “imposter.”
That one sentence really got me thinking, “…Yeah…YEAH… THAT MAKES TOTAL SENSE🤯” If everyone is always asking how others deal with imposter syndrome, then in a way… aren’t we all just imposters??
I know… mind like….suuuper blown am I right?
Whats In a Name?
In a profession such as software engineering it’s incredible how easy it is to feel this way. The image we have created of software engineers are people with lightning fast analytical minds, born with the latest Apple M1 chipset and polished with years of computer science education.
Every time we lead ourselves to believe we failed, we are committing self-sabotage. The only person calling you an imposter is yourself if you are comparing yourself to this exaggerated image of a software engineer that we defined. That we hold ourselves back from becoming.
Rather than engaging in the futile exercise of defining what you believe a non-imposter to be, let’s first try together to define what you think makes you an imposter.
This was my list:
-I don’t know where to begin solving this problem
-I have a bunch of “sTuPiD questions”
-Everyone else knows / understands this
-I needed to follow a tutorial / look up a solution / copy an example
-I don’t have a computer science degree / certification / experience
It’s okay if your list looks similar to mine… I told you earlier didn’t I? We’re all imposters. I’ll forgive you for copying me.
Embrace The Unknown
I want you to end any sentence that starts with “I can’t” or “I don’t” with yet. A little louder for the people in the back:
End any sentence starting with “I can’t” or “I don’t” with YET…
No one is born knowing the syntactical difference between class based components and functional components in React right? Did I miss the new Patch Tuesday when that feature to the human genome was announced?
Embrace the fact that you don’t know something and you’ll find that you now know what you don’t know. Why is this important? knowing what you know and don’t know means you can start asking the right questions. The best questions have a specific goal that you want to resolve to and it’s easier for others to understand and even empathize with why something is not readily understandable for you.
Once I’ve taken a general question and broke it down into the knows and don’t knows, I start to feel in control. Each question I ask, I treat it as though the picture becomes clearer and clearer.
“Asking?! are you nuts?? That’s exactly how I’ll be sus’ed out!” you say? Before you self report (Among Us joke), you should know that it’s quite the opposite actually. Reaching out for help should never feel shameful or embarrassing. If the environment feels that way it may also be worthwhile to ask if this place is contributing to you as much as you contribute to it. A wise reddit poster once said, “Save me SlackOverflow, you are my only hope”. What’s important is how you do so, and what you do with the answer.
When you’ve found your answer, be generous with that knowledge. By sharing questions and answers, it opens opportunities that allows the people around us to also learn, teaching is an excellent way to reinforce one’s knowledge of a subject.
Keep a journal
One thing I’ve been doing, is keeping a journal of things that I learned that day.
Rather than stressing out on what unknown problems you may encounter tomorrow, use it as a tool to reflect on what you’ve overcome today. End the day on a high note and give your self a pat on the back. Understand that not only did you survive today but you also grew.
Rock Out Like a Rockstar
When the opportunity strikes, use the knowledge you gained from all the days you “survived”. Nothing says not an imposter than being able to teach someone else.
And when that opportunity arises, seize it. Ham it up and own all the wrinkles in that big beautiful brain of yours. Use the experiences you had of not knowing something to help someone else over the hill.
Always Be Kind to Others …& To Yourself!
So what if you had to follow a tutorial? Everyone starts somewhere, it’s what you do with the answer, remix to your heart’s content. So what if you have a million questions while your peers around you don’t? Own the unknown, ask the questions that maybe someone else wants to but is afraid to do so. So what if you don’t know where to begin or you couldn’t solve a problem on your own? Be hungry for growth and accept that the don’ts and cant’s are only temporary and the “yet” is all up to you.
Everyone is an “imposter” and not an imposter all at the same time. In reality, everyone is just trying to learn and grow. It’s how you handle the unknown and how you treat yourself everyday that defines who you are. So imposter it up. Whether you follow any of the tips in this article or you find new ways to overcome being your own worst enemy, the most important thing to remember is to always be kind to yourself and to those around you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything mentioned in this article and also strategies you have found that helped you deal with imposter syndrome! Feel free to leave comments below and share with someone else