A Proactive Approach to Impostor Syndrome
We all know about Imposter Syndrome yet the epidemic seems to be growing, especially when breaking into a new career (like those learning to code). No doubt I’ve felt it in tech and elsewhere in life, as I’m sure you have. While there’s plenty of articles and videos on how to fight the self-doubt that comes along with Imposter Syndrome, I’d like to offer an alternative approach:
You can try to fight Impostor Syndrome or change your mindset, and doing so has worked for some people. Not me. Instead, I use Impostor Syndrome as a primary motivation to learn new and difficult skills. For me, the recognition that I am currently uncomfortable and filled with self-doubt drives me to obliterate those feelings by means of mastery. Not only can Impostor Syndrome be a motivator, but it can also be a validator; I keep on working for as long as it takes until the feeling of Impostor Syndrome isn’t there anymore.
Impostor Syndrome as a Motivator
It’s well recognized that Impostor Syndrome is not necessarily a bad thing. In many ways, it can signal that you care about the work you are doing. While I try to eliminate it through mastery when experienced, the complete absence of Impostor Syndrome can be a signal that you are probably in the wrong field or focusing on the wrong thing. In these situation, I take a hard an honest look about why I really want to learn something.
Conversely, the feeling of Impostor Syndrome is often the first step to in rewarding self-growth. Where there’s feelings of doubt in a certain area, there are often feelings of success and gratifications if we stay the course. As a rule, whenever resistance is felt in a certain area, that’s exactly the direction you should go in, and turning the obstacle (Impostor Syndrome) into a motivator has been the best way for me to prioritize what I should focus on. If this doesn’t happen naturally, you can start by changing mindset. Simply change the way you define Impostor Syndrome, from:
Obstacle: I feel like an imposter and therefore should not be doing what I am currently doing.
Motivation: I feel like an imposter and therefore should learn more about what I am currently doing.
Understand that avoiding Imposter Syndrome altogether results in being stuck in your comfort zone. Although you’ve successfully blocked out self-doubt, you’ve also blocked out self-growth and self-satisfaction in the process. No good!
What does “beating” imposter syndrome look like?
One thing I love about the tech industry is the quantifiable skills. When you know something, you can prove your worth again in again. I’ve beaten my own “beginner” Impostor Syndrome by building API’s, certifying with Amazon Web Services, architecting infrastructure that remains stable, and receiving positive feedback on all my technical interviews in the past year. The best result is not only do I feel a strong sense of accomplishment, but I’m wildly confident in what I know. This is also known as conscious competence, the final phase of learning, and it feels great!
Confidence should not be mistaken with arrogance, however. I’m also wildly confident about what I don’t know. I try to be the first to admit I don’t understand something–it’s easy for me to do now because I am secure enough in my areas of expertise that I can acknowledge when something is beyond it. Furthermore, I view these new things as a way to expand my skills even more!
Important subtleties to note
This article is very work-your-ass-off oriented, but it’s equally important to take breaks and make sure your work does not consume your entire life (see “burnout”).
After I achieve a huge goal, I always take a–sometimes extended–amount of time for some serious rest-and-recovery. Maybe it’s my work-hard-play-hard nature, but I’m a big fan of drilling down three months at a time followed handful more of steady work with days off and lots of Netflix (or hiking) in between. And of course, when preparing for the next round of hard work, I ensure I’m fully recovered and mentally prepared for the new tasks ahead. A war is more than just the battle and you can’t always be fighting it; there’s lots of preparation and recovery needed to ensure you’re at peak performance before the actual charge begins.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my two cents on Impostor Syndrome. As a post script I’ll admit that writing this article made me feel like a bit of… a fraud (so meta!). Guess I’ll have to keep learning how to improve my writing until I’ve beaten Impostor Syndrome once again!