Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
Impostor syndrome is defined as “a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.” The really nasty thing about imposter syndrome is that the smarter you are, the longer it takes to hit you. And it hits you harder when it shows up.
“It tends to hit when a lot of things you are second order ignorant of become first order ignorant.”
In general, it occurs when the inevitable plateau in learning happens. Generally it’s a crippling feeling like you are being a fraud and in imminent danger of being found out. Beyond anything else you must understand, you need to realize that it’s part of the journey. It’s also a phase that repeats over time. Imposter syndrome hits a large percentage developers at some point. It can be a very damaging experience until you find ways to cope with the feeling. That said, there are many practical strategies you can use to overcome it.
16:25 Accept Your Wins
“The appropriate humility is ‘hey I did what had to be done.'”
It’s really easy to be “humble” and treat your victories as something that you didn’t earn. Only people at a very high level can afford to be “humble”. You might not be able to do so and that’s ok. Ultimately, the inability to internalize success is worse than any arrogance you could have.
19:20 Jump Before You Are Ready to Leap
“This forces you to push yourself a little bit harder.”
The greatest personal growth comes by taking on what you don’t think you are ready to handle. This will force your growth (or your failure). Either way, you’ll know where you are. Resolving things for good or ill is often better for your mood than not knowing.
22:15 Put Yourself Out There
Nothing kills the sense that you are fake as fast as a ten minute conversation with the type of people who are trying to do what you are trying to do. This is not an insult, but it’s really easy to compare yourself to the top of your field when you are only a year or two in. That’s not particularly fair to yourself.
It also makes learning from those people difficult. You will also learn a lot by teaching and will get a more realistic assessment of where most people’s skills actually are.
24:52 Plan Ahead
“That’s where you get the flow to look like an expert.”
If you are adequately prepared for what you are doing, it’s much easier to come across like you know what you are doing, because that’s what experienced people do themselves. Planning ahead actually teaches you what you need to know to NOT be a fraud. That includes getting over the things that intimidate you. The other thing that planning does for you is allow you to run ideas by trusted friends and get feedback.
29:45 Consider Those Who Are More Skilled in the Proper Light
“Don’t look at people that are way better than you and think they are always going to be that way.”
It’s incredibly easy to think that the people you think are better than you will always be better than you. That’s also a very demoralizing thought. However, if you can formulate the right questions for the experts suddenly they are a resource, not competition.
35:35 Realize Where You Are Better
It’s really easy to see the “experts” as being better than you are in all areas. You almost certainly have some deep knowledge of something that the “programming professionals” don’t have. Don’t undervalue it, even if the industry tells you otherwise. Odds are good that it isn’t any less valuable than what they know, merely that you are valuing it as less.
Monomania in tech is very much a thing. You should compare the totality of your own life experience against the level of expertise of any “expert” you come across and see if their “expertise” actually exceeds your own. This doesn’t mean that you tear down other people, merely that you stop tearing down yourself.
44:00 Stop When You Reach Your Limit
Sometimes imposter syndrome doesn’t come from pushing to your limits. Rather, it comes from trying inappropriately to exceed what you can actually do. Try to determine whether you have tried to exceed your capability. You’ll do this at some point and if you don’t admit it, you’ll feel inadequate.
Remember that it is ok to end up in over your head. It’s part of your learning process. If you aren’t getting in over your head on occasion, you aren’t learning. The best swimming teachers arrive when you are drowning.
48:08 Learn to See Failure as Part of the Process
“You learn more by failing than you do by succeeding.”
If you learn something on the first try, odds are good that it wasn’t worth learning. If you treat failure as a learning experience, it is both much easier to learn from and much easier to keep going. Remember how your learned as a child. Every step was a win – you didn’t expect to totally win in the first try.
51:00 Stop Sabotaging Your Performance
“Even if it’s a small win, it’s still a win.”
Don’t tell yourself that winning is a lesser achievement. If the win doesn’t feel big enough to matter, figure out how to make it bigger. Raise the bar, raise the pressure. You will get the confidence to do more and bigger things by pushing yourself past your level of comfort.
“Make those dull tasks challenging by making challenges for yourself.”
54:55 Don’t Get Caught On Other’s Opinions
“Haters gonna hate.”
Other people don’t realize how much effort it took to get where you are. Remember how dumb the average person is, then realize that the people mostly likely speaking to you about what you are doing are biased towards those who can’t actually execute. Haters are what you get when you do well. If you are running into them, you are headed in the right direction.
Arduino Nerf Target Alarm Clock
This project is a great introduction to piezoelectricity which is electricity formed when matter is deformed. This project uses a piezocrystal to detect the nerf dart striking the surface of the clock. It looks at the oscillation made by striking the surface to determine if it is a nerf strike or finger tap. The fun thing about the project is it doesn’t have to be used as an alarm clock it will signal any time a nerf so with a little tweeking you could make two of these targets that keep score or nerf strikes for a game.
Tricks of the Trade
There are at least two healthy ways to look at negative emotional states that last for more than a short period of time. The first is that they warn of danger and are your mind’s way of telling you to correct a bad situation before it gets worse. That is, the negative emotional impulse is an excellent driver for positive change if harnessed properly.
The second good way to look at them is as a place to harvest better behaviors. Let’s say you feel like you are an imposter at work. Besides this being an emotional state that you clearly want to get out of, it could also drive you to work harder to improve your skills.
So long as both are done within reason, this can often result in career and personal growth that you would not have had without the negative emotional state. Learn to make your problems work for you – you might find that they work really well.