How to make impostor syndrome work for you
In IT, as, in other matters, and in any other kind of activity, most people have ever heard of the impostor syndrome (in the English-language media, the “imposter phenomenon” is more common). Many, especially at the beginning of their journey or at the time of rapid career growth, also face it personally. And someone reading this article is probably living with it right now.
I also encountered him. And the people in my team, for whom I am a mentor and leader. Also my friends and acquaintances. And it seems that I have learned to deal with it effectively. I want to share my experience in this article.
Where did it all start?
Like, probably, everyone does – with the realization that I feel something similar to the impostor syndrome and that this prevents me from being happy. After that, I began to study the topic, and decided to first figure out what it is all about.
What I managed to find out
The impostor syndrome is manifested most often by the fact that you do not connect your achievements with your own qualities, abilities and efforts. It seems to you that everything is explained by luck and coincidence. That you are not rightfully taking your place or your grade. That you are a deceiver and you are about to be found out.
Scientifically speaking, Imposter Syndrome doesn’t count. mental disorder and is not included in ICD-10 And DSM IV. But it is actively investigated by many psychologists and is not a pseudoscientific term.
There are some studies that say that 2 out of 5 successful people have experienced the syndrome personally in one way or another. According to the results other studies, the figures in some places reach up to 70% of the respondents. But I think the point here is that there is no clear description of this disorder and researchers can interpret this term according to their own ideas, which affects the final numbers so much.
It is important to understand that the scientific community does not recognize this syndrome as a disorder and cannot offer a safe medical treatment, but also does not recognize it as an innate quality or trait. It is rather a reaction to certain situations and stimuli. So, for the most part, this can be combated with the help of cognitive-behavioral exercises. In other words, rethink. Come to react differently to certain situations, changing your attitude towards them or eliminating these situations altogether. This was my main conclusion in studying this problem.
It became a little clearer, what’s next?
Realizing this, I decided to explore my workflow. Understand if there are any triggers because of which I start to drive. In my case, I associated this feeling with rapid career growth, as well as a sharp increase and change of responsibilities. In your case, triggers may be different. For example, a toxic boss. In IT, this is often a dismissive tone of design or a code review from a team leader, after which you feel stupid and worthless. Poor project management or unprofessional colleagues. Non-recognition of your successes, frequent processing, etc.
If you have changed your occupation or place of work, you may also find this feeling. Also, in my experience, it is faced by a huge number of juniors (newcomers) who are looking for or have found their first job. I will speak about this in a separate block at the end of the article.
All these triggers, conditionally, can be divided into internal and external:
What to do with external triggers?
They are the most difficult to deal with, but, nevertheless, in most companies, studios or teams, more or less adequate people work. You can openly state that you, for example, are offended by the tone of your supervisor’s review. Or about troubles in processes, deadlines and so on. There is a chance that they will pay attention to this and it will become easier to work. Also, of course, there is a possibility that absolutely nothing will change. In this case, I sincerely advise you to try to change your place of work, taking into account the unacceptable conditions for you.
And what to do with internal triggers?
Here is where it gets more interesting. What steps helped me personally:
Each of the people around you has made and is making many mistakes: just like you, they worry, get upset and get tired. And, quite possibly, he also considers himself an unworthy impostor. It’s just that if you don’t see this, then the person has enough professionalism so that his personal experiences do not affect your workflow. And professionalism is cool, I want it too.
Okay, everyone around you is probably feeling the same way. But I still feel unworthy of the position I hold. I have eliminated all external triggers and am clearly aware that the matter is in my inner feelings and experiences. What’s next?
I asked myself a simple but important question – “Why do I feel this way?”
– when I answered myself “Because I don’t have enough skills and I don’t do my job well enough”, I realized an objective problem for myself. I systematized and identified priority areas for me in which I want to be better and began to study. And until I get better, I kind of agreed with my syndrome: “Okay boy… You make me feel stupid and unworthy. Perhaps you are right about something, but we already hold this position and we like it. So let’s pretend to be who we want to be until one day we are.”
This simple game of “fake it till you are” helped me to be less reflexive and focus on my growth. This response was repeated for some time. And one day, once again asking myself this question, I suddenly answered myself:
“I don’t feel like an impostor. I am a cool and sought-after specialist who does a great job.”
I do not remember the specific day on which I first formulated such an answer. And at first he was distrustful of such thoughts, but later, with great relief, he accepted his final victory over this scoundrel inside, preventing himself from being appreciated. And most importantly, I adopted this cool and working, in my case, game “Pretend until you become” into service. And if I continue to have to work in higher positions or do something for the first time, I can repeat it. Knowing this seems to make everything easier and frees you up for a very productive logic: I will use every opportunity to grow, because I can pretend in a new position until I become cool enough in my own eyes.
Of course, everything voiced above is just my subjective experience and it may not suit everyone. And someone, and at all, will perceive these conclusions harmful and wrong. I will be very interested in any criticism and discussion on the topic!
But still, these tips have helped me personally and some of the people with whom I work and are friends. Therefore, I modestly assume that people in similar circumstances, this article may be useful. And I will be very glad if my experience helps someone to cope with this problem.
Promised offtopic block for juniors looking for work
The market for IT specialists and the rules for hiring have changed in just 5 years. I think this is due to a large amount of online education, high expectations of IT among beginners and some general global market trends that I don’t understand well. But the fact is that it has become much more difficult for a novice specialist to find a job. Employers no longer hire “anyone” – just to be trainable. The most demanded grade in 2023 is confident middle. And it seems that in such conditions, the game of “Pretend” can help the juniors in finding work. I’m not sure if this will work for everyone, but I have several successful examples where this advice really helped.
Junes simply began to respond to vacancies with a higher grade, having studied the requirements for them. And, in case of successful admission to the probationary, they had two ways: to pretend so well that they would not be discovered (which means you want or do not want to develop in combat missions within the declared grade), or be discovered and not pass the probationary period. Agree, between an endless job search and getting at least some experience and money, the majority will choose the second, even if they don’t gain a foothold in a new place as a result.
Maybe this strategy will be useful for you too! Forgive me HRs…