In my 10 years as a software developer I’ve struggled a lot with feeling like I’ve earned any of the positions I’ve been in. From a junior developer to engineering manager I’ve always questioned whether I’m good enough, and from what I see in the field I’m not the only one. That being said, I’ve found five ways to cope with my imposter syndrome and while I’m not offering a perfect method these are some helpful ways that have allowed me to function better in my role and the field as a whole. First before I lay those let me first start with a working definition of what Imposter Syndrome is.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
I’m going to start with the American Psychological Association(APA) definition of imposter syndrome which is “an experience of feeling incompetent and of having deceived others about one’s abilities.” A link to the rest can be found here. For the purposes of this article let’s move forward with the working definition that imposter syndrome is what we have above in addition to the need to validate one’s skills and abilities to others around them in or to feel valued. I realize this won’t apply to everyone, but I have a strong belief that it will apply to most.
You Are Good Enough — Declarations Over Your Day
I start each day with affirmations that I have taped to my bathroom mirror. I change it every week to something new, but it is a reminder that I’m not trash, garbage, or broken. I have nothing to prove to anyone and I’m not in my position by mistake. My current affirmation is “I am a caring, supportive, and strong leader. My team values me and the effort I put in to enabling them to perform as a high impact group”. While it may seem silly in technology many of us who are minorities or who are disenfranchised suffer from a lack of support from our management. In addition to that the STEM field has some elitist cliques that cause others of us to feel less than like “web developers aren’t real developers” or “writing HTML isn’t coding”. There are so many more, but statements like those cause many of us in the field to feel like the achievements we made aren’t significant enough or something we should be proud of. Push back against those thoughts and support every gain you have made to be where you are.
Join A Community
I recently started getting involved with the developer community on Twitter which lead me to another resource called WeStryve. On both platforms I’ve met some great people who are fun to be around and are encouraging. Find a community of people who are willing to support you and your progress as you grow. It doesn’t matter where you start the simple fact that you started and did anything is something to be proud of. Nothing is better than at the end of succeeding at whatever project or effort that you are working on than celebrating with a few peeps. Even more so that we are in a pandemic it’s vital more than ever to find ways to connect with others who also are in the field and can relate to some of your struggles. You don’t have to do this alone.
Find Your Uncle Iroh
I had to get an Avatar the Last Airbender reference in here somewhere, either that or Star Wars. I can’t even begin to stress the importance of finding a good mentor who is willing to hype you up. Even more than that they can deliver critical feedback that can support your growth and push you operate at the next level. I would suggest someone who has some or all of the following characteristics:
Patience — If you asked my mentor what kind of learner I am he’d likely say slow. Sometimes it can take me a few attempts to really understand what someone is explaining to me. I can’t stress enough that finding someone who works with you where are at is so important no matter what stage you are at in your development or growth.
Candor — You also need someone who can tell you like it is, openly and honestly. Having the ability to communicate in a manner that will stimulate your growth and understand where are at any given moment is important.
Trust — Quite simply you need to believe that whoever you’re working with has your best interests at heart.
Funny — Learning can be hard sometimes and often it’s so nice to have someone who can lighten the mood.
Composure — Having someone who can be emotional right along with you is great. I have had total dump tests with my mentor where we both feel like huge failures. What I love is that after a “good cry” he knows how to pull himself and others out of it to get back to the task at hand.
This list is by no means exhaustive and there are so many other things that can go on here. These are just some specific things I look for and try to give to my mentees. Total plug if you haven’t watched Avatar the Last Airbender go it! It’s on Netflix, you’ll thank me later.
Practice Your Craft
I’m not a fan of the phrase “practice makes perfect” because well, I don’t think there’s any-one perfect way to do things. I do believe that practice makes you better and in the technology space I would say it’s almost impossible to grow without practice. I’ll be the first to admit I do not want to code every single day. I do however make time to code regularly, so I can learn new skills and keep my current skills sharp. Much like learning anything you will have to practice to be good or even amazing at it, but also take breaks. Rest is a form of practice as well, no one functions on an empty tank.
Build A Safe Space for Others
Once I found a community that I could be a part of I felt it was my duty let’s just say to uplift others. I know what that sinking feeling feels like and I know even more that hopelessness that takes over, I can tell you I know exactly how that feels. Let me be the first to say there are days where still I can’t get out of that hole, but I chose to join and build up a community of people who can pull each other out of that. As you climb your mountain I encourage you to look back every once in a while not to love your pain, but instead to help lift someone else out who is suffering through it.
Remember You Are Not Alone
It’s hard out here. What I have here isn’t perfect or even the only way to address imposter syndrome, but it’s something that works for me and others. I still have bad days, and being honest sometimes bad weeks. I still encourage each and every one of you reading this to give it a try and seek what the results are, you might even be surprised. If you need an ear to vent to or want to come join me with some of the other awesome people I’ve met, hit me up. Remember most of all, you are not alone and you don’t have to do this by yourself. You are good enough.