Impostor Syndrome is real

Impostor Syndrome is:

Impostor Syndrome: a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. - Wikipedia

When you're experiencing impostor syndrome you have a hard time separating achievements from failures. For example, even though you made your application work in the end (win!) you can only think about how long it took you to get there, how many bugs you ran into, how much help you had to ask for, etc. (lose). Or when you do accomplish something all on your own, you often think, "I just got lucky".

Often times too you might find yourself losing the desire to even contribute during project discussions and planning because "what do I know?" when you've already thought of 3 ways to solve the problem, they're just already talking about them.

The important thing to remember is that you are not alone and that there are some tools you can use to help get past this pattern. I would also include that even professionals experience impostor syndrome on a regular basis. I know I do.

You're Not Alone

When looking for some quotes from professionals to make you feel better about yourself ;-) I found these celebrity gems:

‘When I won the Oscar, I thought it was a fluke. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take it back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, “Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.”‘
- Jodie Foster

‘You think, “Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”‘ - Meryl Streep

Two talented, successful and award winning people still doubting themselves. It happens with game developers too:

Stephan Schütze didn't think his talk on impostor syndrome at developer-centric conference Game Connect Asia Pacific in October would attract much of an audience...He couldn't have been more wrong. His talk was one of the most popular at the conference. Event staff had to turn people away from entry because the room was full. -Imposter syndrome: Game developers who feel like frauds

Or how about this one from David Walsh, Senior Software Engineer and Evangelist for Mozilla:

This is the hardest thing I've ever had to write, much less admit to myself. I've written resignation letters from jobs I've loved, I've ended relationships, I've failed at a host of tasks, and let myself down in my life. All of those feelings were very temporary -- they would be heart-breaking temporarily but within months I'd have moved on. There's one feeling, however, that I've not been able to conquer during my professional career: Impostor Syndrome. -David Walsh

Three different career fields, all the same feels. You're not alone. Believe me yet?

Some Tools You Can Use to Get Past this Pattern

Step Away From the Trees

In a 3-part-piece by Bressain Dinkelman (who's a local developer at Pluralsight, by-the-way) he talks about "stepping away from the trees" which essentially is a play on the common phrase "You can't see the forest for the trees".

Take a look at it like this: Most students choose an intensive and immersive program so they can learn to code in a short amount of time and find employment. That's why they're here, why not dedicate 100% of their time too it? But what often happens is that we get so wrapped up in learning to code and finding that job that we forget who we are, that we're more than just code monkeys.

Stepping away from the trees is about taking a step back, getting back to our roots and making time for the other things that make us us. Whether that be exercise, religious practice, hobbies, meditation, family time, etc. make sure you make time to take a break to keep doing the things you love that also make you you.

Keep track of your successes

An exercise I like to do with students involves writing down a private list of 10 things you've learned since the first day of class. In fact, let's do that now. It could be anything:

  • The difference between Java and JavaScript

  • For loops and what they're for

  • How to write a to-do list

  • Text Editors

  • Local host 1080

Etc...I'd recommend making this list once a week to help you celebrate your successes. Review past lists and see how far you've come. Take a look at your Pre Course Project compared to what you can do today. Pretty cool right?

Compare yourself to YOU

When I have students make the previous list, I also tell them that we will not be sharing our lists with the class because I don't want anyone comparing themselves to someone else.

We're all different people, we all come from different backgrounds. Some of us have been coding since high school, others just picked it up last week. That's AWESOME and a good reason to not compare yourself to the person who's been coding for years already because you're never going to reach them in this course. They already came in ahead of the curve and they're going to keep going up from that point in their study.

This doesn't mean that you won't ever get to their experience level, but it's completely illogical to expect yourself to be just like Mike when Mike is continuing to grow himself. Maybe if Mike took a break or quit for 12 weeks, but Mike's here to learn too and he's not going to stop.

Making a weekly list or even showcasing your week of work to a friend or family member is an excellent way to measure your progress against you and to see your accomplishments for what they are, progress! This leads me to our next tool: support groups.

Create a Support Group

Whether it be a fellow classmate, your mom or significant other, find people you trust and who are rooting for you to share your progress with. First of all, You Suck at Evaluating Yourself and keeping in touch with a pair of outside eyes that will see how far you've come is going to help big time when you're feeling low.

If you haven't already, start looking for a mentor too, someone who is a current developer to bounce ideas off of and give you advice. Maybe they can quiz you while you study, or be someone to help with a difficult bug. Mentors are invaluable and remind us that everyone started with "Hello World" at some point in time. If they can do it, so can you. Maybe your mentor will be a V School instructor, maybe someone you met at a meetup or company tour, someone online, whatever, just find someone and ask if they'd be your mentor.

Help Other People

Whether they're struggling with impostor syndrome too or their own coding error, helping other people is the best way to get better at something. I can't tell you how many times an instructor has told me how working at V School has introduced them to new ways to solve problems and helped them to master their craft as they work to explain and teach new concepts to other people.

Helping is practice and pair programming. Why not practice what you've learned by helping someone else and learning from their perspective at the same time? I promise it will always be rewarding and will help you to feel better at what you do. It gives you the chance to be the all-knowing sage instead of the self-doubting fraudster you falsely think you are.

Avoid Negativity

Negativity breeds negativity. I've seen it time and time again, a student is frustrated and struggling; they vent to another student and now 2 people are cranky pants. Eventually person 1 figures out what they're stuck on and moves on, but person 2 still feels like they're never going to get this and continues brooding in the corner. It's human nature and happens all over the internet, but you don't have to let that get you down.

You're going to struggle, you're going to hit walls, but surrounding yourself with negative people isn't going to help. Instead try to find positive people to study with. You can have a positive attitude and still struggle with something.

Most importantly of all, don't be the negative person people are trying to avoid. If you're starting to feel negative, go back through the previous tools: step away from the trees, talk with your support group, write down your most recent successes, etc.

I Don't Have Impostor Syndrome

Some people never experience impostor syndrome. They're just lucky I guess, but that doesn't mean you can't help others. Keep an eye out for some of the symptoms we've talked about:

  • Self-doubting

  • Comparing themselves to other people all the time

  • People who don't contribute in class or during group meetings

  • Consistent negativity

Next, make time to:

  • Encourage someone

  • Invite others to share their thoughts during a meeting

  • Be the positive force we all need

  • Call out and praise other people's accomplishments

Tons of studies have shown the positive impact of diversity in the workplace and helping people experiencing impostor syndrome encourages that diversity and only helps us all to thrive. Too many geniuses are being left in the dust because someone didn't do something, so don't be afraid to lift others.

‘You will never climb Career Mountain and get to the top and shout, “I made it!” You will rarely feel done or complete or even successful. Most people I know struggle with that complicated soup of feeling slighted on one hand and like a total fraud on the other.’