A note from Rach Smith's digital garden

I haven't experienced imposter syndrome, and maybe you haven't either

Added: October 16, 2017

Tags: work development

In the course of my day at work I will often wonder if the next bug is the bug that will finish me. I am acutely aware of and could instantly list for you 15 things about the CodePen codebase that I should probably know more about to do a better job of my role. Sometimes people write in questions about Vue.js, and I feel bad about not being able to answer them straight away because I’ve never really used it. The second conference I gave a talk at I wondered how the hell I was sharing a stage with Chris Coyier.

I have never felt like an “imposter”.I have always deserved to be here, I’ve worked hard.I don’t suffer from a “syndrome”.Identifying the gaps in my knowledge and being aware of what I don’t know is part of my vocation.

In recent years it’s become trendy to discuss how we all apparently suffer from this imposter syndrome - an inability to internalize one’s accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

I take two issues with this:

  • it minimizes the impact that this experience has on people that really do suffer from it.
  • we’re labelling what should be considered positive personality traits - humility, an acceptance that we can’t be right all the time, a desire to know more, as a “syndrome” that we need to “deal with”, “get over” or “get past”.

If you really can not recognize and internalize your achievements, and you do spend your days gripped by the fear that you will be found out as a fraud, if this is causing you problems in your life and career because your fears and irrational beliefs are holding you back from what is obvious to other people, then you’re suffering from a real debilitating problem. If this sounds like you I would suggest getting some professional help or at least talking to someone about how you can minimize these self-limiting beliefs. Despite what you may read, please know you aren’t alone, but we definitely aren’t all suffering in this manner, and there’s no reason for you to have to suffer either.

When I see my wildly successful, senior developer peers talk publicly about how they deal with imposter syndrome I can see the intent behind it. They want to be approachable, relatable: “internet famous senior devs - they’re just like us!”. I agree that it is important to highlight the ways in which we are all the same because it drives the message home that any dev (given they have the time and access) could achieve the same level of success. I just really wish we could do this without labelling normal and healthy moments of self doubt with “imposter syndrome”.

Of course we all have worries that we aren’t equipped to do our job on any given day, and we’re aware we don’t know as much about a topic as the next dev. Just think about what you would be like if you didn’t, you’d be an arrogant asshole, have huge blindspots, and would probably be a nightmare to work with! If I could nominate one common trait of the most accomplished developers I know, it would be their constant awareness of the “gap” in their knowledge and willingness to work towards closing it. Do these people doubt themselves? have moments questioning whether they deserve to be where they are? Of course they do! It is a key part to being a humble, likable, open-minded developer. They aren’t “suffering” from a “syndrome”.

I kind of wish we could talk about how we all experience:

  • humility’s advantage
  • the beginner’s mindset
  • the motivation that comes from self doubt

They aren’t nearly as sexy sounding as imposter syndrome, but at least we wouldn’t be labelling normal and healthy feelings like they are some sort of psychological affliction!

If you’re a new developer and you’re worried about suffering from this so called syndrome (but you’re not crippled by fear, see above) please know:

  • it’s going to be okay
  • you are normal!
  • worries about not being good enough are natural, we all have them, and they keep us on task and aware of what we might need to learn next
  • as you grow in experience, you will close the gaps in knowledge, you will spend less of the day worrying about what you don’t know, and it will feel great.
  • You will never know everything. The self doubt will never go away, but staying humble is the key to growth, and one day you’ll feel more comfortable with these uncomfortable feelings 😃

Love, Rachel - “A successful Senior developer - She’s just like you!”:59


Comments powered by Talkyard.