Yesterday at Virtual Coffee, we talked about imposter syndrome, and I want to share some key takeaways. Imposter syndrome is the feeling of not belonging and thinking that you don’t deserve opportunities, promotions, salary, or acknowledgment. Because the phrase imposter syndrome gets thrown around a lot, I want to emphasize that it’s not necessarily that you feel like you should be further along in your learning journey or your career. The key word in the definition is deserve; you don’t think you deserve the role you landed, the promotion you received, or the recognition of the community. According to Suzanne Imes, PhD, “In our society there’s a huge pressure to achieve…There can be a lot of confusion between approval and love and worthiness. Self-worth becomes contingent on achieving.” Overcoming imposter syndrome can be challenging, especially in an industry where there’s always something new to learn, switching companies often obtain promotions, and the pace of work can feel like you’re always running a marathon. You can overcome these feelings, though, and I want to share a couple of ways.
Keep track of your wins
This might sound like overkill, but keeping track of your wins provides data demonstrating that you deserve to be where you are. Did you complete five freeCodeCamp lessons last week? Write it down. Did you make progress at work on your project? Did you support your teammates? Have you clearly communicated an issue? Have you created a positive work or learning environment? Have you devoted half an hour to learn to code five days in a row while still caring for your kids? What challenges have you overcome in your personal life that you didn’t let impede your progress in work or learning? These are often things we don’t think of. And it’s ok if your personal life did impact your career. It happens to all of us. How did you rebound from that experience?
Ask for Feedback
I recently realized that not having feedback makes it hard to feel like you’re making progress or improving. There’s not a clear sense of the quality of your work. Receiving feedback can not only help you to keep track of your wins, but it can also help you to see your progress, create goals, and acknowledge your achievements. Feedback can come from a manager, friends, or community members around you. My doctor recently gave me some advice that fits here, too: don’t judge yourself based on one person’s feedback. Reach out to those around you to help get a well-rounded assessment of where you are. I like to let people know that I value candid feedback as well. This creates a space where they’re not worried about hurting your feelings, and you can trust what they say.
Don’t Play the Comparison Game
It can be really hard not to compare ourselves to other people in the industry, people who are learning faster than we are, or our teammates who got a promotion over us. When we play the comparison game, we never have the full picture. How can we evaluate what we deserve if we don’t have all the data, don’t know what happens behind closed doors, or don’t recognize that there’s a lot of complexity in the tech journey and one person’s path will never be the same as another person’s? In fact, if you do have imposter syndrome, it can lead to procrastination, unreasonable standards, or overpreparation, according to Pauline Rose Clance, PhD. Instead of comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to who you were yesterday, last week, or last year. Recognize the progress you’ve made and add it to your win list. It’s also worth noting that we’re often comparing ourselves to people on social media, which is often someone’s highlight reel.
Having a growth mindset can help us to overcome imposter syndrome, because it helps us to reframe our goals. The goal is to learn and to grow. It’s the focus on hard work, openness to feedback, and finding momentum. Getting to the core of the issue is key to breaking out of imposter syndrome: why do you think you don’t deserve something? Why do you feel like you don’t belong? Honestly, these are good questions to talk to a friend, mentor, or therapist about. Often they can help us to dig into the real cause of imposter syndrome and help us to set reasonable expectations for ourselves. Remember though, you’re not alone. And you’re not the only one with those feelings. Sharing them helps us to find community and a sense of belonging, which can help decrease those feelings.