Have you ever felt the fear of falling behind?
What ever you do, it makes you think that your peers are one step ahead of you?
You are afraid that your work doesn't matter anymore and it's being less valued?
If you have felt these before, I've got a news for you. You have an imposter syndrome. But there is also a good news, imposter syndrome is totally normal among the people, especially developers and there are ways to come out of it.
Most of the developers who started coding or already coding for years will still have imposter syndrome. Because software is a very fast moving field where you have to pickup and learn things quickly. By the time you get a decent knowledge on something, you will hear that a faster and better alternative stack has been released.
To make it worse, you will see people developing software with the improved stack which makes you to think that your work will be less valued. But the truth is, everything you do and everything you spend your time on has some sort of value.
Why it's happening?
There are many reasons for imposter syndrome. Right from the childhood we have been brought up by comparing ourselves with others. In the schools (at least where I studied), the teachers praise and award the top performers but they tend to treat the slow learners as losers.
Of course there are teachers who motivate average students too, but there will always be a line between toppers and average people. The toxic thoughts like, your work not being valued starts right there itself.
This is one of the reason why only few students will try to answer the pop quizzes in classroom, they would think that anyhow the girl or guy who is a top performer is going to answer the question and their own answer will not be valued by anyone. I have felt that many times during my school days.
Another reason is, it is one of the way of your brain's defensive mechanism to make you stay inside your comfort zone and not take risks.
What if, the other person's work is better?
What if, the others point out that I am a fake?
What if, I get embarrassed in front of others?
Your brain would rather choose not to take risks and stay inside your comfortable zone.
You are not alone
Trust me, you are not alone! If there is a contest in self doubting, I would top it with flying colors. Almost every developer out there has imposter syndrome but not everyone talks about it. I have lost quite a bunch of things in my life because of imposter syndrome.
I have missed opportunities in projects, I have developed the habit of procrastination and even it has affected my learning. Sometimes it left me burnt out, thinking that, any how there are people better than me out in my field and all my learnings wouldn't even matter.
On contrary, other times I feel that imposter syndrome makes me to learn continuously to compensate the feeling of lagging behind. You will also feel the same once you start seeing every problem as an opportunity. Once and for all I yelled "Shut Up Imposter Syndrome!!" and the feeling of being left out is fading away slowly.
I will share few of my practices that keeps my mind healthy and allows me to overcome the imposter syndrome.
Giving more than you take
Imposter syndrome is a feeling of not creating something valuable or your work being less valued. One way to get rid of that is to give more than you take. Try to help people whenever you get a chance. Helping others releases chemicals in your brain that will make you happy and peaceful.
The feeling of altruism gives you a sense of satisfaction and makes you to think that your work is being valued by someone. Every time I get a chance I will try to help someone.
There is no such thing called a small help or pulling up a big favor. Any action you do for others to bring them from their uncomfortable situation and make them feel happy is a favor, there are no levels of favor.
If a junior developer is struggling with an error, jump right in and help him/her to debug. It can be just a trivial bug, it might not be a big deal to you. But, it would've made them to spend hours and hours to debug it and they would've missed the deadline. You will be seen as a savior by them.
Also, you don't have to be a senior to help others. If you are a junior developer you can help someone in school or college by teaching programming. Most of the people in their schools won't be exposed to practical experience and wouldn't have seen the usage of programming in real world other than their text books. Your help will be much valued by them.
Creating more than you consume
If you are a developer, you tend to consume a lot. You always want to know more on how other developers are solving their problems, what technology stack they use and how they respond to incidents. Most of the times we would have left open many browser tabs from hacker news, some newsletter or any other random sources of information.
If we take our favourite analogy: food. Consuming information is like eating. There is a joy in eating and it's always one way. But if you learn how to create something by cooking, you will learn new skills on how to use the culinary in the kitchen. This doesn't mean that your consumption will go down, in fact now your consumption will have more meaning and value.
Now, you have to learn (consume) about more recipes and cooking methods to create something. And then you are putting what you consumed to use. You will cook something (create) for others and feel the true joy of sharing your work with them.
Apart from helping me to overcome my imposter syndrome, creating also helps me to retain what I learn. Studies shows that you retain 90% of the things you learn only if you put it to use immediately.
So, whenever I learn something, I try to put it to use immediately by giving a talk about it in a meetup, discussing it with friends or writing a blog post about it.
Know your limitations and acknowledge your mistakes
Humans always f*ck up...
As humans we all mess things up. Be it from the spoiled teenager who assassinated Hungarian prince, creating a domino effect, ultimately leading to World War - 1 and killing millions of lives, to an Apple co-founder selling his stocks for $800 where retaining it today(Mar 2018) would've made him worth $75 billion.
Well, I am not encouraging you to start WW-3 but I am stating out the big time mistakes done by others to convince you that making mistakes are natural.
Coming to the point, accepting your mistakes will help you to know your limitations and paves a way to improve yourself constantly. If you are in a mindset that whatever you do is right, you will be covered with your own cloud of thoughts and you won't be able to see beyond that.
When someone criticizes you, before going on a full on defensive mode, take some time to think why you are being criticized, try to validate the point they are stating. If you think their point is invalid, you can take a stance defending yourself. But if you feel that they have got a point, politely accept your mistakes/limitations and find a way to improve it.
Main reason for imposter syndrome is sometimes you will be afraid that people will uncover your mistakes. But if you develop a mindset to accept your mistakes and uncover it by yourself, no one is going to make you feel that way.
Alright, I messed up, so what?. I will learn from the mistake.
is way better than,
Oh no, I made a mistake, what if someone finds it out and exposes it?
One more thing...
Don't let your mistakes stop you!
As I am writing this blog post, a Tesla Roadster is orbiting above us around the Earth, passing a live feed. It was launched by the reusable rockets that returned to earth after delivering the payload.
Elon Musk and his company SpaceX who made it possible had made multiple failed attempts and even went almost bankrupt before figuring out the reusable rockets.
If Elon thought that the failures are stopping him or had self doubt. His company wouldn't have made this break through in inventing reusable rockets.
So, never let your mistakes to stop you from moving forward.
The three things I listed above are helping me a lot to come out of the imposter syndrome. Always remember:
- Give more than you take
- Create more than you consume
- Accept your mistakes and move forward
What are you doing to get rid of imposter syndrome in your life?, Share it in the comments below:)
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By the time this article was written we went through only 2 world wars and already had enough of it. ↩︎