Maturation has been on my mind a lot lately. No surprise, I suppose, as I’m a 23-year-old introvert. I spend a lot of time inside my own mind, which can be wonderful, terrifying, and confusing.
Occasionally, but with increasing frequency (relative to my professional success), I’ve been dealing with bouts of imposter syndrome.
imposter syndrome is the name for that horrible set of feelings and thoughts that nags at you, telling you that you’re not good enough. None of your successes have really been earned! You just got there through dumb luck and bullshit, and soon someone is going to find out that you’re a fraud. YOU SUCK.
Pleasant voice, isn’t it?
I’m self-employed, and I have no formal training in my area. I’m one of those weirdos who turned my hobby into my job. Most of the time, I love it. But as the projects get bigger and bigger, and the stakes get higher (financial loss, professional ruin), the nagging voice in my head gets louder and louder. Because my degree is in a totally unrelated field, I can’t even calm myself down by pointing at the degree until the voice shuts up.
A quick browse of the internet shows a general chorus of folks telling you to
1. Take note of those feelings, and observe them. Check in with reality and realise that you are genuinely successful and doing your best.
2. Make a list of your achievements to refer to.
3. Realise that everyone is just making it up as they go along.
But there’s one other thing that you can do to take control of imposter syndrome. Acknowledge the fear, and do something about it.
For me, imposter syndrome rises out of the murk of fear. I am terrified that I will fuck up a client’s project. I am worried that I will never be a great developer. I am petrified that my skills are not good enough. To make the fear go away, I take control the best way I know how — professional development.
I’m always learning — new programming languages, new platforms, new ways of doing things… and when I learn, and I become more confident in my skills, the imposter syndrome melts away.
Suddenly, everything is okay again because I’ve taken control.
Try it next time you feel overwhelmed by nagging and complex feelings of ineptitude. If nothing else, you’ll learn something new.
Extra for experts: A Year of Living Academically gives tips on dealing with imposter Syndrome in academia.