I was chatting with a friend recently about my promotion to Staff Software Engineer, and as part of the chat, I mentioned how I often struggle with Imposter Syndrome. They seemed genuinely shocked that I struggle with this, and it reminded me that unless people talk openly about these things, it's hard to know what anyone else is really experiencing.
If you've never heard of imposter syndrome before:
Imposter Syndrome can be defined as a "persistent doubt concerning one's abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one's ongoing success." [source]
I worked for a large corporate company for five years before stepping out of my comfort zone to join a new company. When you've worked for a company for so long, you learn the status quo and can establish a level of comfort that makes the feelings of being a fraud grow that little bit smaller, regardless of what you're actually working on.
I'm not saying that experiencing imposter syndrome is limited to joining a new company, you could be joining a new team, maybe earning a promotion or generally feel like everyone else knows what they're doing and worry you are going to be exposed at any moment for not having it together.
So I guess I'm writing this to say... if you have ever felt like this then you are not alone. The below image captures it perfectly:
When I accepted the offer to join my current company I was delighted... for a moment. Then I started doubting myself. What if I'm not the right person for this job? What if nobody likes me? What if I don't pick up these new programming languages fast enough? Have I just tricked them into hiring me? In my gut, I knew that wasn't the case but there was a shadow hanging over me for the longest time that would make me second guess myself.
For the first few months in this job, I would have regular chats with my manager about how I felt like I wasn't doing enough, and every time she would remind me that I was doing all the right things and that I didn't need to worry. That didn't really stop me from worrying though, because all I could think about was "maybe she's just saying this to keep me happy, she doesn't really mean it..."
Growing up, I was always put under pressure to do my best. If I wasn't coming first in my class at school, then I would cry in the car on the way home worried that I was a failure. This was fuelled by a few family members who would always ask, "well, why didn't you come first?" and that mentality has unfortunately stuck with me. I still experience these feelings now that I'm older. If I'm working on something and there is an issue, or I haven't achieved perfection then I worry I'm not good enough. It is in these moments that my imposter syndrome flares up at its worst, it feels like people are finally seeing the real me: someone who doesn't know what they're actually doing.
The reality is, you only see the version of a person that they are willing to show you. What someone posts online is just a snippet of what they're feeling and more often than not, they do only share the positives.
Take my promotion for example... all that people see is that I was promoted, and the celebrations around it. They don't see the stress and tears that were involved in the work that led to that promotion, and honestly, most of my team probably didn't see much of that either. It's easy to fall into the trap of feeling that you have to hide how you're really feeling for fear of judgement, but I've found that when I have opened up about my struggles, people have been nothing but kind.
I suspect anyone still reading at this point may be nodding along thinking one of two things, "yes, of course, people will support you when you open up about your struggles", or some of you may fall into the other mentality of, "well, they might support you, but if I were to open up about my feelings they would say something different". If you fall into that second group I'd like you to reconsider: you deserve to be supported, and the way you are feeling about yourself is not a reflection of what others feel about you.
I don't know about you, but I'm definitely my own worst critic.
I'm not saying I have any solid ideas for making this better, but sometimes I find that even knowing that others face their own struggles makes me feel a little less alone. And sometimes that's enough.
Sharing this post has been somewhat therapeutic, and if even one person who stumbles across this post takes something away from this, I hope they take away this: You are worthy. Failures happen; they don't define you.
Be Kind. ✌️