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Engineering

Overcoming impostor syndrome

Bruno Vego 3 months ago
dots dots Impostor syndrome

Let’s start this off with a list:

“How did the hell did I pass the interview process”
“The people here are much smarter than me”
“I’m not an _insertjobtitle_. I’m a fraud”
“I think I may get fired soon”

Ever thought of something from that list when you landed your first job? Congratulations, you are suffering from impostor syndrome!

Once you get hired, you may feel like your skills aren’t on par with what’s expected from you, and that’s normal. You may feel like you don’t belong where you are, and that there might be someone else that’s better for that job.

Don’t worry, you are right where you need to be.

What is impostor syndrome?


Impostor syndrome is pretty easy to define. It’s when you feel that you aren’t good enough for the job that you do, and you got the job due to a hiring mistake. Some may say that is the opposite of being confident, but the feeling is much more complicated. It’s observable in pretty much every job, and it’s not something that people talk about. But they should.

The key point to understand this is that you are not the only person feeling it. Chances are that a lot of your colleagues are experiencing the same feeling.

Not only people entering an industry can have impostor syndrome. People with several years of experience can have the same feeling. Heck, even your boss may be feeling it. You aren’t alone.

Slaying the impostor in you

Good news: It’s not that hard. There’s a bunch of actionable steps you can take to achieve that, you just have to find out what works the best for you. Below I’ve listed several methods that worked for me, and I hope some will work for you too.


Talk about it

But don’t go on forever. Sharing your problems and experiences with your peers is great for both you and them. You get to blow some steam off, and they get to listen to your experiences with the problem.


Build confidence

Become the master of your craft. If you have free time, practice a skill, until you master it. Become the go-to person for a certain topic in your team.

That’s one of the easiest ways I’ve found that helped me overcome it. This will differ from profession to profession. In my case, it was mastering the nuances of a programming language or a specific framework we used daily.

Remember:

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
Marie Curie

Build side projects and share your work

Working on side projects is a great way to skill up. Once you are done, why not share your work online? There are various websites where you can share your work (for example, GitHub for developers, Dribbble for designers) and it might even hit off.

If you took the step and posted your work online, congrats! You are doing more than a large part of people who don’t share anything. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to put yourself out there – embrace it. Go on, talk about yourself and the work that you do. There’s nothing that can go wrong. If you have some luck, you might even get some feedback. Though, there is another thing that can set you back: Negative feedback.

Learning how to take criticism

So, you’ve got a bunch of praise, confetti emojis, and claps. Awesome! But uh-oh, what’s that – someone is pointing out something wrong? That’s awesome! (assuming that the person isn’t an a-hole, and he gave constructive criticism with actionable points)! But why?

Criticism helps you improve. It may be tempting to fall into the trap of claps and confetti emojis because that makes us feel good about our work. No. Don’t do that. Please look for feedback on what you can improve on. Don’t get me wrong, praise is good. Praise is a confirmation that we did something good. It’s like an approval stamp. But it’s the constructive criticism that helps us improve.

You are awesome

Can you build a website, a nice company logo, or ads that will lead to clicks? Congratulations. There are so many things that you can do that the vast majority of people can’t. You are a badass. Continue building on that and celebrate your wins. Embrace your failures because they help you learn even more.

Compare yourself with… yourself

Think about where you were one year ago, what improved? Where do you want to be one year from now? Set goals for yourself, be it on a six-month or one-year basis. They don’t have to be anything big. Try to finish that project that you’ve been slacking off for the last few months, or try to learn something new.

Comparing yourself to others is one of the worst things that you can do for your impostor syndrome.

From one extreme to the other – please don’t

There is an opposite of impostor syndrome, and it is not over-confidence. It is called the Dunning–Kruger effect. Wikipedia defines it as:

“The Dunning–Kruger effect is a hypothetical cognitive bias stating that people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability.”

Did you ever watch the X-Factor or Voice and thought: “They can’t even sing if their life depended on it. Why did they apply”? Well… This is exactly what the Dunning-Kruger effect describes. It may be a result of several things, i.e. your family telling you how great you sing, whilst they can’t sing either. People with no experience in the field don’t know what you can improve on. Surround yourself with people who are more knowledgeable than you. It’s as simple as that.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is worse than the impostor syndrome. Both for you and especially for people surrounding you. To avoid it you should build more experience in a subject and always look for ways to improve. Doubt yourself but to a healthy degree.

Wrapping up


Nobody expects you to know everything. And neither should you expect it from yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know something, rather spend that time learning it. Think big, don’t play small. You are not an impostor, you are right where you should be.

If you wish to read more, there’s a great blog I can recommend: impostorsyndrome.com.

Thank you for reading, go win the world! 🙂

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