When I sat down with my team director a year ago, he explained the direction the company was moving and what expectations fell on my performance. I hesitated. I expressed my doubt in my ability to execute those goals. And without missing a beat, he told me “You have Imposter Syndrome.”
What did you just call me?
At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant. Did he just call me an imposter? I researched it as soon as our meeting ended and was shocked at what I read. It was an exact description of how I felt.
In a nutshell, Imposter Syndrome is just that: feeling like an imposter. Anyone can have it. It is especially high in the tech world and even higher in women. It summarizes the thoughts one has comparing themselves against their colleagues in an impossible mental narrative.
In my experience, being a self-taught developer already puts me in a poor comparison game with more established developers with real computer science degrees. Even though 69% of today’s developers are self-taught, with no official certification or credentials behind my title, it’s easy to feel like a fake.
Voices in my head
Despite the extra hours I toiled on my craft, the deep work spent on those late-night coffee-stained notes, I’m still a fraud. Despite the experience I established and the many projects I have in my portfolio, my skills are of no value. Despite the many obstacles I have overcome being a woman, a minority in the tech industry, I will never be as respected as the guys. Despite the many successes and failures in my personal knowledge base, the only reason I am here today is that I’ve duped everyone with my charm.
- What if they find out I’m not as good as anyone else?
- I’m never going to catch up to everyone else. No matter how much free time I devote to this craft, everyone will always be lightyears ahead of me.
- All it takes is a smart enough critic to see through my friendly exterior and I’m done.
- Being a mom is a dead giveaway. What mom can put in the extra time to be relevant in today’s developer market?
- There I go to pump milk for my baby, leave early to pick up a sick kiddo from daycare or keep my computer closed over the weekend to spend time with my family. I bet everyone wonders how I can be pulling my weight or contributing as equally as everyone else.
- What mother do you know has the skills to compete in this market and is worth the same salary as her male colleagues?
- Surely, it’s just a matter of time before I’m found out. I could lose my job, and there goes all credibility and respect.
- I am going to fail.
My mind plays these thoughts a mental loop. It is debilitating. It holds me back from taking the lead on projects. It keeps me quiet from speaking my mind, sharing an opinion or introducing an idea. It diminishes my confidence until I feel small.
Some of it comes from expectations I have for myself and expectations I believe others have of me, whether or not they are true.
And then there’s Imposter Syndrome’s ugly cousin, Mom Guilt. From the second a woman becomes a mother, it is ground zero. It doesn’t matter if she holds a Ph.D. from a prestigious school, there is nothing that prepares someone for the earth-shattering moment of becoming a parent.
There is a fierce love like nothing else ever experienced coupled with an overwhelming fear of screwing up. It’s no small task to take a little human and guide them to become a functional, moral, well-behaved adult who can stand on their own two feet. You can only hope and pray they have compassionate hearts, find an unshakeable faith and know how to love and serve their fellow human being. The pressure is nothing short of insane.
As our children grow and we grow with them, Mom Guilt exists in the thread of everyday life.
- Breastfed vs. formula.
- Organic vs. traditional food.
- Helicopter parenting vs. free-range.
- Disciplining, schooling, chores and screen-time.
- Deciding to take vacations or date nights with the husband.
- Choosing to go back to work or whether to sign up for the PTA.
- Curfews, dating, first jobs, and going to college.
Moms want the best for their children, so that means we have to be the best, right? From day one and every day after, mothers feel guilty for not doing enough, for not being enough.
It sucks, and I am done with it. I work too hard to feel this bad about myself.
I’m done allowing Imposter Syndrome to hold me back from producing valuable work.
I’m done allowing Mom Guilt keep me from being the mother my kids need.
Imposter Syndrome and Mom Guilt have not been productive for me. I can’t bear traveling in the vehicle of life with these two foolish passengers. This past year, I said “NO!” and I set out on a journey to defeat Imposter Syndrome and it’s ugly cousin. Through trial and error, this is what I have found to be most effective.
First I got to the root of why. This question brought me to an admittedly great viewpoint of Imposter Syndrome and Mom Guilt. Why do we wrestle with these negative thoughts? My conclusion: It is a sign that you care. You care if you are doing a good job. Really and truly. You set high standards for yourself. You are consciously aware that every moment counts. You push yourself to do better next time.
I recognize that these things serve as guides for us to survive. If we didn’t feel compelled to improve, our society would self-destruct. So I find value in that. But that is the only credit I will give here. Because the pendulum quickly swings the other way.
In what has become a daily practice, I am learning the art of keeping myself in check by holding my thoughts accountable. I treat my thoughts as if they were another person speaking to me. Would I allow someone to lie to my face? Would I keep company with someone who regularly wore me down? Would I entertain trolls and critics who occupy the cheap seats in the arena of my life? The answer is no. We should treat dangerous thoughts the same, as a nagging entity separate from who we are that serves no useful purpose. Call them out for what they are: liars.
It’s amazing what that does, how freeing that feels. It’s almost as if shedding light on that thought sends the nasty thought-cockroaches scattering. The fog clears and the confabulations fade. And the best part, not only am I less critical of myself, I am less critical of others.
Ever notice how bullies act out of their hurt? In the same way, we judge and treat others with the same criticism we set for ourselves. When we feel inadequate in our careers, we treat our colleagues as competition instead of as a family and steal credit and tear others down to get ahead. We start mom wars with other women struggling with the same fears and issues as us. It’s not pretty.
Do yourself a favor: being less critical of yourself isn’t a selfish thing. It benefits everyone around you. You are more likely to teach and patiently help others. Practicing self-kindness leaves more room for compassion and peace, both for yourself and for others.
Make a list, check it every day
I also began to meditate and practice awareness. It’s not as woo-woo as it may seem. Checking in with yourself and honestly assessing where you stand is a very beneficial practice. From there, I journal my thoughts and fears. My brain unloads to pen and paper, and everything is out in the open. Then I start a list of my successes:
- I am at my job for a reason.
- My directors and teammates find value in my work.
- I trust that they are smart enough to recognize and hire the right talent for a task we are called to accomplish.
- My role as a woman and mother working in tech brings insight and perspective like nothing else.
- My kids look up to me and know how much I adore them.
The list goes on. It’s amazing how this list stacks up to my list of fears and doubts. Go ahead and start a list for yourself. Watch those negative thoughts go running for the hills.
Trusting was probably the hardest part. I had to trust that slow and steady wins the race. Believe that my hard work will pay off. Become painfully aware that I’m not as in control of things as I’d like to think. Acknowledge that despite my best and worst days of parenting, my children will grow up to be beautiful people and do great things. By no means does it leave me off the hook. But I would rather live, work and parent from a place of freedom than the paralyzing world of never enough.
Finally, I got some help. Not professional help, but help in the form of community. I networked with professionals in my field, despite my awkward, introverted nature. I sought out mentors and taught students struggling with the same fears I had. I joined amazing mom groups where we cry and laugh together, build each other up, swap war stories and share a parenting camaraderie.
We are not meant to go through this life alone. Creating trusted circles creates a fantastic sounding board for our negative thoughts. If you don’t have groups like this near you, create one.
There’s no cure-all
If you are bursting with self-confidence, that is amazing! But I have not arrived. While all the above methods made a positive impact, defeating Imposter Syndrome remains a constant endeavor. I have to be gracious with myself. No one is going to dispell my fears for me. It starts with me, and I am worth the fight.
Do you struggle with Imposter Syndrome? What are some ways you overcome this challenge?