As someone who grew up in tech, I’m no stranger to Imposter Syndrome. I started out learning basic HTML back in the dial-up days when Yahoo was actually a Stanford.edu URL and Microsoft Frontpage was still a few years away. It was fun to learn something new, but even though HTML was new, I still felt like I was “catching up” to everyone else. That feeling never went away. I always felt like I was catching up.
The more I learned about graphic design and why design elements worked the way they did, I started to expand into Photoshop. I was hooked. I went to a local bookstore and bought the latest Photoshop Bible and dove right in.
It was then that I realized the fear and anxiety I felt designing websites had carried over into my design business as well. I never thought I was good enough. I would compare my work to what I would see online and instead of getting inspired, I wanted to quit.
I was running a successful freelance business, and my clients were happy with the results of the websites I built for them. On paper, I should have been happy. I wasn’t. It was actually a low point in my career to say the least. I felt like a tourist in my industry. The self-doubt and feeling that someone would call me out on being a “hack” was crippling.
That feeling has a name. It’s called Imposter Syndrome, and it’s a lie.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Harvard Business Review defines Imposter Syndrome perfectly
“Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters‘ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence”.
In layman’s terms, it means feeling like you’re not good enough and someone’s going to find out. In even simpler terms, it’s self-doubt.
Understand where Imposter Syndrome comes from
If you work in an industry where you’re self-taught, odds are high that you suffer from some level of self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome. When my friends who work in the tech industry share their stories, they are oddly familiar.
They usually learned their skills by themselves. This opens them up to feelings of unfounded doubt, anxiety, and fear. Just because you learned a skill on your own, doesn’t mean you’re not as good as a formally trained peer. It just means you’re scrappy.
In many cases, being scrappy is a better skill to have. I’ll bet on the underdog who knows how to achieve a result without being told how to do it. They might have five ways to solve a problem where the classroom-trained person only knows what they were told in school. If a problem arises outside of their schema, they can’t figure it out.
Don’t get in your own way.
I have a friend at work who manages servers for a large group of shared hosting customers and clients. We were talking about Imposter Syndrome one day and he shared his story with me. He started working as a customer support member and worked his way up to server admin.
He couldn’t enjoy his success because of his humble roots. He never allowed himself to feel accomplished with his career growth. I took a few minutes to remind him of a few things he was overlooking.
I reminded him that:
Regardless of where you start your journey, you define your own success. Working hard and learning a unique skill sets you apart from the crowd. I reminded him that he earned his career on the merit of his skills.
To overcome Imposter Syndrome you’ll need to rethink how you, well, think.
In order to overcome Imposter Syndrome you’ll have to use logic. I had to remind my server admin friend that he was hired for technical support, but he was promoted to server admin because of the skills he can offer in that role.
Regardless of what he thought of his skills, his employer knew he was the right person for the role. If you can’t believe in yourself, believe in the people who know what you’re really worth.
Reminding him of the value he brings to his employer helped him see himself through a different lens.
If you remember one thing from reading this, I want you to remember that you’re good enough. If you’re self-taught or you learned your craft through years of training, you’ve got what it takes to make an impact.
I’ll leave you with a quote I’ve used to define this year for me.
“Be so brilliant that they can’t ignore you” – Steve Martin.