“Man, I am in over my head! Everyone here is so much smarter than I am. Hope they don’t find out how dumb I really am. They’ll laugh me right out the door.”
Maybe it’s just me, or maybe you have had thoughts like this, too. For the ones out there who may have had similar thoughts, this post is for you. For the rest of you, the first step for us is to admit that we have a problem.
Yes, I’m talking about the infamous impostor syndrome (or fraud syndrome). It is defined as someone who is “marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud despite external evidence of their competence.”
According to Wikipedia, psychological research estimates that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds. Other studies have found that 70% of all people feel like impostors at one time or another.
In this blog, I will discuss particular mindset shifts that I use when I find myself feeling like “the impostor.” While I realize this topic is tangential to our normal technical talks, I believe talking through the soft skills of our trade is just as important as the technical skills. Also, I hope to help at least one other person who may be dealing with these thoughts.
I do need to be honest. Even while attempting to write on this topic, I am fighting through these and similar limiting beliefs.
“There are definitely others who could better deal with this topic.”
“What right do I have to speak on this topic since I am still struggling?”
“What if I get a bunch of emails telling me how stupid my thoughts really are?”
It’s amazing the games that our mind tries to play when we are attempting to accomplish something productive. Hi, my name is Jeff, and I’m a recovering Impostor.
I have learned to constantly repeat to myself certain Mindset Shifts to help me when I am feeling like an impostor. Let’s go through three of them:
“So what? The task is mine to accomplish and not theirs.”
The first mindset shift deals with thinking that someone else is better than I am, so why should I even try? To that I say, so what?
Imagine if Samwise, Merry, or Pippin had not played their part in the Fellowship of the Ring? How different would the Lord of the Rings story have turned out? While it may be true that none of them were very bright, they each played an important role in the overall story.
Go ahead, feel free to laugh out loud at my inner nerd coming out. It will help with the therapy for overcoming my impostor syndrome. You may be asking, “What exactly do three fairly ordinary and fictional hobbits have to do with my point?”
A team, whether fictional or real, is always made of individuals with varying degrees of skills, experiences, and expertise. Even if there may be someone better qualified to accomplish a particular task, you are the one who has been asked to complete the task – whatever the reason.
Maybe someone really thinks you can accomplish this task. Trust their judgment.
Maybe they know this will be a challenge and want to provide an opportunity to grow. Trust their judgment.
No matter what the reason is, the task is now set in front of you to accomplish. Stop hamstringing yourself by second-guessing whether you are the right person for this task. You are the person.
Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” Bring yourself, with your skills, expertise, experiences, and even your blunders. Seek to help the project move to the next level. The team is counting on you.
“I don’t need to know everything. I just need to know where to find it, when I need it.” – Albert Einstein
This is another mindset shift that has helped me work through these mental games.
Fine, everyone else on the team may be smarter than me. They may be able to pull some obscure class or pattern from memory. But they are only able to do so because of some prior learning – whether learned from something they previously researched or a similar problem experienced on a prior project.
Essentially, I am telling myself that I am not good enough because I have not had the same experiences that they have had. Wow, doesn’t that sound foolish when said like that?
“Okay, Self, you got me again. I see what you did there. Turning this scary situation into an opportunity to grow.”
“Yeah, Mind, stop trying to scare me from doing something. Just try to learn from every situation and person you come in contact with, even if you think you are smarter than the other person...wait, ignore that I just said that”.
Ah yes, that alter ego of the impostor just poked its ugly head. Which leads to the next mindset shift I needed to deal with. That of comparison or ladder thinking.
“You are only as good as your ability to compensate for your weakest member.” – Kelly Leonard
Have you ever found yourself on the one hand questioning, “Am I really good enough to be on this team?” and then immediately thinking, “Hey, wait, I may not be as good as the others, but I am better than that person.”
Now, this one really surprised me. I finally realized that I was not thinking I was not good enough, but that I was trying to place myself on the experience ladder. Trying to identify where I thought I stood in comparison to others. Identifying who is smarter than me and who is...dumber.
Oh, don’t look at me that way, you know you’ve quietly used that term yourself.
To help me overcome this mindset I have had to altogether remove the ladder analogy and begin thinking in terms of companions on a quest. Yes, I am staying with the Lord of the Rings analogy.
Earlier we discussed the need to change our internal self-talk to one of “the team needs me.” The mindset shift for this comparison ladder thinking is to realize that you need the team. Every person on the team. Be the encouragement to others that you are seeking for yourself.
These few ideas are not exhaustive of the mindset shifts I have implemented, but are some of the top ones that have helped to overcome the lies I have been telling myself.
My hope is that by shining some light on my struggle, I can be an encouragement to someone experiencing a similar struggle. For those who have also struggled, I am interested in hearing your ideas. If you are privately dealing with this and haven’t felt comfortable sharing with anyone, feel free to private message me. I’m more than willing to be a listening ear.