I took a job at a top web development company. This company had great benefits and incredibly talented people.
The second I started this new job, I felt something I never felt before. This feeling sapped my confidence and made me question my experience and talent.
I felt like I was inadequate.
Even though I had 15+ years of experience as a web developer, have worked on large website projects, and consistently received raises and praise, I still felt like I was “lacking” in some way.
This experience is when I found out about imposter syndrome.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Here is the official definition of imposter syndrome
the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.
There is nothing I have experienced that has sapped my confidence as much as imposter system.
You could be at the top of your field, and experience imposter syndrome.
I think this experience helped me understand how I struggle with low self-esteem. Those of us who tend to be extra critical of ourselves can easily experience imposter syndrome.
Comparing Yourself to Others
Each of us has different experiences and knowledge. When we compare ourselves with others, we end up putting ourselves into the “Octagon” (UFC) with each other.
But that misses the point of what it means to work on a team. We shouldn’t all be shooting to be the same person or be “better” than each other. Diversity on teams is beneficial because we all have different strengths and weaknesses.
I might be great at solving certain types of problems, while my colleague excels in other areas. And this is a GREAT thing. This diversity means we can work off of each other’s strengths and learn from each other.
My value as an employee is not dependent on others.
Instead of comparing ourselves with our colleagues, we should be thinking about how we can do better as a team. Which might mean pursuing individual improvements, but it isn’t about shame or comparing each other.
Setting Impossible Goals
I’m learning that I am my biggest critic.
Pursuing growth and achievement can easily lead to creating unrealistic expectations for myself.
If I don’t attain this impossibly high bar, I judge myself in being an utter failure.
Always setting goals that are impossible to meet means I will never be successful in my own eyes. And this is a problem.
It becomes about setting goals that will push us to become better, but understanding that our success is not always about reaching our goals 100% of the time.
If we are always hitting our goals, then we might be setting the bar too low. If we are constantly missing our goals, the bar might be too high.
I love hitting my goals. So I find that setting goals I know I can hit, combined with goals that stretch me, is a great combo. That way I boost my confidence level, while also pushing things forward.
It becomes about balancing pushing things forward and getting shit done.
Working Too Much
I’m a huge proponent of working hard to be successful in your career.
But there is a point where working too much can mean we are pursuing perfection. There is no project that we can make 100% perfect in all ways. And we need to be okay with that.
We should focus on doing the best we can, but not expecting ourselves to meet unrealistic deadlines and projects that are out of our control.
Over the years I’ve pushed myself to get more done in less time. I did this by creating systems that save my team time, and learning how to communicate effectively in my job.
But I’m also learning it is okay to say “no”. In fact, if you are a high impact employee, I think this becomes necessary. Otherwise, it becomes too easy to commit to doing too much and setting yourself up to have to work extra hours to meet expectations.
If your employer gets used to you putting in 50-60 hours per week, they will most likely expect that in the future. If they understand that you set boundaries on when and how much you work, they will learn to respect your time.
I also question my productivity level when I work extra.
When I’m at the top of my game and not working extra, my mindset is more fine-tuned, and I tend to solve problems faster. When I’m working 60 hours a week, my head starts to get “mushy”, and I usually waste more time.
In other words, my value per hour goes down when I’m tired, stressed and frustrated.
You Are Not Alone
If you are doing great, but your projects are failing, that doesn’t benefit you. People have thought they were doing great, only to find out their company is going out of business.
In other words, life is not just about YOU. It is about what you are delivering to your clients. It is about how profitable the company is.
Your work problems are not only your problems. They are company problems. And the team should work to solve those problems.
Realizing that you are a part of a team is refreshing because you know that not every problem should fall on your shoulders. You are only one person that makes up the whole company.
It is as if a country went to war and sent only one person into battle. The whole outcome of the war depends on that one person. But that is not typically how life works.
The success of your company depends on the team and not one person.
Asking for Help Does Not Reveal Weakness
There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, this is part of what makes the best teams. They all lean on each other.
If you are struggling, not asking for help can waste time and energy. Your work colleague might have solved the same problem in the past. But you won’t know if you don’t ask.
When we remove our ego from the equation, knowledge should flow freely.
The flip side is if you continuously ask the same questions, this probably means you aren’t taking notes on how to solve this re-occurring problem. We shouldn’t feel guilty asking for help, but we also need to be organized, so we don’t have to ask the same questions and learn from the shared knowledge.
In most cases, people want to share their knowledge. They will take it as a compliment that you are going to them for advice.
I’m learning that I expect more from myself than most people.
In some ways, this has driven me to success. I always want to push things forward and get shit done.
But this has also caused me to doubt my abilities. One thing I have started to do is reflecting on my accomplishments.
You don’t want to become arrogant, as this can hinder your ability to learn from your mistakes. But visualizing what you have done over the years can be a confidence booster.
When our confidence level is high, we avoid crippling our progress.
When my confidence is low, this causes me to be fearful. What if I mess up? What if I come into work tomorrow and get fired?
Being scared prevents us from being the best version of ourselves. This not only hurts you, but it affects the full team.
Imposter syndrome makes us experience fear for no reason.
So what if you mess up?
For me, Imposter Syndrome made me fearful of messing up.
But making mistakes is a great way of pushing things forward. The more we learn, the less we mess up.
Unless your coworkers are jerks, they realize that everyone makes mistakes. The focus is not on avoiding mistakes at all costs but learning from them.
When you feel part of the team, you become less concerned about messing up and more focused on making the whole team successful.
Get Out of Your Head
What has helped me in dealing with imposter syndrome has been thinking about the worst possible scenarios.
So what if I end up getting fired? Chances are, I can easily find another job. Also, the probability of me making a massive mistake that would risk my job is low, given my experience.
It is interesting to think about how our thoughts can work against us.
When you find yourself becoming fearful about your job, or comparing yourself with others, think about all the ways you contribute to your team.
Chances are, you are much more valuable to your team than you think.
Imposter syndrome is real. It can take down your confidence level, and cause you to experience fear.
But when you tackle your insecurities, you often will find they are unfounded and not real. You are an asset to your team, and these thoughts are only going to hurt your progress.
Focusing on what you have accomplished and your experience can help you eradicate the fear caused by imposter syndrome.
Have you experienced imposter syndrome? How have you dealt with these feelings?