Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just not good enough? Like you’re a fraud and it’s only a matter of time until you get found out and lose your high-paying programming job?
Or maybe that any success you’ve had so far is just blind luck?
Well, you’re not alone in this. In fact, this question of feeling like you’re not good enough and how to get past it came up repeatedly in almost all of our recent Developer AMA's on the ZTM Campus.
It’s a terrible experience and anyone can suffer from this, but it’s increasingly common in professional roles - especially if you’re just starting out in a new industry but it's also common with people who've been in a role for a few years. In fact, there are specific reasons why programmers can keep feeling this way, which will become clear soon.
The good news is that in this article we’re not only going to explain these anxiety and imposter triggers and what they are, but we’ll also look at how they might be affecting you specifically.
Better still, we’re also going to give you some tips and tricks on how to get past this feeling of being an imposter so that it no longer has control over you.
Sounds good? Well, let’s dive in!...
Sometimes known as the ‘imposter phenomenon’, ‘imposter experience’, or even ‘pluralistic ignorance’, Imposter Syndrome is a feeling that you’re unworthy of your current success.
You feel that somehow you’ve tricked everyone and it’s only a matter of time before everyone realizes and it all comes crashing down.
The thing is, it’s all in your head. In fact, top performers in multiple fields also suffer from this in some shape or form. Even Albert Einstein thought he was undeserving of the level of praise for his work, while Tom Hanks can’t understand why he keeps getting hired!
You might think it’s because of a disease, a mental illness, depression, or even general anxiety, but the reality is that imposter syndrome is not explicitly tied to these.
Sure, these issues or mental states can be a trigger of imposter syndrome and vice versa, but the actual root cause of this fraud-like feeling is more likely to be based on your current situation, any large life changes, and how you function as a person. You can be perfectly happy in all other aspects of life and still feel like an imposter.
In fact, imposter syndrome is incredibly common across all races, gender, age, and occupations, although it is more frequently experienced by people who are highly accomplished. The reason for this is they will often look at their peers and their success and feel that their peers are more deserving than they are themselves.
“That person is doing such amazing work... I’m clearly faking it compared to them.”
The thing is, because so few people talk about this openly, you make the mistake of thinking that it’s only you who feels this way.
The reality is we all feel like imposters from time to time. The trick of course is both knowing this, and then learning how to deal with it so that it doesn't stop us from performing our best or limiting our careers.
So what triggers imposter syndrome?
Well the reality is, there’s a few different things that can cause it based on your personality, current situation and prior life experiences and how you use those to deal with stress.
We can bucket these into 5 groups or ‘archetypes’:
Some people actually overlap between a few of these but let's break them down. The sooner you understand them and what’s causing these feelings, the quicker you can recognize the triggers and start moving past it…
Perfectionists are driven by the achievement of goals. They set a very high bar for themselves and others, and when it’s not met they suffer from self-doubts and fears.
This is especially common in high performing professionals who compare themselves to their peers, and their successes.
Common signs of a perfectionist are:
The thing is, there is no perfect state. Even if it's achieved, it's over as soon as it's accomplished, and so living like this creates large highs and lows.
Olympic athletes struggle with this as they train their entire life for this one event, and even if they win, they get depressed after.
So how can we get past these archetype triggers?
The superhuman feels like a fraud among their peers. This causes them to put in more hours, longer days, weekends etc. Anything to help them feel like they are deserving of their success and mask their fears and insecurities.
The thing is, this excess workload brings exhaustion and poor work quality, which then causes a lack of external activities, often sacrificing social interactions, hobbies and personal relationships.
This type of archetype is very often seen in people who have recently found success, and this happens a LOT in programming.
Well, what other industry can you go from being a waiter struggling to pay bills and learning to code on your days off, to getting a junior position with a 6 figure salary almost overnight?
This life change is a huge shock to your system and you can feel like a fraud but know that you are good enough to be where you are right now!
So how can you get past this?
The soloist tries to do everything on their own. In their mind, they feel that asking for help may seem like weakness, and they'll be seen as a fraud.
If you work in tech then chances are you may be slightly introverted and that’s totally fine. You have to understand though that asking for help is actually a sign of strength.
It shows you’re willing to accept when you can’t do something right now, and that you’re willing to learn so that you can do it in the future.
Oftentimes this leads to you being far more confident and removing any self doubts about yourself. Communication is key for this archetype. Ask for help. Tell people you don’t know. Try to learn.
Sure, as programmers there's a lot of Google-Fu, but you can also lean on your peers and management.
The key is to try and figure out a problem yourself first but to not "spin your wheels" for hours on the problem.
If they aren't sure either, ask your boss by explaining what you've done so far to try and solve the problem on your own. Even better if you can outline a few potential solutions you've found but just need their help identifying the best one.
Trust me on this, your boss will appreciate the fact that you tried to solve the problem in multiple ways first but also didn't waste your whole day trying to be a Soloist hero (which is counter productive).
They’ll see this as a plus in your skillset. It’s far better to have an employee who accepts their flaws and keeps learning and working on them, then it is to have one who never learns or asks for help.
You’ll get tasks done faster and avoid burnout!
A combination of the soloist and perfectionist, the Natural Genius measures their self worth with the ease they can do something.
Often extremely talented or praised from an early age, these people pick up tasks easily. The problem being is that when things are hard, they suffer from self doubt, procrastination and self sabotage.
So how can we get past this?
Building your first project or learning a new skill on your own will be excruciating and feel like it's taking forever, but throughout that process you are learning so much... way more than any tutorial. And the feeling you'll get once it's done will be pure joy and make you want to try something just a little harder next time and then it snowballs from there.
This is how we structure courses at ZTM because we understand this. Our goal is to get you creating something as early as possible in your learning process, but it works for your own external projects too. You start building and go back to different tutorials and search google any time you get stuck... this is also training you for the real world because in the real world you aren't following along with a tutorial, you are "figuring it out"
You just have to make sure that you start and build and don't get stuck in 'tutorial hell!'.
The Expert places their value on how much they know on a topic. If they don’t know something, they feel like they’re a fraud and so they’re constantly learning.
That’s not a bad thing as it can lead to more knowledge, but the expert will often avoid opportunities unless they meet or exceed all criteria, or procrastinate and never start something which is madness.
Not only will you learn more by doing and learning what you need when it’s needed, but sometimes job offers will ask for 2 years of experience for languages that are 6 months old…
This archetype can actually lead to a lot of self doubt and then ironically, being dicks to people who know less or make a mistake.
This is another archetype that is common amongst people learning to code and anyone learning a new skill.
They try to memorize every piece of syntax and take 10 courses on the same language before they feel "good enough". This tends to just lead to taking 10 more courses, and so on.
So how can we get past this?
We teach you only what you need to know to get hired (or promoted) because the best learning comes from actually building things yourself and then working on a team at a real company.
The rest you can pick up or find out on the way.
So now that you know the types of imposter syndrome and what the signals are, let’s look at 9 simple ways to work through them.
If we're being honest, it sucks but imposter syndrome never really goes away.
The key is to learn how to deal with it so you can remove that fear and doubt or better still, learn to harness it.
Well, it may seem hard right now but if you can face your issues and doubts head on, you’ll soon see that the image in your head and the actual reality was either nothing at all, or much less important.
Do this often enough and you’ll start to see that fear as the sign that this is something important that you should get done. You can use it as a radar for those big opportunities that you might have said no to before!
Is it scary? Then do it!
And trust me on this. I don’t know your current situation but I have no doubt that you deserve the success you have right now and any future wins also. You got this buddy 😀