Over the past year and a half I quit my job and decided to pursue a career in Software Engineering. I completed a Software Engineering boot camp and began my new career. This was a huge change that was sometimes terrifying to make. My journey throughout this transition has been filled with a lot of Impostor Syndrome. These are some of the things I have learned about Impostor Syndrome and how to deal with it through making this transition.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that can cause someone to feel like they are a fraud. It can cause a person to discount or downplay their own accomplishments or to think that their accomplishments are the result of luck, not skill or work. It can also cause someone to doubt their abilities or make them feel like they are not good enough.
Identifying Impostor Syndrome
Simply recognizing when you are feeling Impostor Syndrome is an important first step to overcoming it. The thoughts and feelings created by Impostor Syndrome are very real and very valid but they are not logical. They come from a place of fear, not a place of truth.
Simply recognizing when a feeling of inadequacy or anxiety is being caused by Impostor Syndrome can cause you to reevaluate these thoughts with a more critical lens. In my experience, questioning these feelings can make them feel a little less real and is a great starting point at pushing back on them.
It’s Okay to Be a Beginner
A time when we are all likely to experience Impostor Syndrome is when we are learning something, especially when that something is brand new to us. When you are a beginner you are likely to have questions, make mistakes, and maybe feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. This is all part of the nature of being a beginner. It is important to let yourself be a beginner and have patience with yourself when you get lost, have questions, or make mistakes.
When I was in my boot camp and when I was training for my job it could be hard sometimes to not feel frustrated with myself or be hard on myself for not understanding something or doing something as well as I would have liked. In these times it was helpful to remind myself that I was a beginner and I was learning. There was nothing wrong with me because I didn’t know everything. Just because I didn’t understand everything perfectly immediately, it didn’t mean I would never understand it well. I wasn’t there because I had all the answers; I was there to learn.
When we are learning something or trying something new, it is normal and natural to want to know how we are doing. One way we tend to evaluate this is by comparing ourselves to other people. Although comparison can be an effective tool, it is important to think of these comparisons in a holistic way that accounts for nuances. When I was doing my programming boot camp, there were many different people with many different backgrounds and levels of familiarity with programming. There were people who had only done the pre-work for the program and people who had extensive experience with programming. Some of these people knew other programming languages, had built out entire functioning projects with other languages, or had worked with other languages in jobs they had previously held.
The people who had prior experience with programming did better in the course, especially in the beginning. It was hard not to compare myself with them and compare my projects to theirs without feeling demoralized. Theirs were cleaner, had more features, had features that were more impressive, and seemed all around better to me.This made perfect sense. I was a beginner. I was completely new to this and they were not. They came into the program understanding things that I had yet to see.
At the beginning of the program a direct comparison between me and my fellow students who had more experience would not have favored me. However, for me, it was important to keep in mind the context of the situation. I was not comparing an apple to an apple. I was comparing a seed to a sprout. At the time, I was not as good of a programmer as they were but did this mean I was a bad programmer? No. Did this mean I could never be as good as they were? No. It only meant that I had more to learn than they did. For me, it was important to remember that having more to learn was in no way a detriment. It meant nothing for my capacity to learn.
Never Stop Asking Questions
When we are in a new situation or learning something new there is nothing more normal than having questions. However, if someone is experiencing Impostor Syndrome they may feel like they should not be asking questions or they may feel like they are asking too many questions. Impostor Syndrome can make having questions feel like a bad thing. People may feel like others will think they don’t know things they should or are incapable of doing things. It is important to remember that having questions is not a sign of weakness or ineptitude. Asking questions is not the equivalent of admitting that you weren’t able to do something on your own. Asking questions is not a way to confirm every fallacy Impostor Syndrome makes you think about yourself. Having and asking questions is simply a way to learn and improve.
If you have a question but do not ask it because you do not want to feel like people are judging you then you are only doing yourself a disservice. You may feel like you do not want people to look at you like you don’t know things but by not seeking information you are making yourself the thing you don’t want others to see you as. It is like a self fulfilling prophecy.
The Upside of Repeated Impostor Syndrome
Each step in my journey from interviewing for my boot camp to starting work with my team has come with its own wave of Impostor Syndrome. Each time I felt a new wave of it the feeling became more and more familiar. The more familiar Impostor Syndrome became, the easier it was to dismiss.
When I was interviewing for my boot camp, I was worried that there was somehow something wrong with me that would prevent me from being able to learn programming. Sounds a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? When I was finishing my training program and getting ready to join my new team I would sometimes think that I was on the verge of having everyone discover that I was actually an idiot who didn’t know what they were doing. Again, sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? However, after having experienced multiple waves of Impostor Syndrome over the previous few months, it was easy for me to realize this was just Impostor Syndrome at work and to counter those thoughts. I was able to realize that I was nervous about joining my new team, which was normal and to be expected, and just as easily as those thoughts had sprung up I was able to tell myself why they were not true.