Issue 8 – Is it really Imposter Syndrome?
Welcome back to The Modern Software Developer; in last month’s issue, we discussed the importance of taking responsibility and how it can impact your personal and professional success. In this month’s issue, I’m kicking off a mini-series on imposter syndrome by asking, is it really imposter syndrome?
Many people were unfamiliar with imposter syndrome until relatively recently, but now it’s all over social media.
Most of what is written is well-intentioned, much of it is useful, and some of it is misguided.
If anything, there is almost too much of it out there now (he says while writing yet another blog on the topic!), and I feel that the lines of what imposter syndrome actually is are getting blurred by the day.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Let’s kick off with a fairly common definition:
Let’s break this down.
A psychological pattern
Firstly, pay attention to the term “A psychological pattern”, in other words, ways of thinking.
So imposter syndrome is caused by doubts or, more generally, thoughts that you have about your skills, talents, accomplishments etc.
But everyone has doubts, right? So, does everyone have imposter syndrome?
Not so fast.
Part of what makes those feelings imposter syndrome is that those thoughts are inaccurate when compared to the reality of your skills, talents and accomplishments.
So to be clear, you definitely don’t have imposter syndrome if you think your skills, talents, and accomplishments aren’t up to scratch and that thinking matches the reality…
I see so many people self-diagnosing with imposter syndrome. When you self-diagnose with imposter syndrome, by definition, you’re accepting that your thoughts are inaccurate when compared to the reality of your skills, talents and accomplishments; remember this when you come to trying to tackle it…
It’s fair to say that the way you think about yourself and the world around you has a massive impact on how you feel and behave. We’ll delve deeper into this later in the series, but to give you a hint, you have more control over how you think than most people realise.
Secondly, the use of the word persistent indicates that you have these thoughts often and potentially over a significant time period.
We are not talking about fleeting thoughts of self-doubt here; that’s not the same thing.
Taking that a little further, you could experience imposter-like feelings, but that doesn’t automatically mean you have or suffer from imposter syndrome.
Labelling yourself as having imposter syndrome in this situation could be quite damaging, especially if you subscribe to a common belief that imposter syndrome never goes away. (More on this later)
Evidence of competency
Thirdly, on top of these thoughts being persistent, what makes this different from a bout of self-doubt is the fact that there exists evidence of your competence.
You have a track record, you’ve done this before, you’ve proved that you’re capable, and even other people recognise your skills and accomplishments.
To Summarise Imposter Syndrome:
👉 It’s caused by thoughts that don’t match reality.
👉 Those thoughts are persistent.
👉 Evidence exists of your competence.
Everyone has self-doubt and limiting beliefs about what we can and can’t do, and although this may contribute to it, it isn’t, as many people claim, automatically a case of imposter syndrome.
Feeling fear, doubt or a lack of confidence because you’re doing something outside your comfort zone is not necessarily imposter syndrome either.
When you’re outside your comfort zone, you may lack evidence of your competence in that situation. Is that an opportunity for growth? Absolutely. Are those feelings imposter syndrome? Not necessarily…
Before assigning yourself such a label, ask yourself: Is it really Imposter Syndrome?
Five Types of “Imposters”
Many people don’t realise, but if we dig a little deeper, we find that there are some common types of “imposters”, which might explain why we see so much of it mentioned in software development.
Consider whether you relate to any of these or if you know someone that does.
According to leading imposter syndrome researcher Dr. Valerie Young, there are five main types of identified “imposters”.
The Natural Genius
The Natural Genius is an imposter who easily picks up new skills and expects to understand new concepts quickly. They set massive goals and become discouraged when they don’t succeed immediately.
They believe that competent people can handle anything easily, leading them to feel like a fraud when they struggle. They may feel ashamed and embarrassed when things don’t come easily on their first try, even if they ultimately succeed.
The Perfectionist imposter sets super high standards for themselves but is unable to meet them as perfection is unattainable.
They focus on their mistakes instead of their hard work and accomplishments and feel ashamed of what they perceive as failure.
This can lead to avoiding new experiences out of fear of not being able to achieve perfection.
The Soloist imposter prefers to work alone and believes they should be able to handle everything independently. They base their self-worth on their productivity and reject offers of help, seeing it as a sign of weakness.
Asking for help or accepting support means admitting inadequacies and failure to meet their own high standards.
The Superhero imposter links competence to success in all roles they perform, feeling inadequate if they can’t navigate them all successfully.
They push themselves to the limit to prove their worth but still may not be satisfied. They may think they should be able to do more and that it should be easier.
The Expert imposter believes they must know everything about a topic before considering their work a success. They can spend too much time in pursuit of knowledge and neglect their main tasks.
Despite their skills, they undervalue their expertise and regard themselves as a fraud when they can’t answer a question or encounter new information.
They are never satisfied with their level of understanding.
In addition to all of this, people suffering from imposter syndrome often attribute their achievements or success to external factors, such as coincidence, luck or the actions of others, rather than their own choices, talent, experience, work ethic or values.
You might say they have an external locus of control, and this is a huge contributing factor in how they explain away the body of evidence of their competency that would otherwise back up their current position.
You can read more on External Locus of Control, and its counterpart, Internal Locus of Control, in my previous newsletter issue on the importance of taking responsibility here.
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Does Imposter Syndrome ever go away?
As well as being thrown around somewhat too liberally, in my opinion, there are also a few other ideas related to imposter syndrome that could be quite damaging.
Here’s something I see a lot…
It’s well-intentioned and is often accompanied by sentiments of seeing it as proof that you’re growing…
But I don’t buy it.
You need to be careful.
If you believe that imposter syndrome never goes away, it probably never will. You won’t try to do anything about it, and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You don’t need to feel like an imposter to prove you’re growing…
There’s a much easier way:
👉 Set goals…
👉 Create a plan…
👉 Take action…
This was a bit of a deep dive into what I think Imposter Syndrome is and how I think it’s thrown around far too liberally.
Some people even suggest that it never goes away and that we should just accept it and get used to it…
I completely disagree and believe it could be damaging for you to believe this.
In part two, I’ll discuss specifics about how imposter syndrome shows up in software development, how it takes hold in your mind, and its impact on software developers.
And in part three, I’ll dive into how you can start to tackle it.
It’s not selfish to put yourself first; there’s nothing more important than your own wellbeing!
Please share with your network if you found this useful.
Until next time…
How I can help you
Software Development organisations:
- Issue 14 – Getting into software development
- Issue 13 – Software Developers – Your Wellbeing
- Issue 12 – Software Developers – What Do You Really Want?
- Issue 11 – How to Beat Imposter Syndrome
- Issue 10 – My Imposter Syndrome Story
- Issue 9 – Peeling Back the Layers: 5 Key Influences Behind Imposter Syndrome
- Issue 8 – Is it really Imposter Syndrome?
- Issue 7 – Taking responsibility: From personal growth to professional success
- Issue 6 – Misunderstanding Focus
- Issue 5 – Pair Programming is more about people than coding
- Issue 4 – You might regret not getting enough Sleep
- Issue 3 – Are your Beliefs holding you back?
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