Have you ever felt overwhelming self-doubt when trying to solve a problem? Have you ever been in a situation where you set unrealistically high goals and then feel disappointed when you fall short? You are not alone! This is a very common issue developers face called Imposter Syndrome.
“Why didn’t they hire someone smarter?”
This thought rang through my head as I was totally and completely stuck trying to write a complex SQL statement. I needed to combine data from multiple database tables, filter out unneeded data, and aggregate the subset of data into one cohesive dataset. In my head, I could work through the logic and steps I thought I should take, but I could not translate that into workable SQL.
“I can’t ask my senior developer; he’ll know I’m a failure!”
I was filled with dread at the thought of asking for help, again. I wanted to be seen as smart and able to solve all my own problems. Asking for help would admit I failed and couldn’t do my job, right?
Eventually, I reached out for help, and I wasn’t shamed or talked down to. Instead, I was reassured this was a complex problem and it took our best senior developer a short while to solve the issue. In fact, the only “failure” that occurred was my reluctance to reach out for help when I was stuck.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Many of us experience imposter syndrome to some degree (at least 70% of us), throughout our personal and professional lives. Imposter syndrome is a very interesting topic, but the basic idea is that a person doubts their skills or feels like a fraud, and that, at any moment, their friends, colleagues, or employer will discover their supposed incompetence. The individual suspects they’ve only reached this point in their life through sheer luck, and it’s only a matter of time before everyone knows.
There are several variants in which imposter syndrome may manifest itself. In my story, I fell into the “Soloist” category. This meant that I felt the need to accomplish the task totally on my own. In my head, asking for help would mean I failed. I encourage you to read about the other types of “imposters” that exist.
Expose the Pattern
Imposter syndrome is a cyclical pattern of minor setbacks/problems combined with negative feelings that repeat over and over. This feedback loop can be internalized and amplified over time. A person who sets high expectations for themselves and feels they do not measure up to those standards feels like they are a failure. Oftentimes, the expectations are unreasonably high and thus never truly attainable.
I must admit, after writing my thoughts down and reading through them, it seems a bit silly to get stuck in a negative loop. It is easy from the outside to think that, but can be difficult to acknowledge in the middle of a challenging situation. It’s also my personal feeling that imposter syndrome is prevalent in developers, especially newer ones.
What can I do?
I think there are many solutions, but the primary one is to stick with it! Keep trying to solve the problem. Are you stuck? Well ask a teammate or friend for assistance! Maybe take a break and go for a walk. I find that a solution or new approach will often make itself known while your brain is doing other tasks. Acknowledge your imposter feelings and then realize they are overly critical and unhelpful. I think it is worthwhile to discuss imposter syndrome and see that others struggle with it too.
Want to learn more about Imposter Syndrome? Check out these resources:
- Yes, Imposter Syndrome is Real. Here’s How to Deal With it
- Thinking your way out of imposter syndrome (TED talk with Valerie Young)
- Feel like a fraud?
- The Surprising Solution to the Imposter Syndrome (TED talk with Lou Solomon)
Want to hear more from GEO Jobe? Check out some of our recent articles or subscribe to our blog.