Impostor Syndrome: The Biggest Enemy to Your Progress is Your Ego

Today I want to take a look at 'Impostor Syndrome' from a different angle. 'Impostor Syndrome' is spoken about a lot in the developer community. So much so that I didn't really want to write about it, until I realised I have a slightly different perspective on it.

For those who aren't familiar with this term, it's used to describe that feeling when you're sure you don't know what you're doing, and that you're wildly un- or under-qualified to be doing your job. It's usually paired with the sensation that everyone else seems to have their shit together, and it's only a matter of time before they discover your deep, dark secret: that you have no clue and you are an impostor.

Normally, you'll see bloggers, tweeters, and people of all different stripes come out to reassure you that it's OK to feel impostor syndrome, that you're not alone, that we're all struggling together. This is true, and it is one way of looking at the issue.

My way is a bit different. To me, impostor syndrome represents your ego crying out for validation. "I thought I was smart," part of you is thinking, "Why can't I understand this?". Perhaps you have lower self-esteem (we've all been there, solidarity!) and don't think the first part of this phrase is relevant to you. Well sorry, it is. If you really had no or low expectations of yourself, then you wouldn't feel what we call the 'sinking sensation', which is disappointment or the realisation that something is wrong. If you really, truly believed you weren't intelligent or worthy, then you wouldn't even need the term 'Impostor Syndrome', because to you it would just be 'Normal Syndrome'. To fall, you need a certain height to fall from.

For what it's worth, I'm a believer that self-confidence is incredibly important, and that everyone should feel excited and proud of their abilities. There is nothing wrong with having a healthy ego, as long as it doesn't transform into a superiority complex. I love talking about ways to improve self-esteem and self-confidence, and it's something I'll definitely be writing about in the future.

But...

When it comes to learning and self-development of any kind, your ego is your enemy.

Impostor Syndrome occurs because you expect yourself to be good already. Instead, expect yourself to learn something to become the best you can be in future.

Go into every discussion yearning for something new to learn. Go into every code review wanting to find a point of improvement. Go into every conversation striving to become a better friend or colleague. Rather than letting failure and correction be a blow to your ego, you have to find a way to view them as stepping stones to a better future.

When you are learning a new skill, reviewing your work with a colleague, or asking for feedback, you are opening yourself up to criticism. If you come at these situations with an attitude of 'There is so much to learn, and so much I don't even know I don't know', you can view every point of constructive criticism with grace and gratitude. Not only does this make the whole situation easier for you and your self-esteem, but it is also a lot more pleasant for others to be around.

My code is inefficient? I had no idea! How can I improve it?

I took too long completing this section of the project? I guess I have to work on time management! Any suggestions?

My approach to this question was totally wrong? I used what I had, but if there's another tool I can add then that's great. How would you go about it?

If you adopt this attitude and learn to approach work and life from a position of "What can I learn from this?" rather than "How can I prove myself?", then Impostor Syndrome becomes irrelevant. Even if you do know less than every other member on your team, suddenly it's nothing to be scared of or ashamed about. It's just the starting point for a lifetime of learning and growing, and what you'll find is that when you open yourself up to learning more about your work and the people around you, they will open up to teaching you and they will become invested in your success.

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