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The impostor syndrome — do you suffer from it?

Have you ever thought that you shouldn’t do something because others are better than you? Perhaps once in a while you are attacked by the feeling that you are cheating others?

I’ll start with a bold statement that I’m pretty sure that most of us suffer or at least suffered from the impostor syndrome. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just begun your journey in software development or you’ve been a well-paid, successful programmer for many years, you can and you will likely face the impostor syndrome. In fact, there are lots of well-known people who have reportedly experienced this phenomenon and the list includes stars like Tom Hanks, Michelle Pfeiffer or Emma Watson. Can you imagine Tom Hanks doubting the greatness of his appearance in Forrest Gump? Me neither. ‍🤷‍♂️

What is it?

Official definition — Impostor syndrome, also known as fraud syndrome, is a psychological state in which a person starts to doubt their abilities and accomplishments. It is a type of disorder that makes people feel like they are surrounded by individuals better than them and that they got to the point where they are by deceit and cheating. It causes a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud, either in personal or professional life. This phenomenon was first described in a study made in 1978 by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.

My definition — Impostor syndrome is a feeling that makes people hold back in personal and professional life, because they think that people like them couldn’t possibly triumph. We leave the possibility of success to others, because we don’t seem to ourselves to be anything like the people we observe around us or admire.

It turns out, that software development is one of the professions most prone to impostor syndrome.

What causes this syndrome?

1. Social media 🙍‍♀️📱🙍‍♂️

The ubiquitous dictatorship of happiness in social media only deepens our feeling of being worse than the others. ~ develobear

I’ll try to explain it using the example of “my friend” who just started to write his blog about front-end development and all the stuff connected to it (yes, you’ve guessed it right, I’m writing about myself).

“My friend’s” blog

Let’s say that you’re trying to write a post. You’ve only recently started to run your blog and it’s hard for you to generate meaningful content in a blink of an eye. Finally, after trying to write something for a few hours, you have a note you could publish. But you decide that it is not good enough and you simply delete it. After all, you don’t want people to make fun of you. You become scared that someone more experienced than you will read it and tell you that it’s bad or you’ve made a mistake. After a few tries you finally write something that isn’t “ugh”, but it’s “meeeh” so, after another few hours of “refactoring” it, you decide to hit the publish button. And immediately you start to feel like a fraud, because you don’t believe you know enough and you’re scared that someone will expose you.

In the meantime, you encounter a great technical blog post just recently shared on Twitter with lots of hype around it. And you start to think that a person who created it just sat in front of their laptop with an espresso, a glass of water and before they finished drinking it, they’ve already had a great article ready to publish. That’s because almost no one will publish a status in which they admitted that they — just like you at the moment — struggled to write another blog post. Beneath the polished surface of their image they hide struggling, fatigue and uncertainty.

By observing social media and the internet you start to think that you are not a person suitable for success. The same applies to…

2. Speaking at conferences 🎙

People often feel the impostor syndrome while thinking about speaking at tech conferences. Unless you prepare a speech about the future of React or any other thing that you are sure that no one will know about, you may probably encounter a feeling that somewhere among the audience there are people who know much more about the subject than you. It creates a feeling that you shouldn’t be there giving a speech, because there are people who know better. And that’s where people often tend to hold back and give up on their plans and dreams, like speaking at conferences and becoming better developers.

3. Fast pace and diversity of software development profession 🏎

The nature of the software development industry is fast-paced and diverse. That’s what makes our job as software developers so interesting and, in a good way, demanding. However, it means that we are constantly faced with new things that we have no idea about. We join new projects and work with different teams that are quite often using technologies we aren’t familiar with. We switch companies and have to learn a new approach to things we already knew before. This industry is constantly evolving and growing to the point where even while you’re in the middle of learning or implementing a new feature, it could potentially get outdated. Lots of tools and libs we use on a daily basis can get a deprecation warning during the lifespan of the project. Therefore, we constantly get a feeling that we are not able to keep up. And also, throughout the journey we encounter people that are familiar with the specific technologies we need to learn. What we don’t realize though, is that they go through the same journey themselves.

4. Information overload 📚

The internet gives us a more or less unrestricted access to information from all around the world. Want to attend React Conf but you live 10000km away from Las Vegas? No problem, just fire up a live stream and enjoy. Want to hear about the latest changes in React? No problem, just follow one of the guys or girls from the React team on Twitter and you’ll learn something new each and every day. In addition, knowledge from our industry is constantly multiplying. There are new trends and tools that a year ago weren’t even published yet and now we use them on production. It increases stress and a sense of uncertainty in us because we constantly feel like there is something we should know, and we blame ourselves for not knowing it.

Is it really that bad?

Kings and philosophers shit and so do ladies. 💩

~ Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

While the quote itself seems quite humorous, it accurately illustrates what I want you to learn from this blog post. (I’m also pretty sure that de Montaigne wrote this in French and didn’t use an emoji 😛)

Now that you know what the impostor syndrome is all about, I want you to know that it is not that bad at all. It may even become helpful but you must realize that all the people you admire basically encounter similar difficulties as ourselves. We know ourselves from the inside, but we only know others from the outside. The more front-end way to say that is that we know the front-end, the back-end, basically every line of code we consist of, but we only the “UI design” of other people (unless it’s dark, then we only know the wireframes). As soon as we realize that; we may be able to overcome the feeling and start doing things that we wouldn’t do before. This blog proves that.

Why is it good for us?

The impostor syndrome indicates that we are getting out of our comfort zones. And that means that we are developing ourselves, we are growing. Remember, as soon as you start to feel like the smartest and the most talented person in the room, it means that you are in the wrong room. So always aim to feel and chase the impostor syndrome. It will make you do things that you wouldn’t have done before. It will also help you become a person you previously only admired.

Hey, one more thing. I’ve created the graphics with the help of www.vecteezy.com