Battling Imposter Syndrome

Does this sound like anyone you know?

I’m not qualified for the work I’m doing. It’s only luck that I got this far in my profession without being found out. I’ve forgotten just about everything I learned in school about how to do this job. Other people really know what they’re doing, and I’m just faking it. One day they’ll find out, and no one will ever hire me again.

If you think I’m writing about you – don’t worry, I’m not. Well, not intentionally. I could just be writing about myself, or about the thousands of others out there with a dose of Imposter Syndrome. Because we work without the benefit of in-person co-workers to compare ourselves to, web workers may be peculiarly prone to this disorder. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be scary.

When I mention Imposter Syndrome to other folks I’ve met online, the first reaction is often the same: “you mean there are other people who feel this way too?” Knowing that, in fact, is a big step towards realizing that your feelings of inadequacy are, in fact, normal. There may be, somewhere, people who feel like they’re always at the top of their game and that they know precisely how to do every task they’re faced with. But I can’t say that I’ve met a lot of them in software development or writing, the two professions I spend the most time with.

The fact is, if you’re a successful web worker – by which I mean that you’re managing to get paid for your work – you’re very likely dealing with a complex set of issues on a daily basis. No one really expects you to have every detail of your chosen field at the tip of your tongue at all times. What’s important is knowing where to find things as you need them, and keeping customers happy by delivering satisfactory work on time. If you’re managing that, you’re not a failure.

If you find yourself facing desperate feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy on a regular basis, here are a few tips:

  • Watch out for “automatic thoughts” – if things like “I’m not smart enough” and “I can’t do that” pop into your head whenever you’re faced with something new, learn to recognize this reaction. Get some details on the job and think about your strategy before you jump to conclusions.
  • Think about the difference between feelings and reality. You’re smart enough to know that “I feel stupid” isn’t the same as “I am stupid.”
  • Keep track of your successes. When you complete some tricky piece of work and feel good about it, add it to a list or a blog that you can refer back to when you need a reminder of your own competence.
  • Keep some perspective. If you make a small mistake, look back at the list of big successes. Not every task is created equal.
  • Seek some support. Recognize that it’s OK to ask for help if you have a contact or co-worker who is skilled in a particular area. They may come back to you for help in turn when you’re more up on some job than they are.

Has Imposter Syndrome been an issue in your own web work? How have you learned to cope?

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