During my college years, I was driven, hard-working and ambitious. If you looked at my LinkedIn you would think I had it all --- great internships, open source contributions, volunteer work etc. However, I was never truly happy, I always felt that I did not deserve any of the good things that were happening to me. I attributed all my achievements to luck.
My feelings intensified during my first week of my summer internship at Google. Everyone around me was super smart. They had studied from the top universities in the world or had a resume that was in the top 1% of Computer Science students. I was not from a top college, heck, I wasn't even a Computer Science student, what was I doing amongst them? I was confident that I would fail at this internship and would not be able to complete my project. I reached out to my college senior who had been working at the same company for quite some time with my concerns, he told me point blank, "This is Impostor Syndrome".
He helped me by telling me his own experiences and sending me resources about it. I cannot say that I no longer suffer from Impostor Syndrome, however I have learned to manage it and do not let it affect my normal life. In this post, I hope to share my experiences and observations about it.
The American Pyschological Association describes it as :
First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalise and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.
Though the impostor phenomenon isn't an official diagnosis listed in the DSM, psychologists and others acknowledge that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. Impostor feelings are generally accompanied by anxiety and, often, depression.
If you've ever felt like a fraud, doubted your skills, attributing every achievement to luck --- you have most likely suffered from impostor syndrome at some time. Most people at some point in their careers have felt undeserving of their success. Though this syndrome is universal, age, race, and gender play a big part.
After my senior told me that I suffered from impostor syndrome, I started noticing the unhealthy behavioral patterns I had.
If I achieved anything, I would guard that good news with secrecy for the fear that people would confirm what I already knew, that I wasn't good enough. When asked to review code, even if I would be 100% sure that the other person needed improvement, I wouldn't point it out until it was an obvious mistake. Tech isn't easy, coding is hard, understanding huge codebases in a new language takes time. Even after knowing this, whenever I would be given a new task, my first reaction would be self-doubt and anxiety of whether I would be able to do it or not. If I cracked an interview, I thought it was because the interviewer asked me things that I knew! I was turning into a workaholic and heading towards burnout because I believed that I would have to work extra hard to prove I was worthy. I also suffered from anxiety.
After acknowledging that I had a problem, I started working towards changing my behavioural patterns. Here are some things that helped me :
- Coming clean about it to my manager. When he heard how I felt, he told me how this mentality would hold me back if I did not work on it. A conversation with him really really helped me come to terms with my feelings and work on them. Forever grateful to him. However, I was lucky that my manager understood me. Some managers might react otherwise and think you actually do not know your stuff. Instead of telling them you feel like an impostor, a better idea would be to ask for feedback regularly. Another thing you could do is talk to a mentor or senior you trust.
- I am an organizer and planner. If I have anything major coming up, be it a project or an interview, I will almost always have a page on Notion where I list down how I plan to accomplish it and my progress. After I achieve something, I go back to that page and think about the hours that I put in, the effort that went into the task, and remind myself that I deserve it.
- Life experiences helped as well. When I heard the Principal Engineer cooly tell the team that he did not know the answer and would get back later, it had a deep impact on me. Everyone isn't supposed to know everything. Asking for help is OK.
- Whenever I am given a new challenging task, I think of the past and how I have tackled other tasks successfully. That comforts me and strengthens my self-confidence.
These things might not help everyone but it might be worth a try to see if they make you feel better. Talking to a mentor and reading blogs is also very helpful. Some awesome blogs that I discovered are :
- Official Article by American Psychological Association.
- The VP of Engineering at dropbox also talks about his experience in this blogpost.
- What is Impostor Syndrome ? on FreeCodeCamp.
- Just search for the keyword impostor syndrome on medium, there are tons of blogs.
According to a report by Blind (2018), 58% of tech employees report experiencing Imposter Syndrome currently in their careers. This report includes employees from Google, Apple, Facebook, and Uber, which are some of the world's largest tech giants. The Cut's article where 25 Famous Women talk about Impostor Syndrome goes a long way in showing that anyone and at any stage of life can feel this way.
YOU'RE DEFINITELY NOT ALONE :)
Through this post, I hoped to show you that Impostor Syndrome is very common in the tech world and not very difficult to overcome.
Always remember, you deserve everything that you get and you deserve to be happy!