re: One Useful Advice To Fight The Impostor Syndrome VIEW POST

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Fantastic post! I second all of the tips above, having been following them myself for many years with great success.

However, I do want to point out one interesting component that I think has been overlooked.

In my experience, a lack of imposter syndrome is actually just as much of a career liability! Imposter syndrome, when managed, keeps our egos in check. In its place, it keeps us from viewing ourselves as "God's gift to programming." It reminds us we always have further to go.

I've learned to tame mine, but keep it alive and controlled to that aim. Every time I start to think "I have arrived," it kicks in and reminds me "you still have a long way to go, Mr. I Don't Know SQL Yet!"

Humility is the key here. Humility is, as one person put it, having an accurate view of yourself. As you said, we need to be proud of our accomplishments; embracing them and even showing them off a bit is completely congruous with humility. At the same time, we must remember that we've never Arrived, we're never Finished, we always have further to go. It has been observed before that self-denigration is the flip side of arrogance. In reality, we are neither the worst nor the best. Holding either extreme view will tempt us to tear down others to elevate ourselves.

Or, as C.S. Lewis puts it...

Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

In an industry rife with opportunities to view ourselves as demigods, a well-controlled case of imposter syndrome actually helps us to keep the delicate balance that is humility.


By the way, in practice of all this, my recent article Anatomy of a Bad Idea demonstrates both components of this: I can recognize that I came up with a really stupid idea, but I can also see that I had the intelligence and experience to examine it and break it down in a really cool way. So, the end result shows that I am a talented programmer who makes really spectacular mistakes! (Note what's getting denigrated here - the IDEA, not me).

 

Hi Jason,
Here in this article I am trying to help people with unhealthily low self-esteem to think better of themselves.

Impostor syndrome, in my opinion, really messes with people. To such people, a tiny bit less humility and a pinch more ego wouldn't hurt. I doubt they will turn into selfish egoists overnight.

There are, of course, people with too-high self-esteem, but I'm afraid I wouldn't know how to fight that:).

And I like the quote!

 

Hi Elena,

The line between unhealthily low self-esteem and selfish egotist is actually quite thin, and it makes it quite a tricky balance to strike. In fact, you will note that most people who operate as egotists have an almost non-existent self-esteem. The reason for this is, to cope with self-esteem issues, some people will latch onto an inflated self-image.

I am actually speaking out of experience on this, being someone who has struggled with chronic low self-esteem, and even self-hatred, and who has "self-medicated" with egotism in my teenage years. I know both extremes all too well. In this state, while it is hard to generate healthy positive messages, it is even harder to generate healthy negative messages (such as "I made a mistake" or "I don't know this subject"); instead, we generate destructive negative messages.

Remember - I am wholly supportive of the tips you provide. Building a positive self-image is a critical half of dealing with this problem. Yet being able to have a healthy recognition of mistakes and areas of weakness are the other half.

In the end, "imposter syndrome" is simply an automatic reminder that we haven't arrived yet ("I am not a true coder until I know X."). Its destructive tendency comes from it running out of control, ungoverned by a recognition of what we currently know and can do ("But I am still a coder because I can do X."). When controlled, it keeps us ever reaching for the next goal, continually seeking to grow and improve.

This is why I say that a controlled case of "imposter syndrome" is actually helpful when dealing with either low self-esteem or egotism (again, flip sides of the same coin). It serves as a set of brakes against over-inflated ego. This is actually more important than it sounds; overcompensating with an unrealistically positive self image sets one up for a dangerous letdown. As soon as the person with low self-esteem is reminded of a weakness or flaw, they come crashing back to earth in a bad way, and wind up LOWER than before.

To put it another way, controlled "imposter syndrome" acts as a cap on our self-image inflation. By "controlled", I mean that we use the imposter syndrome's negative-message-generation, and keep it FIRMLY in check with the positive messages we tell ourselves. This mutual check-and-balance keeps us centered, to where we can safely say things like "I made a mistake, and I am intelligent, so I can learn from it."

 
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