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My Experience of Imposter Syndrome

jameesy profile image Jamees Bedford ・4 min read

If you were trying to paint a picture of who was the likely candidate to suffer from imposter syndrome then it would likely be me.

I was a serial under-achiever at school and an anxiety sufferer. Feedback from teachers was always "he could be doing so much better if he applied himself some more" and really I was lucky to scrape myself through secondary education into sixth-form college. I remember sitting in Computer Science, stuck again on some minor issue that others seemingly were just understanding. A lad next to me said "people like you and I don't belong here". That comment stuck with me for a long time and sapped my confidence to an all time low.

Meanwhile, I was excelling at things I was interested in and things that people had no expectation of me to succeed in. By the time I was 13; I had reached Grade 6 piano, I held the school record for long jump which hadn't been broken in 16 years, I was a sponsored gamer who had been published in Playstation magazine and I had made and sold numerous websites from scratch. I felt I wasn't recognised for these accomplishments though, I was held accountable for my studies and my studies alone and just accepted the fact that I wasn't MEANT to be a good student. In that mindset I became a bad student.

I worked numerous technical jobs followed by some manual labour jobs over the years after leaving school and had generally a low view of myself. I had failed as far as I was concerned, I hadn't gotten a degree and therefore I had failed at life.

To cut an extremely long story short I ended up becoming a web developer through self-study and perseverance. That had many challenges of its own that I would love to dive in to at some point but that is a story for another time...

First Encountering Imposter Syndrome

I guess looking back I had always suffered with imposter syndrome one way or another in life, which probably explains my low confidence and lack of effort. The first I ever become aware of it though was on seeing another person in the dev community mention it. It clicked at that point, this was EXACTLY what I was experiencing.

My intro to the development world was through freelancing and contracting. I did short term contracts on and off for a couple of years whilst filling the time in between with freelance work for smallish companies and anything I could get my hands on. Sure, I suffered with low confidence during this time, but I am sure I never experienced "full-on" imposter syndrome.

It wasn't until I landed my first full time job, at a Data Science consultancy, that it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was working amongst
people with PhD's and Masters and I have never felt so in-superior. My best method of attack was to try and ignore it, although in hindsight
I should have spoken to someone about the way I was feeling, after all, I did the interview the same as everyone else, I had as much right to be there as anyone else.

Every morning was intensely hard. I thought everyday was going to be the day I was "found out" and sacked from the job. Every PR I submitted would be done so with the expectation that whoever was doing a code review would think "this code is absolutely shit, what is this guy doing here?".
Every issue ticket that was assigned to me was a massive weight pressing down on me. If I didn't know exactly how to solve it at first glance I would become overwhelmed with panic and I would furiously try and solve it, even if it meant doing extra hours. I didn't want to admit that I couldn't do something.

How I Am Currently

In July I applied for what I would consider my dream job as an Engineering Manager at a company that have been voted LinkedIn's UK Top Startup for several years in a row. I never in a million years thought I would be accepted as it has been documented that only 1% of applicants actually get hired, and every stage of the interview was torturous and massively anxiety inducing, however I was successful and accepted the job and am coming to the end of my first month.

You would have thought that I would have been really struggling with my anxiety and imposter syndrome but that actually isn't the case. I have put this down to three things:

Firstly, the company understands imposter syndrome, and are therefore able to address it. Any anxieties I have had I openly talk about with
my manager and my team mates. Having people surrounding you who understand what you are going through is massively reassuring. If you are a long time sufferer, maybe ask potential companies about how they address issues like this. If they aren't understanding, maybe this isn't the environment you want to be in.

Secondly, I have openly started talking about my past. I'm proud of the fact I am a second career developer and came from humble beginnings. I tell people the story proudly and focus on the achievement and work I put in to get this far. Trying to hide my past and come across like everyone else is not a good strategy to improve my mental health. I unduly worried that I would be judged about my background but every single response I have had from people has been extremely positive and many people are interested in my story!

Thirdly, I feel more comfortable than ever talking to people about how I am feeling. Anxieties aren't supposed to be bottled up. Find someone you
trust, whether it is your partner, a family member, a colleague or even a member of the Dev community. Talk about how you are feeling! I promise you it will make you feel much better to share your problems.

Discussion

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bwlr profile image
Kieran Bowler

Mine is a very similar story and a lot of what you said sounded familiar to me too. I've been a web developer now since 2001, self-taught. I first heard the term "imposter syndrome" around 8 years ago and it really struck a chord. It's helped me be more aware of times when I'm feeling it, why I might be feeling it and also to not be so hard on myself.

Over the years I've also bookmarked lots of urls related to imposter syndrome too (many of which started from Hacker News threads).
Here they are in case they're of use to others:

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MurrayVarey

Thanks for sharing, James! As you've described, Imposter Syndrome can cause terrible anxiety -- the more people who talk about this, the better. Especially as you've shown that there are ways to cope.

A lad next to me said "people like you and I don't belong here".

It's amazing how off-hand remarks like this can affect our whole lives. I remember one kid in class telling me that I wasn't funny ... and that shattered my confidence. No more jokes in school after that. What's more, I bet the guy didn't think anything of it. It's weird how these things can stick.

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John McLem Adan

Hi James! Your story was very inspiring. I can relate to it as I also took a nontraditional route to being a web developer. I came with a degree in marketing, worked as tester and took up coding bootcamp. Keep it up! ;)

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yusufcodes

Excellent read James. Being open about Imposter Syndrome and related problems like anxiety helps others realise they aren't alone. 👌🏽

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Martian Bold

Thank you so much for sharing your life experience. You are not alone in this kind of professional suffering. This happens a lot with self-taught. My experience is very similar to yours. Greetings from Brazil.

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Luke Garrigan

Thanks for this James! Also, your mate who was sitting next to you probably just meant you were too cool for school 😎

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Erwan ROUSSEL

Woah, that's inspiring 👍 Thanks for sharing your story +1

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Amanda Iaria

Well, I feel this. I usually just get told to get over it. rolls eyes sighs