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Liz P
Liz P

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Imposter Syndrome and Re-framing Negative Thoughts

I know my next post was supposed to be covering algorithms. They’re not going anywhere, and I’ll get to those next time for sure. But I wanted to address a topic that encompasses a lot of different things, re-framing our thoughts. And I wasn’t really sure which road this topic would take me down but as soon as I thought about re-framing thoughts, the first thing that came to mind was rejection, which then led me to Imposter Syndrome. So overall, I think this post will be mostly about Imposter Syndrome but also how as new developers we can try to re-frame those negative thoughts that are often associated with rejection.

Have you ever heard a little voice in the back of your head start whispering things like “you’re not smart enough”, “you’re not good enough”, "how did you even get this far”, and of course “you don’t belong here”? That’s the imposter monster. Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. I think at one point or another in our lives we feel some degree of imposter syndrome.

For me, before transitioning into tech, I felt it when I experienced a success or big achievement. I would think to myself that was just lucky or it was a team effort, I only helped. And of course, when you move to a new industry that you haven’t yet made many contributions to, it can be hard not to have those undermining thoughts creep in once again. From the very large number of articles and posts on this topic, the tech industry definitely feels imposter syndrome. So naturally, I’ve been asking myself - did I make a huge mistake deciding to change careers? Can I really do this? Do I deserve to be here?

Why is it that we feel like frauds even when there is clear evidence we’re very capable? I don’t think going down the psychology rabbit-hole is the best course of action here so maybe the better question is how do we silence that voice that’s telling us we don’t belong or that we’re not good enough?

I’ve had help with the process of re-framing my thoughts especially those surrounding rejection. As people, we deal with rejection ALL THE TIME. But no one likes being rejected, it’s kind of the worst. Receiving a rejection to a job we took the time to research and apply for can send that nagging voice into overdrive. It’s hard not to take a rejection personally or let it start chipping away at your confidence. But having the ability to re-frame rejection is so valuable when trying to silence imposter syndrome. Fairly recently, I had a final round interview (which also happened to be the technical interview) and I got flustered and tanked it. I didn’t complete the problem, and got tripped up on a keyword, which I knew but thought I was wrong and didn’t say it. Needless to say, I didn’t get an offer. And I started to question myself and my capabilities almost immediately. I knew it would be pretty easy to spin out with negative thinking so instead I decided I was going to take that rejection and turn it into something positive.

I was given feedback, which in this case was actionable. I knew where I went wrong, and I could take steps to fix these issues for next time. Instead of thinking, I’m terrible at coding and I’m not good enough for this company, I asked myself - why did I fail this time? And what will help me succeed in this situation in the future? The immediate sting from being rejected was replaced with enthusiasm for growing from my mistakes. I knew I needed to work on my data structures and algorithms, so I decided to write about them to help solidify my understanding. I’m going to incorporate DSA problem-solving into my schedule more often so they sink in. I want to facilitate a growth mindset. If you aren’t being challenged, you aren’t growing. 

Failing is part of programming. As developers we have to get comfortable with not knowing, with bugs, with errors and getting stuck. It’s part of the process. Having the ability to rework the narrative we tell ourselves gives us power over failures and rejection. Instead of feeling like an imposter, you’re able to showcase persistence and expand your knowledge. Remember how far you’ve already come and how much you’ve already learned, and keep adding to that. Future you will thank you.

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