Still feeling like a fake?

This is a follow up on my article about the Impostor Syndrome I wrote this summer. I gave a talk about it a few times, even went on the radio, and got great response from so many people that related to it and hadn’t talked about it before. I suspected that many people had experienced it, but I didn’t anticipate that my talk and article would awake so strong responses. I was riding on my confident bliss of being able to advice others about it and how far along I had matured out of it.

Then it hit me again the other day. It hit me pretty hard.

It helped a lot that I had to been talking about this and going over what could be done to prevent it. But it still took me a few days of getting out of the self-destructive zone the Impostor syndrome drags you to.

This feeling of not being good enough, thinking what the hell you are doing there and how you could have faked your way here, god, it’s awful. I’m a very emotional person and the tears start to bubble up when I get to this state. They tend to squeeze themselves out when I start to talk, so I tend to shut down and withdraw. Which is the worst thing to do because suppressing the problem always makes it bigger than it really is.

I went over all the bits of advice I had given and realised that I had been in this new job, programming in an environment which was new to me, for a few months and I hadn’t got any feedback at all on how I was doing. The syndrome makes me think that if I’m doing a poor job, no one says anything to me when in reality it’s probably the opposite. So I went and requested feedback from my teammates, first informally, then in a formal setting. I ended up getting really good feedback, both on things I had been worried about not doing a good enough job on, and also about other things I didn’t even think about being a positive quality. The demands I was trying to live up to were unrealistic demands I had been setting myself.

So I wanna stress how important it is to receive feedback, both informally and formally. You can’t expect to receive feedback unless you give it yourself, so be mindful of giving others feedback as well. If you and your team are not used to it, it might be best to start with positive feedback, then add giving corrective feedback, because that’s also beneficial. To be able to do that, in a constructive manner, there needs to be trust and respect in your team. At Kolibri, we have a working agreement, based on the Core Protocols and commitments, which purpose is to make sure people can be themselves and respect each other.

  • Practice open and constructive communication. Say what you think and feel and ask for help.
  • Expect the best from people.
  • Practice check-ins, when the team meets regularly and share their feelings; if people are sad, mad, glad or afraid. This creates trust and empathy within the team which is key for good communication and co-operation.

I knew that one would probably never be cured of the Impostor Syndrome but still got angry at myself for feeling this way. I’m now accepting that this will probably always come over me every once in a while, and I can’t control it coming, but I can control how I react to it. I’ve noticed the pattern for when this happens to me, it’s when I get stuck on some programming problem and before I know it, it spirals to me thinking I’m not smart enough to figure this out and I should just quit programming and start to work in gardening. To break this spiral of negative thoughts, I get up and take a break when I feel this is approaching. Then if I still make no progress, I either talk to someone about my problem and even ask for help. It’s also best to say out loud how I’m feeling (the sooner the better, then I’ll beat the tears!).

Lastly, I’m working on giving myself positive feedback, so every morning (or you know, most mornings, I am only human) I write down at least one positive quality about myself which keeps the negative thoughts at bay.

So, in short, get feedback from people you trust and break your negative patterns and use positive affirmation to chase the impostor syndrome away.

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