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.

Social Media addiction

Hi, my name is Berglind and I’m an addict.

As soon as I woke up, I needed my fix. Before I went to sleep, I needed my fix. If I was alone, I needed my fix. If I was with people, I needed my fix. If I was sad, I needed my fix. If I was happy, I needed my fix.

My addiction is needing to be constantly connected, to not miss out on anything happening on social media, to share all of my experiences and thoughts and the longing for positive feedback on it. But this addiction is so normalized that I was in complete denial that I had a problem until recently.

                      The TV series Black Mirror shows the dark side of technology

 

My morning routine began with scrolling down the feeds to the point where I left off before I went to sleep. Still half-conscious so I didn’t even register fully what I was reading. Always feeling the pressure of my limited time against the endless content the Internet has to offer.

If I was out with a friend, the second she left for the bathroom I went mindlessly straight to my phone. It was my shield so I didn’t have to face awkward situations and would never feel alone.

That awful feeling of time wasted and emptiness after being sucked into social media’s Bermuda Triangle. From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Snapchat to email…

Having everyone in the world only one click away, but still never felt more alone. Just staring at the bright screen at nights rather than close it and go to bed.

When I posted something I would regularly check who and how many liked it. If it got no likes I felt like I had failed. Oh, then the euphoric feeling when I saw the red dot reporting new notifications. Oh, the disappointment discovering none of them held any importance as I was hoping for.

Constantly hoping for.

Just like with any other addiction, the drug makes you feel good in the beginning but then it fades while other bad feelings increase. But still, you continue to do it, hoping to get the same experience you once had, even though logically you know it’s not doing you any good.

My journey to realising I had a problem started a year ago when I finally burned out after many years of working too much and being very stressed. I found myself exhausted and overwhelmed. I had to take three weeks off work and get professional help to start my recovery. Looking back now, I see it took me many months on top of that to get completely well again. For my recovery, I made sure to exclude all work related tasks and turned off all work related notifications. It was then I realised how sensitive I was to the all notifications on my phone. Each of them took away from me mental energy which I just didn’t have. They distracted me and made me stressed. So I turned all notifications off on my phone for a couple of weeks and then turned them on, one by one, very mindfully. I paid attention to whether they were improving my life or distracting me. I often got more out of them when I opened apps when I actually had time and longing to. After playing around with notification settings in various apps for some time, I found out that I only really valued Messenger notifications since it has replaced sending text messages and I use it a lot to talk with my close friends.

The next breaking point was three months ago when I decided to change jobs which led to me getting a two months vacation in between jobs. I felt I should use this time to save up energy and work on projects that I had been too tired to work on while working. I felt how hard it was to keep away from spending too much time scrolling mindlessly through social media, just without a thought my fingers opened one app after another. For the past year I’ve also been practising mindfulness and making steps to living a slower, simpler life, but my social media addiction was getting in the way and making me unhappy. So when I had to return my smartphone to my former employees and would get another one when I started my new job, I decided to take this opportunity to decrease my mindless social media usage. My own kind of digital sabbatical. A concept I didn’t know existed until just a few days ago.

In addition to having a phone without apps, I decided to go to my aunt in the Westfjords to work on my writing and take five days away from Facebook and Twitter. Snapchat wasn’t an option since I didn’t have a smartphone but I would allow myself to check Messenger, Instagram and my email account on my laptop a couple of times a day.

Five days.

Now when I say it, it sounds like it should be so easy, but when taking this decision it sounded like it was forever. It was a very interesting experiment. I logged out of Facebook and Twitter so I wouldn’t accidentally open them. The first two days were actually very easy and I felt I had gained so much time and freedom.

One of my reasonings for using Facebook and Twitter is that I use it to follow up on current events and interesting stuff. But during these days off social media, I read more news articles than I have done for many years!

But on the third evening, my addiction hit me hard. I started to argue with myself why I was doing this experiment and why I couldn’t just open Facebook again now since I had been doing so great for almost three days. It was exactly the same reasoning as I’ve experienced when fighting other addictions. I couldn’t stop thinking about checking Facebook, but I took it with the one-day-at-a-time mindset and powered through. The next day I felt fine and laughed at my feelings the day before. I did break my experiment tho on the fourth day because I had to find information from a Facebook group. So I quickly dived in, opened the notifications since I saw them, but didn’t click any, went to the group and moved quickly out again. Later I realised this information was also in my email so going to Facebook was unnecessary.

I’m not saying technology is bad or social media is the devil in disguise. I’m a programmer and I love technology and the positive things it can do for us. But social media is a tool we use, and it can be used for bad as well as good. I want to use it mindfully and see it for what it is, a nice add-on to our lives. A nice to have. Not live itself.

So lately I’ve been doing my best to use social media intentionally and make sure I take time without being connected to the Internet. I try to keep my mornings and late evenings computer and mobile free. Recently I heard about having the bed mobile free which sounds like a great idea. I’ve started to declutter my Facebook by un-friending over a 100 people (I still have 500 which is way too many) and I consciously stop Facebook from showing me notifications from groups and events I don’t want. It’s constant work since Facebook is always creating new types of notifications, Facebook is good at keeping people hooked.

There were some things I missed a lot from not having a smartphone; the camera, Spotify, meditation- and podcast apps but only social media apps I have installed on my new phone are Messenger, Instagram and Snapchat. I actually enjoyed viewing the pictures on Instagram on a desktop a lot more and would not have it on my mobile if they would allow uploading on their website. I don’t have these social media apps visible on my home screen so I won’t use them unintentionally. I’m now mindful of the fact I’m not missing out if I don’t see everyone’s stories or pictures every day. All notifications are turned off except Messenger’s, which I’m still contemplating what to do with.

I’m gonna continue to be mindful in my technology usage and do experiments like these and see how they make me feel. I hope my experience can help someone and I would love to continue the conversation about mindful social media usage so please reach out to me those who are interested!

Here are links to some of the articles and podcasts that opened my mind about my problem and what solutions are out there for a happier life.

(This post first appeared on Medium)

The Screen-Free Bedroom Experiment

This summer I wrote a piece about my social media addiction and it’s addictive patterns. I‘m still on my journey to living a slow and mindful life without being dependent on social media and other technologies and wanted to share with you where I am now.

I‘m doing a 30-day screen-free bedroom experiment! I got the inspiration from the Slow Home Podcast where the hosts, Brooke and Ben McAlary, do month long experiments with improving their life. In August they did a screen-free bedroom experiment and reported it had a huge positive impact for them. The purpose of this experiment for me was to prevent mindless mobile usage in bed in the mornings and better quality sleep. Research show that blue light from electronic devices reduces our sleep hormone melatonin production but melatonin is crucial to get quality sleep. The experiment is very simple really, just no screens in the bedroom! Since I don’t have a TV there and rarely take my laptop to bed, for me it meant not taking my mobile phone into the bedroom.

 

I haven’t been using my phone in bed at evenings but I still used it sometimes in the mornings, especially on the weekend (main culprits being Instagram, Snapchat and Medium). What I don’t like about that is I feel my brain isn’t fully turned on so this doesn’t leave much behind and I get the feeling afterwards I had been wasting my time (as I get after mindless Internet surfing). Then hearing about the effect the screen light actually has on our sleep finally convinced me to do try this out.

Now, after exactly three weeks of the experiment, I have to say that I LOVE IT! I can’t see any reason for me to go back, but lots of reasons to continue. The main positive effects I’ve gained are following:

  1. Bye bye snoozing. A pleasant side effect of having my mobile phone, which is my alarm clock, in the living room, is that I’ve pretty much stopped snoozing! Now I have to get up to turn the alarm off. Most of the time I press snooze and go back to bed, but I’m still awake ten minutes later when it goes on again and then I just get up if I haven’t already. I’ve always had this love-hate relationship with snoozing since it is so welcoming in those moments when you are waking up, but the extra sleep with the interruptions makes me more tired than if I would just get up straight away.
  2. No mindless morning surfing. In the weekend I can read my book if I want to linger in bed, but I’ve been feeling rather want to get up and do read in the sofa or by a table with a cup of coffee. This is probably also connected with me being more awake since my alarm clock is in a different room, but I also feel there’s a mental change happening for me. I know I’ll probably be sleepy again if I read in bed, but if I get up I can start making the most of the day.
  3. Better sleep. I feel my sleep has been better. I can’t say for sure it’s related to no screens before bed, but I’m pretty sure it has an impact. Of course, this doesn’t make everything perfect and I have twice woken up tired when my new adorable cat decided to wake my up at 5 AM to get some cuddling. But I’m feeling fresh in the mornings and have more energy the whole day. For example, I’m now on day 4 in  30 days of Yoga with Adriene (also inspired by the Slow Home podcast) doing 20–30 minutes of yoga each morning.
  4. More valuable family time. My 10-year-old son has never been much into television nor had endurance for a long time in front of a computer so me and his dad haven’t really had to set boundaries on his screen time. But last winter that changed swiftly and we have been struggling with setting boundaries, keeping them and knowing what is the best thing to do. That struggle actually made me think about my computer time and if it was unhealthy for me. Which probably had a huge impact on why I started to see my social media usage as an addiction. Now we have an hour of screen-free time before he goes to bed because I want him to get good sleep and I feel less screen time is good for him. This just happened in a nice flow I didn’t think was possible. I think it’s because I’ve been very positive when explaining this to him and very clear on the why of it. So now, instead of watching Friends with him before he goes to sleep, we’ve been playing cards or colouring together. My son likes to spend most of his time now with his friends, and even though the alone time I gain from that is great, it also means that I don’t spend much time with him alone, and these relaxed evening moments give me so much happiness.
                                                    An “Ego Washer” by Biancoshock

 

But I’m not perfect and it has happened twice that I forgot about my experiment. I was at JSConf (JavaScript conference) the other day and installed Twitter on my mobile while it was ongoing. I gave a talk on the second day about the Impostor Syndrome and met a lot of new people, both from Iceland and all over the world, and everyone was using Twitter to communicate. This is btw what I love the most about Twitter, connecting with people in real time during an event. When I got home after that second day I was so mentally tired and found myself in my bed scrolling through Twitter when I suddenly remembered that I “shouldn’t” be using my phone in my bed. I didn’t feel bad or anything, I just laughed, tweeted about it, put my phone in the living room and went to bed for a nap. The other time was last weekend when I went to the Westfjords with my son. Somehow being in a different environment made me forget all about my newly adopted screen-free bedroom living. I took my phone to the bedroom during the nights and used it in bed a couple of times during the day. The funniest thing is that I didn’t realise until a few days later that I had done something I wasn’t gonna do.

Breaking old habits and introducing new ones doesn’t happen in one day. There is gonna be period of transition while you reprogram your brain so there is no need to beat yourself down if you find yourself in your old habit. That’s what I love doing a 30 experiment like this. First of all, going into it as an experiment is completely different than thinking you are gonna change something for life. It’s easier and I go into it with a curiosity and excitement to watch the effects it’s gonna have. Second of all, I think that after 30 days of something, if you really liked it, it’s gonna be very easy to just continue it.

Why not experiment with improving your life? You can always go back to your old self if you don’t like it! 🙂

(This post first appeared on Medium)

Feeling like a fake  – The Impostor Syndrome

This article is based on a talk I gave at a JavaScript meet-up in Reykjavík.

I’ve been an Android programmer for six years but recently felt like making a change so I joined Kolibri doing web development. I’m not gonna talk about my month experience of programming in Javascript though. I’m gonna talk about something else. Something I feel is a taboo, emotions and thoughts. More specifically, the feeling that you are a fake or an impostor in your field. You might think this is not related to Javascript at all, but I am gonna make that connection so just wait for it.

What is the Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor Syndrome is a psychological term brought up in the seventies. It refers to when a person feels like a fraud and the whole world is going to find out that he or she is really just faking it and is really not as competent as everyone thinks. This feeling is in spite of external signs of success which is dismissed as being luck, timing or some other factor than your own skills.

Sound familiar?

Well, that’s completely normal. One study shows that 70% of all people feel like impostors at one point in their life and another estimated that 2/5 successful people consider themselves frauds. If you have experienced the impostor syndrome you’ll be glad to hear that it is particularly common among intelligent successful people and you are in a group with celebrities like Tina Fey, Neil Gaiman, Bill Murray and Emma Watson.

“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It’s Impostor Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.” – Neil Gaiman

This feeling is common among students, which makes sense when learning new things, and I was waiting for this feeling to wear off. But after a few years in the industry I still often felt like I was just faking that I had any real programming skills. When I got stuck on a problem I was often afraid to ask for help because that would reveal that I was only a fraud and didn’t really know what the hell I was doing. Also, I was convinced that everyone else knew what the hell they were doing.

My insecurities might have started because I’m not the stereotypical programmer. I’m female and I did not spend my teenage years programming or disassembling computers. In fact, before I started in university, my programming skills were only a dash of HTML and this one SQL course I accidentally took in college. I didn’t even have all the math courses I really should have had. At my first student society event I attended, this guy asked me what computer games I was playing, and I became terrified of never being able to be a computer scientist because I wasn’t playing any computer games! Later on, I found out that not all programmers play computer games and people that play computer games are not necessarily skilled to be programmers.

I was in the first group at the University of Iceland to study Android programming. This was in 2009. After I graduated the following spring I went to work at gogoyoko where I developed a music streaming Android app and even created another Android app for a mall on the side. A couple of years later I was offered to join Plain Vanilla to create the Android version of QuizUp since I was suddenly one of the most experienced Android programmers in Iceland! Being the most experienced Android programmer in a whole country might sound really cool, but honestly, I felt it was terrifying. I did not feel like it at all! But in spite of my insecurities, I joined Plain Vanilla since it was such an amazing opportunity. Time went by and I still had this reoccurring fear of being found out, even though I was a big part of the huge success of releasing QuizUp worldwide. Even though I worked hard, was very passionate and put everything I got into it. I was always quick to dismiss my success as luck or that anyone else had been able to do it as well. When I was asked to take on more responsibilities I always said yes but there was always this voice in the back of my mind telling me I was deceiving people who thought I was more competent than I really was.

Then I stumbled upon this concept of the Impostor Syndrome a while back. I was so relieved! This wasn’t just me struggling with a low self-esteem but this was actually a thing that had been studied and is common for programmers. Just knowing that I wasn’t alone helped a lot. But what more can one do? Here are some tips that helped me.

Recognise your success

Write down what you have done to get to where you are at today. When did you say yes when you could have said no? That takes courage! Think about problems you have solved, projects you have finished, what new things have you learned. I think you’ll find out that you have a big part in your success.

Recognise your strengths (and weaknesses)

We are all different, for example, some are introverts while others are outspoken, and that’s ok! The one is not better than the other, they’re just different. But we tend to compare ourselves with people that have different qualities than us or people that are exceptional. But comparing us unrealistically isn’t gonna get us anywhere. Rather think about your strengths and how you can improve on them. Also, think about your weaknesses and see if you can work on them.

I’m a single mum and it took me a long time to accept that I can’t spend as much time and energy coding as a programmer who doesn’t have children. This means that I’ll probably not gain as deep knowledge as they will. But I have other strengths. I really care for details, I’m good with people and project managing. My greatest weakness is to not ask for help sooner and I’ve been working on that.

Pair programming

Pair programming can sound scary! There is no way of deceiving others when a person is watching you program, right? That’s what I thought at first at least. But then when I was forced to dive into it, it went much better than I thought. Then when you pair with someone, you get a valuable insight into how other people think and solve problems. You’ll also realise that nobody knows what they’re doing like you thought. All you can do is to do your best. I’m not saying you should pair all the time, there is definitely just a time and place for it, but it’s very healthy every once in a while. And it’s actually quite fun interacting with another person when programming!

Say what you’re thinking

If you don’t understand or know something, just be honest about it. It’s ok to be wrong. Presidents are wrong all the time! It’s said that no question is a stupid question and there is much truth to that. And even if it is, it’s still better than not asking. You’ll never learn anything if you never ask. Don’t let your ego hold you back because it’s afraid to make a fool of itself. And it’s not even just about you. It’s better for everyone around you if you admit when you don’t understand something so a solution can be found quicker.

Feedback

Casual feedback in the moment is very healthy, but it’s even more powerful when it’s given in a formal setting. Have a formal meeting with a person that’s been working closely with you, where both of you have prepared to talk about your strengths and weaknesses. This was extremely beneficial for me but I did this a couple of times at Plain Vanilla and this is also done at Kolibri. If your workplace does not do this I really encourage you to try to get it going.

“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ “— Tina Fey

The JavaScript Connection

I really stepped out of my comfort zone going from a senior Android position to start as a junior web programmer at Kolibri, working in JavaScript. I really wanted to try something new, but I’m not so sure I would have dared if I still had severe Impostor Syndrome. I knew this meant that I had to be totally honest about my skills and not be afraid to ask for help.

Getting over feeling like a fake is a process. Maybe it will never completely go away. Just the other day I was trying out ReactNative and after having spent total 10 hours on it I was beating myself down for being so slow at it still. Surely someone else would have made a lot more progress than me?! But now I manage to snap out of it quickly and see it realistically. Sometimes I have to stand up and take a break. Meditation always helps and if you don’t have time for that, just taking 3 deep breaths can do the trick. Saying it out loud to someone can also break the spell.

Remember, you are not alone!

(This post first appeared on Medium)