Dealing with Imposter Syndrome? Lean Into It

I fully expected to be… new at my job when I came to AO. I started on a greenfield project and felt comfortable contributing to the project within the first couple of weeks. I still needed help, but I was feeling pretty good about the project. The project finished early, and I was moved onto a corporate project. It had been going on for years by the time I was onboarded. I went from being able to meaningfully contribute to a project to feeling like I was in an intro to CS class trying to figure out how to use a for-loop. I felt stupid constantly, frustrated a majority of the time, and was anxiously awaiting the moment that people would figure out that I didn’t belong here. Imposter syndrome had reared its ugly head.

I had dealt with imposter syndrome before in school but never this bad. Here are a few tips and tricks I learned to deal with it and go back to living my best life.

Lean into it.

You probably are new at programming. You probably don’t know everything that you “should.” That’s okay. That’s why you have more senior people around you. Take this time in your career to ask people important questions. Figure out how they navigate through the code base and their terminal. Ask them about that cool Vim command you just saw them execute. Let them know when you aren’t understanding something and ask them to explain what they are doing. Ask another question if you still don’t understand something, even if you feel dumb.

Give yourself a break.

You aren’t going to be a 10xer right out of the gate, and you need to tell your ego that it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up because you need to ask for help. When you come home tired and exhausted and just feel like an idiot, go do something that makes you feel good. I’ll either cook myself and my partner an exciting meal or we go out and have dinner and drinks somewhere. Do things that you enjoy and make sure to give yourself some time off.

Make time for extra learning.

That does not mean kill yourself studying 16 hours a weekend. But, if you have the energy when you get home, read some API documentation related to what you’re working on for half an hour. Maybe do a quick tutorial just to get the basics. A little bit of extra effort outside of work hours is going to make you feel more confident at work and increase your ability to finish stories. That imposter syndrome is going to slip away when you are able to crush through stories at work.

Voice your feelings.

This is probably the most difficult thing to do. Its also probably the most beneficial thing you can do. Tell your pair or manager that you’re having a rough time learning things and that you feel like you aren’t keeping up. More likely than not, they’re just going to tell you that you’re doing okay. Whoever you tell, they’ll remember how they felt in your shoes, and they can point you in the right direction.

Embrace the uncomfortable to get over your imposter syndrome.

I have always found that embracing the difficult and uncomfortable is the best way to grow. Imposter syndrome is no different! When you ignore the insecurities and make the effort to try and understand a project, you’ll grow quicker and be happier at work in no time.

Some of these hints took outside help and affirmation. I am privileged and thankful to work with a great set of colleagues and mentors! I couldn’t do this job without them.