Imposter Syndrome Dilemma in a World of Pragmatism
Imposter syndrome. Many of us fight this quietly. I hate that feeling — the fear of coming off as someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. Not feeling as competent as others perceive you to be. Everybody feels it — one way or the other.
Part of what fuels imposter syndrome is your inability to see your contributions, only dwelling on the mistakes that add to you feeling like an imposter. Awareness of this has recently increased. Software engineers are speaking more and on this topic. Part of being a software engineer is that it requires you to learn. The industry changes daily and there is always going to be something you do not know. So, what can be done to lessen the pressure?
Let’s tackle this issue by breaking it down. For example, If I were to ask myself the question, “What is it about peer review that scares me?” If it stems from the idea of not wanting to be wrong, which is fair to say, then why is that the case? When I think of not wanting to be wrong, I would say it comes from this idea that someone’s code might be picked over mine, and the process of choice gives the impression that I was in the wrong and have failed. If you really think about it, there is a sense of satisfaction that comes from being right. So how do we allow ourselves to feel that same sensation when we are not? This becomes an even bigger issue to tackle when working in large teams in an organization. Is there a safe space to make mistakes?
In the book “Pragmatic Programmer”, the story of the Stone Soup hit home a little differently. Even though the villagers were tricked into bringing out ingredients from their stores, the soldiers would not act as catalysts without the villagers’ curiosity. It helped manifest the first square meal they had in a while. I believe that there is a great sense of satisfaction that comes from contribution alone. Knowing that a vital part of it is that you are part of a team. It is one of the perks of being able to put great minds under one roof.
Sometimes you just don’t know what gems you have. The saying does go, “It takes a village!”.
Lately, I’ve been trying to take a more grace-given approach. Do like a pirate and ARRR (Acknowledge, Reading, Research, Reply). If your company allows you to make a Proof Of Concept (POC), you should not police your expertise and allow yourself some space for mistakes. When you think about playgrounds, the idea is to discover and grow. What would be the point of a POC if you already had the answer to it. So when I go back to the idea of feeling like I’m in the wrong, I now start to see it as how can I be in the wrong when I never knew?
In a way, it’s like we are all software ourselves, striving to get the best solution. Sometimes there are bugs, and we need to do some housekeeping. Release Engineering has taught me that we have our own CI/CD pipelines that integrate other solutions to provide great value.
We need to be okay with being uncomfortable. We need to be okay with failing. Prioritizing being a little vulnerable every day does not equal being lamebrain.
Failure shows the imperfections in humans. Imperfections open doors to endless possibilities for growth. If we don’t fail once in a while, we will not be able to see the imperfections, and therefore, growth will not happen.
Failure does not equal failure. Failure to learn equals Failure. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail. Growth is around the corner.