Impostor Syndrome and Ownership
Like many folks in my field — software development and technology — I’ve experienced Impostor Syndrome. According to Wikipedia, it means I believe I ain’t that smart and people are going to figure it out. It can be scary— especially when I’m on the hook for something big or something important. When people are counting on you, believing you’re the wrong person for the job can be paralyzing. What if I make a decision that embarrasses me in front of the whole company?
Impostor syndrome can also be a catalyst for greatness.
Using Impostor Syndrome to kick ass
My first professional gig involved taking some freshly created PHP/html pages and replacing existing pages with the new ones. The client was a boutique brassiere maker based in New York City. It was a simple job except for the fact that it ran on a real-time scheduling database that allowed women to book fittings by the half hour. This was powered by an early XMLHttpRequest mechanism to populate drop-downs and a calendar.
But, painfully, I desperately needed the job. I was working a part-time retail job at Kroger and college was going badly: I needed some upward mobility. It was made clear to me that this gig was a test — if I could perform well on this deployment, it was likely that I’d gain full time employment in the small web dev shop. This had to work out.
Eventually, the new site launched, everyone thought I was a great developer, and I got the job. My buddy, Jason, who had vouched for me breathed a sigh of relief. The senior guy on the team, Toby, patted me on the head. We went on to work on some really cool stuff. The only person who knew the truth, that I was terrible, was me. But by some miracle, I had everyone fooled. Fine.
Self-doubt as a tool
I’m forever thankful to never quite believing I’m great at my job. I have moments where I feel like I can take on the world, but most of the time I’m constantly evaluating where I can do better. How I can improve. How I can spot the things that I missed next time. As long as my boss never reads this post, I should be in a good spot.
Everyone dreams of working for the best companies, having the best coworkers, becoming amazing. The only problem with that is once you get there, you’ve got to live with that reality. You’re now surrounded by the best brains at the best company — you want to keep it. I work in a job now, at Alchemy, surrounded by Smart Creatives — much smarter than myself. Why the hell do I deserve to be there? When will these people figure out that I should be breaking big rocks into little rocks in a field somewhere? I can never rest of my past successes.
There are those of us who are supremely self-confident. They see the way ahead of them and they believe that their gut is right and their past experience will prove them so. Fine. I have days when I’m that person, and moments of pure clarity that land me on excellent footing. I also have days where I second guess every choice, and I spend evenings double checking all my work. Also fine.
Hopefully I never get recruited by NASA. Software development, though, I can kick ass at.