3 Concrete Ways to Handle Impostor Syndrome Every Day
June 13, 2019
Yesterday I had the pleasure of chatting with Dustin Myers for a video he's doing on impostor syndrome. He asked me to share some ways I handle impostor syndrome, and I thought they'd be useful to write out, as well.
1. Surround yourself with awesome people
There's a saying that goes something like "Show me who your friends are and I'll show you who you are." The spirit of this is the number one way I manage impostor syndrome on the daily.
My favorite tweet about impostor syndrome is literally framed in my office. It reads:
Imposter syndrome: I am surrounded by beings of impossible, cosmic intelligence
Also imposter syndrome: I, an incompetent, have tricked them all
Between the community I've found on Twitter, my co-workers, and personal friends in tech, I have found some awesome company to keep. Some really brilliant, compassionate, accomplished people that I respect.
Whenever I get that impostor syndrome itch (which is less frequent now!), I think about the incredible people surrounding me, and the reciprocal respect they have for me, and that lifts me up so much.
If you're just starting -- build this community! The positive effect is exponential. You've got at least one to start with in me.
2. Don't make perfection the goal, make your mindset the goal
If you make perfection your bar for success, you will never succeed. Guaranteed.
Instead, think about the mindset you want to carry. Make your bar for success how you approach different situations. This will look different for everyone. For me, it looks like this:
Situation: There was something I didn't know. (Ha, daily).
Automatic thought (catastrophizing): "I feel embarrassed. I didn't know this one thing, therefore I don't know anything and I'm incompetent, therefore when everyone figures that out I'm going to lose my job and everyone's going to ridicule me and I'll never find another tech job and I'll have to find a new career."
Alternative thought (curiosity): "Huh! Well that's yet another interesting thing I know now. Add that to ye olde arsenal."
I try to make my bar for success the way I react to things -- For me that's working consciously to approach everyday situations with curiosity and compassion, first.
One amazing example of this type of mindset shift in practice is swyx's "Learn in Public".
3. Remain humble, not toxically self-deprecating.
I'm guilty of this by nature and work hard to recognize and retrain this thought pattern. It has wide-ranging consequences both for you, and for the people who surround you.
I naturally want to frame a question as: "I'm so dumb, this is such a stupid question, but..." For me, this inclination stems from a desire to self-protect -- if I pre-emptively say it, I've beaten everyone to the punch, no one can hurt me! This is not only needlessly self-harming and unproductive, it's also a models a destructive mindset for other people.
In contrast, by remaining humble and curious, you are open to new voices and information, and can soak it all up without expending the emotional bandwidth self-deprecation consumes. Save up that bandwidth! There's so many better things to do with it.