On day one of my new job, my manager tried to warn me:
You’re going to struggle with imposter syndrome on this team. I struggled with it. Everyone does. It’s a part of the job.
I didn’t believe him. I brushed it off with a self-deprecating joke about my enormous ego. And for the first month or so, I was fine. But then I wasn’t.
Imposter syndrome is a sneaky son of a bitch. It took me another month to realize that’s what I was feeling.
In hindsight, it should have been obvious. I didn’t pay any attention to the good stuff. A happy team member or a piece of positive feedback was happenstance and good luck, obviously. That all would have happened even if I didn’t join, obviously. Any manager in my shoes would have done that, obviously.
But whenever I found a scrap of negativity or unhappiness or disagreement, my brain said “AHA! I knew it! Told ya chump, you don’t belong here!” That went on until today, when I was writing a stream of consciousness post. I realized mid-sentence that this is good old fashioned imposter syndrome. It’s so stereotypical that it’s downright boring.
But the tricky bit is breaking the cycle, because it’s self-fulfilling. Here’s how it goes down for me:
- Step 1: Feel like an imposter
- Step 2: Feel the urge to earn respect and be liked to prove that I’m not an imposter
- Step 3: Try to please everyone rather than pushing for what I think is best which may upset people
- Step 4: Come across as wishy washy and inexperienced
- Step 5: Notice that, and go back to step 1.
By feeling like an imposter, I end up acting like one. We become what we are told we are, and I told myself that I’m an imposter.
I have to kill step 3. Please excuse me while I hype myself up to do that:
- I’ve been on dozens of teams over the past 13 years.
- I’ve led most of them, and they’ve all been successful.
- People usually like me OK, and it’s ok if some don’t.
- And a lame appeal to authority: I’ve read so many books about this stuff.
I know what I’m doing. The only way to break the cycle is to go do it.
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