Ramblings

In my decade in the tech industry, I have never met a person who has experienced imposter syndrome who was terrible at their vocation.

As a side-note confession, I have, many times in my career – especially during times of transition – I, too, have experienced, like most, the pangs of imposter syndrome with one’s work and abilities.

Imposter Syndrome, is the self-doubt in one’s abilities to be able to succeed in what you or others have entrusted in you to accomplish.

That is what is like the first few times you feel it.

I want to offer an alternative view: Imposter Syndrome, to me, is the acute awareness of the higher abilities of others for which I have yet to acquire and of which I do aspire. This awareness presents itself to many as the sensation of the deep contrast between the ability we see in others and the inadequacy we see in ourselves.

How does one see the brighter side of this, or overcome it?

As I said at the start, I have never met a person who has experienced imposter syndrome and who was terrible at their job.

To feel imposter syndrome, to be aware of one’s own inadequacy requires a reasonable amount of intelligence to know that one is actually inadequate at that thing.

In psychology, I learned of the Dunning Kruger effect, a cognitive bias that showed that one who is lesser adept at something would estimate their ability in that thing. In contrast, someone of considerable skill would be more likely aware of their inadequacy in it.

Bertrand Russel said it best:

“The fundamental cause of the trouble in the modern world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

—Bertrand Russell.

René Descartes, most famously known for his mathematical work on the cartesian plane, also answered a very philosophical question of how one could be sure of their own existence; he said: “Je pense, donc je suis” (I think; therefore I am).

Dubito ergo, cogito ergo, sum.

(I doubt; therefore, I think; therefore, I am)

Further articulated by Antoine Léonard Thomas

A final quote of wiser men to drive this idea further; John Cleese briefly explaining the Dunning Kruger effect (with his incredible wit to accompany it):

John Cleese on Competency and the Dunning Kruger Effect.

Imposter Syndrome as a sign of progression

This perspective of Imposter Syndrome that I have been presenting so far also gives way to realizing that experiencing this very uncomfortable feeling is part and symbol of one’s own progress and development.

You need to have reached a level of understanding that is enough to bring yourself to the awareness of all that is still for you to know; this awareness only comes to those who know enough and which is unavailable do entirely those who know far less.

A change in perspective to accelerate growth

The knowledge of the above and from studying and learning from those much wiser than I am has allowed me to identify a few traits that these more intelligent mentors of mine have, which once I adopted has elementary but profoundly changed my life.

Excitement over self-doubt:

When presented with a problem, a new one, one which I do not yet clearly see the solution, instead of ruminating in my insufficiency, and giving in to my self-doubt, I am now excited. I understand this to be an opportunity of growth, learning, and improvement, for once I solve this new problem, I will forever have gained from reaching its solution. 

You either succeed, or you learn:

You will also learn to let go of failure; you will either succeed, or you will learn. Failure exists only for those who do not learn.

Final thoughts:

Energy is a resource that you kind either spend feeling inadequate or spend in becoming adequate. 

Most go through the first then improve; why not skip straight to your betterment. 

What are your thoughts?

Here is a thought experiment. Imagine two clocks; both analogue.

The first clock is broken. But in terms of accuracy its exactly correct twice a day.

The second clock is a minute off; technically, it’s the most useful one; but it’s never exactly correct. But it’s the one thats useful.

I see coding and the technologies we use to be of a similar fashion – and that too the religiosity of “standards” and “best practices”.

I think its far better to be more frequently useful, even if we may not yet be doing what is seen as the correct or right way…

Be useful is more important than being right and problematic.

Get it done, then on to the next and do that better.

If I were to look back over my last decade in the tech world and pick one thing as my single best decision as a developer – I’d say choosing to study psychology rather than computer science.

The most significant impact studying psychology had was on my communication skills, which, as a developer, put me in a very wonderfully unique position.

The improvement in communication has had many benefits, to name a few:

  • Understanding that people (clients, colleagues, friends) all want to feel a specific emotion and what they are asking for is what they believe would give them that – aim for the feeling.
  • It can avoid confusion by being able to talk fluently to clients, project/product/marketing managers, as well as my dev teams.
  • Improved communication skills reduce conflicts, upset clients, damaging relationships.
  • Communication skills also improve relationship building, grow your network, build rapport, and ultimately be someone no one finds unapproachable.
  • BONUS Side-effect: Being a developer is no longer all your limited to being.

With the new landscape of the developer career ecosystem, I find that those who are good at many things and master of nothing specific are progressing most significantly.

I am not a master at anything. 

Jack of all trades, master of none, but often better than a master of one. 

Now, for those 4 Simple Tips, I promised you. These little tips or practices have been in my communication toolbelt for quite sometime. I recently read a great book, which helped add more structure to what I was already doing: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (non-aff link here).

TL;DR 

Here are the four language tips for the impatient ;) (keep reading if you want to understand them with greater clarity):

  1. Choose observation language without evaluation or judgment based language.
  2. Share how this observation makes you feel without implying blame or accusation.
  3. Share the need you have; that is the reason for this feeling.
  4. Make requests of what you feel with satisfying the need you have without demanding.

It is also important to realize that any communication should be a giving and receiving pastime. 

The foundation of better communication in either direction is to remember this fundamental goal:

  1. When expressing: Communicate how you are without the language of blame, criticism, or judgment.
  2. When listening: Hear how you are, empathetically, without hearing blame, criticism, or judgment. 

BONUS: Listening well can often be more powerful than talking well.

By sharing and expressing oneself in a way that offers to share how you feel and your perspective without language that places the other person as the reason for how you feel also allows you an avenue to being more honest and transparent (without feeling guilty or fearing conflict). 

Sharing more allows for more understanding and empathy from others as they now know you better and where you are in perspective. Ultimately, this approach forces the interpersonal connection by acknowledging wants, needs, actions, and desires.

1. Observations over evaluations

State what you know to be accurate, over leading to evaluation about it.

Instead of: 

“You’re unreliable and wasted my time.”

Use: 

“We had a meeting today (fact) which you did not make it attend (fact); I hope everything is ok (non-judgment), is there a better time we can schedule? (solution)”

People are likely to disagree with evaluation based statements as they may have different core values which allow for miscommunication over resolution.

2. Express how this observation makes you feel.

Naming the emotion, without moral judgment, enables you to connect in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation. This expression allows you to express yourself without shaming them for their feelings or preventing them from feeling the way they do.

Instead of: 

“I think you are disrespectful of others’ time and selfish when you miss a meeting like today.”

Use:

I feel concerned when you miss a meeting without informing us; I feel letting me know would have allowed me to use that time better.”

3. Share the need/value that is the cause of the feeling.

All of our emotional reactions to what happens around us very often stem from a core need or value that we have and that we wish to acquire. 

Sharing this need without judgment allows us to both understand what we want at a deeper level and offers clarity to the other in how they may help us achieve this or, at the very least, empathize through understanding where our needs are.

4. Make a gentle request that satisfies this need.

Especially when emotions are peaked, we often share, unhelpfully, how we are feeling now, and how much this is not what we want to be feeling. Behavior like this does not move one any closer to the feelings we do want to have – and very often, it stops us from ever getting there at all.

If we do share what we need, we tend to communicate it as a demand, not a request – this strips the other of their right of consent and their desire to help. If this demand is met, it is far less out of voluntary desire; and more out of pressure, guilt, or compliance. 

It is far better to have someone want to help you than it is to have that have to help you.

Instead of:

“I set up another meeting at the same time tomorrow; please don’t waste my time again.”

Use:

“This progress of this project is important to me, and I need to feel secure that you can get it done; Can you help me by giving me a few meeting times that you are sure you would be able to attend. This certainty will help me feel more confident in our partnership.”

In-conclusion-ipsum

These four simple communication practices, although seemingly obvious, when practiced mindfully, can deeply improve all areas of one’s communication and interactions with others.

If we use these practices in our self-talk and be more understanding and forgiving of our flaws, we stand a chance to improve our relationship with ourselves – and let the cup floweth over.

Did you find these tips useful?

Do you have any tips or stories of your own when you felt a practice or mindset improved your communication? 

Please share your story, let’s communicate :)

When I was in high school I had an Afrikaans language teacher in ninth grade who loved history, culture and philosophy more than he did language – our language lessons then would be spent talking about philosophy (he mostly talking) or telling historical stories – he was seen as quite the weirdo and was also quite aged, he received little participation back – yet, this made me admire him more for his passion was so strong (or he was totally oblivious to the disinterest of most). Continue reading →

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