Imposter Syndrome: Why You Need It

Valerie Pheonix
InstructorValerie Pheonix

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Published a year ago
Updated a year ago

Imposter syndrome is something that the industry has become more and more aware of, with countless articles telling us how to navigate and overcome it. Still, perhaps instead, we should learn to accept this feeling and learn to use it to our benefit.

Developmental psychology tells us there are multiple milestones that an individual should hit throughout our life cycle. In school, we are given standardized tests and grading rubrics to say to us how well we are doing. But once we make the transition into adulthood, all of that is gone. We start to feel like we're not good enough because we've lost our developmental structure. Removing the negative connotation we have with imposter syndrome is the first step we can take to reduce stress and stop feeling isolated, giving us the space we need to find our cure.

Valerie Pheonix: [0:00] Hey, everyone. Thank you for tuning in. Before I get started for today, I want to go ahead and introduce myself to everyone. My name is Valerie. I am the founder and CEO of Tech By Choice.

[0:14] My pronouns are she, her, hers. Over at Tech By Choice, we're really focused on making sure that underrepresented groups know that there is space for them in Tech, not just to enter but to stay and thrive in.

[0:30] Outside of my work with Tech By Choice, I am also a senior software engineer at Mastery Logistics. When I'm not working with the community, I'm usually working with some code.

[0:43] If you want to connect with me to continue this conversation or if you have questions about jobs -- Mastery's currently hiring -- you can reach me @DigitalBlkHippy on Twitter. I'm always there talking about code, art, and the cool stuff that we're doing with Tech By Choice, so definitely reach out if you're looking to mentor, find a mentor, or join a really awesome community.

[1:11] Before I go any further, I want to give a big thank you to the egghead team who selected my talk, gave me this opportunity to speak, and be a part of this platform. I'm really excited to be able to talk about something that I think is really important, especially with what's going on in our current world. That's imposter syndrome and why you need it.

[1:37] Now, I know you're thinking imposter syndrome. You've heard this talk 1,000 times, but I promise you it's not the imposter syndrome talk that you you're used to hearing because I believe that imposter syndrome is something you should be empowered by it. Not all the stuff that the media talks about, about it being some negative thing, it's something you can actually use and grow from.

[2:06] I know that if you do a quick Google search about imposter syndrome, you would think it's just a buzzword because you'll find countless talks, articles, podcasts, movies, all these other things to highlight that imposter syndrome is probably just a buzzword.

[2:25] You can even add this talk into the bucket of countless things about imposter syndrome because this talk is about imposter syndrome, but I don't want to cast this out as just being a buzzword, especially in our new world now.

[2:44] There's all of this unknown and uncertainty that's floating around that just amplify the feeling that maybe you're not good enough. Maybe, you don't belong at this job. Maybe, making that career change wasn't the best thing or the best decision.

[3:04] This is especially true for those of us who were recently laid off. If our industry is known for one thing is that the tech industry is notorious for having bad interview practices. I don't know very many people that have said that they've never had a bad experience interviewing in Tech.

[3:26] For those of us who are fortunate enough to still have a job, we're experiencing burnout. A lot of it is from us overworking to compensate for the lack of focus we have throughout the day.

[3:43] Some of us are overworking because we just don't want to be in the next wave of layoffs. We feel we have to do more and show that we're thankful that we still have a job.

[3:55] Not to mention the Zoom burnout, how that's become a thing. We're in Zoom all day for work and meetings, and then we're now using Zoom to connect and social distance from each other and still have a social life.

[4:08] Now, I think all of these feelings are valid, and they are a normal reaction to everything that's going on right now. What I'm not OK with is the current discussion around imposter syndrome.

[4:24] Now, if you read any of these articles, movies, podcasts, or interact with any of those things, you'll quickly realize that the talks about imposter syndrome were broken down into these three phases. They say that it's real.

[4:40] They define imposter syndrome as someone who is accomplished and has the skill set to do their daily work, but for some reason, they still feel as if, at any moment, they're going to be outed as a fraud, despite everything that they've done to get to that position.

[5:03] They let you know that it's real. It's not something that's in your head, and that other people have it. That's the big part and the second stage and section theme that you find in these talks.

[5:20] We talk about the fact that women have it more often than men. If you're a minority, then you're more likely to experience imposter syndrome. If you're a person with identities that intersect, you are more likely than anyone else to have felt imposter syndrome at least once in a workplace.

[5:44] These authors are starting to just feel like opera to me, the operas of imposter syndrome. It's like everywhere you turn around, they're saying, This person has it. That person has it. This person has it," but it stops there.

[6:00] After they break down the countless isms that are causing people to feel othered and like they don't belong which all triggers imposter syndrome, they highlight that these systems and environments are supporting these isms are the reason why people feel imposter syndrome, but they end the conversation there.

[6:20] We understand now as an industry that because people feel othered, they feel like an outsider, like they don't belong, they can't blend in, that they may never fit in this job or fit in this box as a developer, a designer, a marketer, but then we don't continue the conversation and we don't find solutions. That's not working for me.

[6:46] I'm a data-driven person. I'm a research-driven person. I'm also air sign. I'm a bull. The fact that I don't have answers, that's a real problem. That's my biggest issue with imposter syndrome. You tell me that there's this big issue, but you don't give me any content or any information on how to solve it.

[7:14] Working with a community, it really made me think back to this Maya Angelou quote when it came to imposter syndrome. The quote reads, "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude."

[7:29] That's how I started to try to tackle imposter syndrome. I was tired of encountering people in the community who question if they should stay at a job or stay in an industry that they worked so hard to get into, or I worked so hard to keep that job, but because of these feelings, they were ready to walk away.

[7:49] I started picking up on the different themes that I saw by just talking to people. I realized most people first feel imposter syndrome in a tech role. Many of these people have spent years in different industries, but it's something about entering tech that made people feel like an imposter.

[8:11] It could be the new job, a lot of new terms, new teams, new ways to work, but the one thing that was most important to me was the workplace. I wanted to know more about when people felt like an imposter and why and get more details around it, so I can come up with some solutions.

[8:31] I started to focus on what external factors cause those internal feelings and what were those feelings? I asked a couple of people these questions. One thing that I found that was very common is that people started to feel like an imposter when they were given a task that they felt they couldn't complete.

[8:55] Now, if we look at that example and break it down to external and internal feelings and factors, we will see that the external factors were you were given a task that was out of your scope of knowledge, and so it made you feel like you couldn't do it, that you maybe you weren't good enough, that maybe this role wasn't for you, and you might have felt frozen and stuck like you couldn't get out of that.

[9:27] Or you could have defaulted to, I need to study more to prove that I know this information, to prove that I'll never not know something.

[9:40] Now, by breaking down these external and internal factors, it's easy to see that there's a lack of structure. That's why people tend to feel that they don't know what's going on or they can't do this thing.

[9:55] As an ex psychology student, one of the things that I learned people love the most is structure and honestly patterns. Now, the good thing about this is we can control some of the internal structure that we have, and sometimes, we can control some of the external things that are going on.

[10:20] To do this, we have to ask ourselves a few questions. One of the main questions I like to ask people is, what structure did you lack the last time you felt like an imposter?

[10:31] We go back on the last example, about feeling overwhelmed with the new task. We could say that cause of lack of structure could be, you didn't know what teams you were supposed to talk to to get the work done, or maybe the ticket didn't have enough detail so you could fully understand the problem, or maybe the level of difficulty was incorrectly labeled for that ticket because that does happen.

[11:04] We have to be honest with ourselves during this step. It's key to being able to use imposter syndrome to empower you. Sometimes, the structure we lack is some things that we just don't do for ourselves.

[11:21] Another external thing that we could control in a situation is to be able to speak up and just ask for help. Now, I know that asking for help is not easy, especially if you're already feeling high anxiety and you're questioning if you belong and you do not want to be viewed as a fraud, that's going to make asking for help that much harder.

[11:50] We haven't even touched on the fact that if you are a minority or you are a new representative person in this meeting, asking for help is intimidating. You don't want to remove your own power in the workplace.

[12:09] That's why I like to tell people you have to come up with phrases to ask for help that still give you power. I know this may seem strange, but asking for help is not a powerless thing.

[12:22] The way that I think about it is when you're asking for help, you're trying to receive information from someone. By receiving and taking from someone, you're gaining that knowledge and you hold on to your position of power, and you get your work done, which is a win-win.

[12:46] Now that we know what structure we can add to our day-to-day lives to overcome imposter syndrome, it's important to know why structure is key. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of structure is developmental psychology.

[13:01] Throughout childhood, there are a number of milestones we expect children to hit. If we think about it, moments after a child is born, they are given their first test, the Apgar test. They check for heart rate, muscle tone, and other signals to make sure the child doesn't need any extra medical care or emergency care.

[13:25] Then from that point on, there's more and more milestones we want and we check for. We see that babies go from scooting to crawling to walking to eventually running. Then when they enter a school system, there's even more structure.

[13:41] We now know what they should learn, when they should learn it, and when they should events. We're even given benchmarks to see what level they're at and see if there's any extra support that we can give them.

[13:55] There's systems in place to support you and make sure you hit all of your marks. Which is great, because we never expect a 1st grader to learn and know the same things that a 12th grader does. We don't make those comparisons because we have roadmaps and we understand what's expected from everyone. All of that is gone.

[14:20] Once you become an adult, you enter the real world and you have more responsibilities. You have to take care of yourself. Clothe yourself, feed yourself, keep a roof over your head.

[14:34] For some of us, we even have to keep up with other people depending on us and requiring those other things from us as well. We have all this stress, all this pressure, but with no understanding of what's expected from us. That's why you see a lot of people start to compare themselves to others without understanding each other's experiences.

[15:02] Sometimes when we think your co-worker is great at something and you'll never catch up, you don't realize that maybe your co-worker is just great at that one thing, or maybe they just have more experience than you to make them a 12th grader and you are still a few grades behind. You can get there, it's just going to take time.

[15:27] That's why it's so important to create a growth plan. That's why I think this is the best part of this structure in the space. Because once we have this plan, we know where we're going. We can fall back on this whenever we feel like an imposter.

[15:47] We want to try to plan out some ideas of things that we can do when we're not so nervous and overwhelmed, so that when those feelings do rush in, we don't have to be creative, instead, we can just fall back to our growth plan.

[16:03] Going off of the same example we've used in the previous slides, of not knowing what to do with this task that we are given, we can follow a few steps of maybe asking for help, but doing so in a way that we don't lose our power.

[16:22] We can work with another co-worker to figure out what steps we can take to find a solution. As we're working with that co-worker, we can quickly jot down things that we didn't know. We can use that to be our study guide to get better at this and to learn more patterns, so the next time we experience this, we'll be able to solve those problems faster.

[16:52] By following these three golden rules, we're able to overcome imposter syndrome. The first step, we have to remember to figure out what external factors are causing those internal feelings. Once we do that self-awareness check, we are then able to say and figure out what structures we can add to our issues so that we can overcome them.

[17:20] From that point on, we can create a growth plan to see how we can advance ourselves and make sure that we're continuously growing.

[17:30] We've come to the end of our talk. I just want to say thank you all for listening to me talk about why imposter syndrome is so important and should be something that you use to empower you.

[17:43] If there's one thing that you take away from this, I want you all to know that imposter syndrome is not something that should ever hold you back. If anything, it's just telling you that you're in a position to learn more. That's it. It's scary, it's a new, and it's really just intimidating. If you follow these three steps, there's nothing that you can't do, so thank you.

[18:09] Again, if you are interested in connecting with me, I'm on Twitter. My handle is throughout the slides. If you would like to join the Tech By Choice community, go ahead and use the link here in this slide and you'll be connected. It was great chatting with you.