Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Yes, You Belong Here - Helping Others With Impostor Syndrome

This is part three of the series on my talk about impostor syndrome. You can read the first two parts here and here.

In part two I discussed things that you can do to overcome and manage impostor syndrome. I'm going to wrap things up by discussing things you can do to help others affected by impostor syndrome. Whether you aren't affected by impostor syndrome or have a good handle on it, there are always things you can do to help.

Improving Your Impostor Radar

Before you can help anyone with impostor syndrome, you need to know how to recognize people affected by it. This can be tricky because remember, they already feel like an impostor and will most likely be trying their best to hide signs that they're feeling this way.

Someone with impostor syndrome may regularly disclaim or understate their experiences or skills. You can see this in their speaking or writing when you encounter phrases such as "sorry if this isn't very good but..." or "yeah, I didn't work on it very hard so sorry about the quality".

Another sign may be not willing to take credit for their role in projects. You may even need to nudge it out of them. Their work may actually be good but they don't want attention called to it in case it doesn't measure up to others that they feel did most of the real work.

Self-deprecating humor isn't always a sign of impostor syndrome as some people just enjoy getting a laugh at all costs but it's something to be aware of. Look for the more cutting humor that can be painful or uncomfortable to hear.

Now What Do I Do?

Have an idea of how to spot those with impostor syndrome? Here's what you can do to help.

The Hacker School has a few guidelines that are not only aimed at helping combat impostor syndrome but they're good to follow in general to be a good human being:

  • No feigning surprise
    • e.g "Really? how do you NOT know what a lambda expression is?"
  • No well actually's
    • Well actually...
  • No back-seat driving
    • Fully engage or not, don't just butt in sporadically.
  • No subtle sexism
    • Or any other isms. This has no place in the workplace either. Just don't.

This may seem like common sense but something that's helpful is to simply recognize and call out successes. If you see someone doing awesome stuff, say something! Even if they don't have impostor syndrome, they'll be happy you did. I've never heard of anyone regret uplifting someone else.

Another thing that has been helpful to me in the past is "give people permission to start". What that means is some people may want to put themselves out there but are reluctant to do so because they're feeling a bit of impostor syndrome. All they may need is for someone to believe in them and let them know that they'll do fine.

Remember in the last post I talked about how people with impostor syndrome need to avoid negative people? Don't be a person that they need to avoid.

Be proactive when offering help. Remember that people with impostor syndrome want to avoid situations where they may be revealed to be an impostor so asking for help may be difficult for them. "Let me know if you need help" is usually not enough. A better approach is to ask directly if they need help so that there's one less barrier to getting help on a project or problem.

Finally, if you happen to be some sort of geek celebrity, remember that with great power comes great responsibility. Find ways to help those with impostor syndrome if only just making people aware of the problem and how to deal with it.

The (Not So) Surprising Truth In All Of This

Here's the most important thing that I've learned through studying impostor syndrome:

We all experience some degree of impostor syndrome.

It's actually normal and healthy to feel this way. As you learn how to manage and avoid the negative effects of impostor syndrome, you can use it to move yourself forward. You may not be 100% successful at first but as your grow in your career it will become easier to manage.

I hope reading these posts have been useful and have given you some incentive to learn more about impostor syndrome. Help others be aware of it by sharing your own experiences in a blog post or talking about it.

If you're currently suffering from impostor syndrome, I hope I have given you enough resources to get started on managing it. There are more below as well.

If you know someone that is suffering from impostor syndrome, see if you can help them. Simply learning what it is called is tremendously helpful.

If you find yourself asking yourself, "do I belong here?" remember that the answer is "yes you do".

Thanks again for reading. Please comment below if you have any questions or comments or hit me up on Twitter and Google+.


Photo Credit, David Niblack, Imagebase.net

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Yes, You Belong Here - Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

This is part two of the series on my talk about impostor syndrome. You can read the first part here.

Overcome yourself
In part one, I discussed what impostor syndrome was and the effects of it. Hopefully you don't feel limited by the effects of impostor syndrome but if you do, I hope this post can start you on a path that leads you to managing it so that you can succeed.

First Step, Education

The first step in dealing with anything really is to educate yourself about it. You're here reading this post so you're already taking steps to educate yourself, good job. Some resources that really helped me recognize and learn how to deal with impostor syndrome include:

There's also another impostor syndrome talk by Nickolas Means that was at this year's rails conf that's supposedly very good but I haven't been able to find a video of it yet so keep an eye out for it.

As you educate yourself about impostor syndrome, here are some things I've found to be true and to keep in mind:

You suck at evaluating yourself

We are our worst critics. This isn't just for people affected by impostor syndrome, most people are terrible at evaluating themselves. It's good to self-reflect but take your self-criticisms with a grain of salt.

Impostor syndrome will probably never fully go away

This sounds worse that it sounds. Impostor syndrome syndrome can be managed. In fact, if you manage it well, it can actually slingshot you into greatness.

Procrastination != bad technical skill

What do I mean by this? There are people in this world who are just awesome at managing their time and getting stuff done. Does this mean they're smarter or more intelligent than you? No, this just means they're good at managing their time. This distinction is important as procrastination is something that can often lead you to feeling like an impostor.

Don't get me wrong, procrastination is still a problem, but separating your intellect from time management skills can help you manage impostor syndrome. If you have a problem with procrastination (like yours truly) I highly recommend this series of posts at waitbutwhy.com, here and here.

Armed With Knowledge, Time For Action

With these things in mind, there are many things you can do to help manage impostor syndrome.

An important (and maybe most difficult) step is to get help from others. Because you're terrible at evaluating yourself, find people you trust to give you a realistic view of how you're really doing. This also gives people who want to see you succeed a chance to help you out when they may otherwise have no idea of what you're going through.

Avoid negative people and situations if possible. Negative people can drain your emotional energy; energy that you may not have to spare. They don't owe you anything and neither do you. This can also include social media. Unfollowing is easy and it only hurts for a second ;-).

Find a system or belief that gives unconditional love and acceptance to get hidden strength from. Find worth outside of your intellectual pursuits. Putting too much emphasis on intellect can be a source of imbalance in life. I've found that if I've been neglecting my religious studies or exercise, I get overwhelmed easily.

We get so involved with the present that we don't take a moment to see where we've been. Play the long game and don't worry about the day to day so much. Even if you're not improving as fast as you'd like, as long as you're constantly improving you're winning.

If you experience a success, celebrate! Tweet about it, write a blog post about it, just do something that will remind you that you have successes. At the same time, if you fail, learn from it and then move on. Remember that everyone fails and every failure is a learning opportunity.

If you find yourself hesitating from trying out something with a chance of failure, think of it as a big experiment. Then think, "what's the worst that can happen... really". People bounce back from pretty bad failures, oftentimes stronger for it. And then think, "what's the best that can happen?".

If you have intellectual heroes or have some favorite geek celebrities, remember that they are human too. They had to work hard to get where they are and their circumstances are simply not the same as yours. Everyone has strengths as so do you. Measure yourself against yourself and use your unique strengths to be awesome.

Help others. It's scary, you might fail, and yes, you will feel like an impostor at first but after doing it for a while, people will start coming to you for help. Let me tell you, having people come to you for help flies in the face of impostor syndrome!

Finally, some simple advice that my mother always gave me was totally cliche but is true in many respects:
Fake it 'til you make it
This is weird advice because I'm basically telling you to be an impostor. If you already feel like one, why not own it? There are a lot of smart people out there but you'd be surprised to find that they're all faking as well. The only difference is they're not letting it hold themselves back so why should you?

Thanks, But I'm Pretty Sure I Don't Have Impostor Syndrome

That's great! That means the next post is for you. Next time I'll wrap things up by talking about what you can do to help others with impostor syndrome. Once again, feel free to comment below or hit me up on Twitter or Google+.

Photo Credit, Tim Alosi, Flickr.com