Are You For Real?

Melissa Xie

Those who have Imposter Syndrome are said to be “high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.”

As a someone who does consulting work as her job, I can’t tell you how often I’ve felt like “it’s only a matter of time” until someone figures me out. My anxieties are skyrocketing just writing this blog post. Who am I to be talking about Imposter Syndrome? Do I even know what it is? Am I even qualified?

When I’m working with my clients though, the fear comes from scenarios like:

  • A bug occurs (on production for dramatic effect) and I just can’t explain it.
  • As I’m working on a project, I suddenly remember that tons of people are (or will be) using it and then I feel like I’m not good enough to be the one building this.
  • Or this:

    Me: So how did you envision handling X?
    Client: I don’t know. What do you think?
    Me (in my head): Oh shit. I’m going to get fired.

The theme here is basically: “What if I can’t answer all of their questions? What if I don’t know enough to solve these problems?”

And the answer is almost always: “It’s ok.”

My clients are looking to me to help them solve the problem at task. I’m supposed to be “the expert” here. As humans, it is part of our nature to emphasize the negative over the positive so when I find myself in such a scenario, I tend to freeze up and forget everything that I know. In these situations, I consider three possibilities:

  • If I claim that I know how to tackle the problem when I actually don’t, then yes, I am being a fraud and maybe I should be afraid.
  • If I look back on my prior experiences up until now and remember that I’ve solved similar problems before, then yes, I am experiencing Imposter Syndrome and should try to leverage that knowledge.
  • If I really don’t know how to approach the problem though, then I should be honest about it, share what I do know, and offer to discuss the problem as a team. This becomes a learning experience for everyone.

Easing future occurrences

For times when I do feel good about the work I’m doing, I make sure that I take some steps to help Future Me remember this feeling again:

  • Ask my peers for feedback and keep a list of any positive comments. These positive comments should include why and how though so that I remember what it was that I did right.
  • Become a mentor to someone or a TA at a workshop like RailsBridge so that I can exercise my knowledge about a certain area. It’s a great way to teach back what I’ve learned.
  • Share with others what I’ve learned recently because you never know when someone else might not have known about the same thing!

Taking these actions on a regular basis allows me to have concrete examples that I can later use to accurately assess my ability to do something. Hopefully you’ll be able to give yourself the credit you deserve too!