Category Archives: Personal

The Battle Against Imposter Syndrome

Well, it’s been a while since I posted here, and this will (unusually) be quite a personal post. But for (hopefully) good reason – I hope that it’s one that could benefit even just one person reading this. Not to mention, I, increasingly, have realised the importance of being open – not only for ourselves, but for the effect that it has on others. That said (and perhaps this is evidence that I am still fighting this battle), I feel the need to preface and say that I hope this is read in the spirit of what I intend as being honest for the benefit of somebody reading who may be suffering in silence, and not in a self-pitying or, conversely, self-aggrandising way, when I share some personal ups and downs in this post.

The last few years have been pretty turbulent for me. I’m certainly not alone in this; it’s an understatement to say that we’ve had a difficult time globally, through a pandemic, rising mental health crises, cost of living skyrocketing, political divide and war (and many more), we have plenty of fairly universal truths that say that the world hasn’t been so kind to many people recently. On top of this, of course we all have our own personal factors that could push this difficulty further.

I’m the type to downplay my own problems for want of not appearing like I’m overreacting, oversensitive, or unable to handle pressure, but after a series of events starting a couple of years (or so) ago, I was not always able to hide that. And now on reflection, I can say it honestly – I did have an abnormally bad time for a while and it affected me.

Without getting too deep into the specific personal details of each situation, within just over a year, I changed job, had two surgeries with longer-than-anticipated recovery (being some element of physically inactive for around a year), went through a long breakup, had some financial worries, family health scares, supported friends with some exceptional life/mental health circumstances of their own, and changed job again. Most of the time, I acted as if these events were “just one of those things” and I was rolling with the punches, but there’s only so much you can just override, and in hindsight I was often living in a “fight or flight” mindset. 

Why am I mentioning all this? It’s not just for my own catharsis; but because I know I can’t be alone in one particular element. According to this blog post by Subhasish Dutta on Turing, a survey of developers found that 58% said they suffered with Imposter Syndrome; and I know first-hand how external factors can only make that worse. It impacts your self-image, the way you think, your ability to focus, the decisions you make, and importantly – your enjoyment of life and the things you should be proud of. You believe you “can’t” even though you “do”.

So here’s a story to see if this resonates with anyone reading: I’ve always been the type to feel the need to prove myself, and internally doubt my own abilities. It didn’t matter what I achieved – there was some reason why it didn’t “count”, or someone else was better, or I wouldn’t be able to do it in X or Y environment, or I’m just fooling everyone; I achieved said “thing” because I played the system, took some shortcut, convinced everyone I’m capable of something that I’m really not. There’s always a reason other than “I’m actually good at something”. The further I got in my life, the more things I accomplished, the more I felt like this imposter; and having so many events bring me down a peg or two only compounded this when I previously could suppress it. If I was having a hard time concentrating or solving a problem, my first thought was because I must be a fraud, and not because of the myriad of things that could be impacting me. We are human and it’s natural.

I’m not going to totally absolve my own responsibility for my feelings and behaviour; of course I have weaknesses, I also could’ve looked after myself better, and there are things I chose to do prior in life that if I’d done differently, I might be in a better position. But nobody is perfect, life’s journey is not a straight road, and I also really believe it’s so important to be able to recognise the objective truths of situations, to be able to conquer this imposter feeling – and that includes not only seeing the good things you’ve done for what they are, but if something was negative or affecting you, not to entirely brush it off or think “I should’ve just done better”.

So in that spirit, and for want of ending this on a more positive note, I am going to finish by highlighting some of my objective positives from the last few years, despite the setbacks. This is a real challenge for me – I am terrible at selling myself. But I think that until we so-called imposters can do this and not worry that we’re coming across as bragging, or that in the back of our minds, these things don’t count – we will remain feeling unsatisfied by all of the things we should take pride in:

  • In my spare time, I built a web app that benefited my local community, and was used by over 10% of the voting public in my country to help make informed decisions on who to vote for
  • I recovered from my operations, lost weight, and am now fitter than I have been for years
  • I have been a supportive, loyal friend and family member to people close to me through hardships, even when I had my own struggles
  • I did have success in my job despite being at the peak of these events – and while I might’ve done some things differently, I was still able to keep going with life, keep producing good work, and largely not let it impact the reason that I was being paid
  • I took a step up to become a Senior Developer, and have accepted that this title doesn’t mean I have to be an oracle of all knowledge, but rather that my experience and some of the qualities that I have (which are unique to everybody) allow me to first and foremost be able to support younger devs, help them grow, and enable them to resolve issues that they’re struggling with – which is massively rewarding. And I am here on merit, not from 10 years of fooling everyone!
  • Despite some financial worries, I found ways to make some need for seeing more of the world a reality, and continue to do so
  • I achieved some personal dreams during this time, however small in comparison to others, they were milestones to me – e.g. yeah, I didn’t headline Glastonbury or Hellfest, but I did perform a dream gig with likeminded musicians to a sell out crowd in a small venue where I live!

It’s so important to remember context and not compare yourself to others. There will always be someone “better” than you. There is always room for improvement. But can you be content in what you’ve done? Of course – and that should be the bare minimum. 

We mustn’t lose sight of the things we’ve done along the way. In my case, at the time, just landing a developer job back in 2014 was an enormous achievement for me. I’d come from a family where nobody had ever been to university and we couldn’t afford to send me, but I spent 3 years working jobs that I didn’t enjoy to fund myself before I went to study Computing, received great grades, and ultimately achieved the fruit of that journey, and it changed my life. I’m sure we all have things we can and should be immensely proud of that we mentally discard in favour of the internal bully, and I just sincerely hope that it’s something that someone reading this can be mindful of in their own life. Otherwise, we’re just living for others, being our own worst enemy, and never feeling the confidence and satisfaction that should come with being the person you had once strived to be.