A surprising number of people suffer from imposter experience. And developers are no exception. What is imposter experience? And why am I writing about it in this book?
What Is It
People suffering from imposter experience are generally very good at what they do. They're often perfectionists, giving their very best. Yet they feel insecure and, at times, they think of themselves as frauds or imposters. They feel as if they're tricking the world into believing that they're better than they actually are. Does that sound familiar?
If you want to learn more about imposter experience, I recommend reading the Wikipedia entry on the topic. It does a great job at explaining the details.
Why Do I Bring This Up
Regular readers of Cocoacasts know that I occasionally write about the psychological aspects of being a developer, working as a freelancer, or running a business. These are topics I have a special interest in since they're an integral part of being a developer.
Topics like imposter syndrome or experience are often ignored, discarded with a laugh, or trivialized. But if you're a developer and you want to live a happy life, enjoying the work you do isn't enough. It's equally important to feel comfortable around the people you work with and the environment you spend a good chunk of your time in.
Curing Imposter Experience
It's important to emphasize that I'm not a psychologist and have no medical training whatsoever. The advice I offer is based on my own experience and conversations with developers like yourself.
Imposter experience is pretty common among freelance developers, especially if you're working in a team of one. Why would anyone pay you money for the code you write? And what if people find out that you're not as good as they thought you were?
One of the best cures for imposter experience is honesty and openness. When Swift was introduced in 2014, apart from a handful of developers at Apple, nobody knew what Swift was. Best practices were still waiting to be discovered and everyone played with and explored the language.
Natasha Murashev has been a true inspiration for many developers. From the start, Natasha has openly documented her exploration of the language, sharing her discoveries along the way. Even though she's a fantastic developer, she doesn't proclaim to be an expert. Especially in the early days of Swift, her blog read like a diary of how she explored the language. She studied Swift honestly and openly, the perfect remedy to cure and even prevent imposter experience. It makes Natasha's blog fun to read and it immediately creates a human connection.
Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep
Years and years ago, I taught students at a university in Belgium. One of the key lessons I learned from one of my mentors was to be up front with your students about what you know and, more importantly, what you don't know. If a student asks you a question you don't know the answer to, tell them.
Admitting that you don't know something makes you human. You're not a robot and your brain isn't plugged into Google—not yet anyway. But there's more. Most people show respect if you can admit that you don't know or cannot do something. What can seem like a sign of weakness is actually a sign of strength and confidence.
It Automatically Disappears
I don't feel it's important to understand the root cause of imposter experience to rid yourself of it. After a while, it disappears automatically. Whenever I discuss a project with a client, I'm open and honest about what's possible and what isn't. If I'm not familiar with a specific technology, I tell them and provide an alternative.
Being open increases your credibility and it strengthens the relationship with the client. It's a powerful antidote for imposter experience.
Talk About It
I've been wanting to write this post for quite a while. What inspired me to take action was a recent episode of the Tropical MBA podcast, TMBA384: Are You an Imposter?. One of the key takeaways from the episode is simple, surround yourself with like-minded people and talk about it.
You only feel like an imposter if you compare yourself with others. — Luis Miguel Gil
Dan interviews several people that openly talk about imposter experience. Luis Miguel Gil opens up about how he experienced imposter experience. He also zooms in on what causes imposter experience and how to defuse it. This is what Luis has to say about feeling like an imposter.
When I compare myself with Luis from three years ago I see huge growth, huge success. Amazing. I'm very happy and very proud of what I've accomplished. But when I compare myself with people like you guys (Dan and Ian, the hosts of the podcast) or other entrepreneurs that have had many amazing successes, I feel I'm far away from reaching that. I'm so far away. — Luis Miguel Gil
It can sometimes be easy to become overwhelmed or intimidated by what others are doing and have achieved, especially if you watch too many talks or read too many blog posts. It's important to appreciate yourself and don't undervalue what you've already achieved.
Imposter experience isn't uncommon. Many people suffer from imposter experience, including people that are considered top performers in their field. Tom Hanks, one of my favorite actors, made a surprising comment several years ago.
I still feel sometimes that I'd like to be as good as so-and-so actor. I see some other actors' work, and I think I'll never get there. I wish I could. — The New York Times
This may seem odd for someone who's won two academy awards. It shows that it isn't uncommon. It makes him human and approachable.
Don't Believe Everything You Read
Imposter experience can also be fueled by believing everything you read. Some people may claim that they built a successful business in two months by working five hours a week. That may be possible, but they're the exception to the rule.
Don't compare yourself with exceptions. If you want to achieve something that you're proud of, you need to put in the work. If you want to become a great developer, you'll need to write code, and lots of it. And spending your days reading tutorials or browsing Stack Overflow won't help much.
Don't Let It Affect You
Most developers suffer from imposter experience at some point in their life. And that's fine. It won't kill you. But Dan Andrews emphasizes that impostor experience can grow into a problem if, how you run your business or your career, is affected by imposter experience.
This is a problem I see many freelancers struggle with. They undervalue what they have to offer. Something that seems easy or even trivial to you can be of great value to others. That doesn't mean you need to undervalue yourself or, heaven forbid, do it for free. The reason you find it easy is because you're an expert at what you do. And that's why people want to pay you for your services and expertise.
A carpenter gets better the longer he does his job. This means he gets better the older he gets. Do you think he drops his hourly rate as he gets better and grows older? The opposite is true. Don't think for a second that you're any different.
Success Through Failure
Failure continues to be a touchy subject in many parts of the world. I feel it's much less of a taboo in the United States. Let's be honest, if you succeed without failure, then you haven't aimed high enough.
Every single person that has reached success has experienced failure. It's not something to be embarrassed about. You can only succeed by trying, failing, trying harder, failing again, and persisting until you succeed.
Remember this, if you succeed without failing, you're not aiming high enough. Be realistic, but make sure you're not underestimating what you can achieve. Some things are hard, but that doesn't mean they're impossible.