Most of you are probably already familiar with impostor syndrome. Wikipedia defines it as:
Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.
Basically, it’s the feeling that you don’t really know how things work and one day you’ll get caught, your lies will be exposed, and the world will come crashing down.
Let me let you in on a secret, all people has likely felt as an impostor at times. Even the people you look up to the most. Lately, there has been a lot of tweets and blog posts on impostor syndrome, and that is great. Raising awareness is the first step. However, not many people are saying what to do about it or how to prevent you from developing a “loser DNA”. What is loser DNA?
My Friend Nick Russo wrote about it after listening to Gary Vaynerchuck. Loser DNA is when you compare yourself to others that are, at least according to you, a lot more advanced in a certain area or technology. Because they are so much more advanced, you feel there is no way you could ever reach their level. So why even try?! If I’m not going to be as good at network design as Ivan Pepelnjak or Russ White, why bother?! If I can’t be as good at security as Katherine McNamara or Steven McNutt, why bother?! When you start thinking like this, you develop a loser DNA, where it’s acceptable with status quo because you don’t see how you can ever reach their level.
These people didn’t just become experts over night. It takes time. A LOT of time. Furthermore, you have to realize that you can really only be an expert in a couple of areas at most, so pick those wisely. For me personally, I would consider myself an expert in:
- Network design
- Enterprise networking
I pride myself on having deep knowledge within these areas. Then I have other areas where I have working knowledge, such as datacenter, security, cloud. If you’ve spent time learning the fundamentals, you’ll be more comfortable learning new things, and will be able to reach that working knowledge must faster.
So what should you do to prevent feeling impostor syndrome?
- Stop comparing yourself to others. The only person worth comparing yourself to, is you. Be a little better each day
- Accept that you can only be an expert in a limited number of domains
- Accept that you are where you are today because you provide value. It did not happen by coincidence
- Be aware that everyone feels like an impostor at times. When you do, quickly set those thoughts aside.
- If something doesn’t work out, or you get critique, that doesn’t mean you’re an impostor. That just means you had a learning experience and will be a little better and smarter the following day
Impostor syndrome is something that everyone feels. We are all afraid of being exposed. Stop comparing yourself to others and you’ll feel a lot less as an impostor.