You may have heard of or experienced first-hand the effects of imposter syndrome, regardless of your career. Defined as the psychological experience in which a person questions their skills, accompanied with a consistent fear of being exposed as a fraud, imposter syndrome wreaks havoc on your mental state in the workplace and often has you wondering if you even belong there.
In the world of IT, with its continuously expanding level of sophistication and advancement, self-doubting your abilities is as common as “my computer is turned off” tickets. It is quite impossible to always stay current with new technologies, best practices, and coding languages, and because of that, knowing how to combat imposter syndrome is as essential as your IT certifications.
After I earned my Bachelor’s degree in IT and coming from a military background, I had little to no confidence in my skills; it’s safe to say that many of those in my first interviews could tell as well. The civilian world is much different than life in the military. I had to literally change my language from fast-paced instructions, curse words, and an overall feeling of superiority to a more toned-down 1’s and 0’s tech vocabulary; on top of this, once I landed my first IT job, I was thrown to the wolves, having to learn everything on my own and at a quick pace. I immediately felt that I didn’t belong at my job, and my promotion to IT Manager only made things worse. However, once I was acclimated with the slower pace of the civilian world, I found time to study, practice, and develop new ways to absorb all of the lessons I could (aim to be sponge).
Know Your Worth
While it is up to you to maintain your level of involvement in learning new things, understand that you, at the core, have a certain level of expertise that needs to be recognized. Your colleagues will often have a higher level of understanding for things you haven’t even heard of, but on the other hand, your IT knowledge might be more current, as you studied in the recent years of new technology. If all else fails, the phrase, ‘fake it till you make it’ has actual benefits; why it helps to have the genuine skill to back it up (obviously), don’t be afraid to act like you know something when you don’t. I am not saying to lie, but if you have time to research the question or task before your next encounter with the person, tell them that you have that project covered. Find what you are good at, apply it to what you are weak in, and acknowledge that you, like everyone, are a work in progress.
One of the most significant effects of imposter syndrome is fear; fear in not being up to the task, fear that you only got the job by chance, and fear that someday soon, your boss will uncover the fraud that you are. In my time in the military, I found that fear is one of the greatest motivators. In South Korea, you could typically find me cruising the busy streets while hauling thousands of pounds of MK84 bombs; was this scary as an 18-year-old? Yes. Did it motivate me to follow the speed limits? Well, no….but the concern was definitely there. The world of IT is very much like my life as a Munitions Technician, but instead of building an AIM-9 guided missile (which could blow up at any second), I am now building entire systems of communication for my company (which if I failed in doing, we could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a week). Fear is what entices you to take the time to study, to excel in your daily duties, and to allow yourself to celebrate after you have kicked down its door.
Regardless of the tactic you wish to use, it is vital to the future of your career that you understand the effects of imposter syndrome and the fact that those around you are going through it as well. Next time you are in a meeting trying to understand topics that seem way out of your paygrade or get tasked to build the framework of a system you have to Google to even spell correctly, remember that there are many tools at your disposal, the greatest being believing in yourself.
I know I have thrown a lot of shade at imposter syndrome, but having it isn’t always a bad thing. Simply questioning your competence in your profession is actually a sign of competence; I know what you are thinking, but hear me out. In the words of Charles Stross, “Only people who understand their work well enough to be intimidated by it can be terrified by their own ignorance” (Stross, 2018). After all, we are all products of our individual thoughts and aspirations; knowing how to identify and control them is up to you.
Stross, Charles. (2018). Goodreads. The Labyrinth Index. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36053406-the-labyrinth-index.