Learning to code is by no means an easy feat. Ask any accredited coding academy or instructor if learning to code is easy and they’ll tell you the same thing. Sure, some people have a natural talent for it and pick up on a little quicker than others, but it still takes lots of practice, proper guidance, and a dedication to learning.
Learning the skill isn’t the only obstacle you might face. Coding can be a mentally draining activity and sometimes psychological obstacles can get in the way. Other than mental fatigue, which is normal when learning a complicated skill, some people may experience another condition known as imposter syndrome. While imposter syndrome isn’t something that occurs on a frequent basis, it is prevalent enough to be worth mentioning. Today in the Career Karma blog, we’ll talk about imposter syndrome and what you can do to overcome it.
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What is the Imposter Syndrome?
So what is imposter syndrome anyway?
Let’s start by looking at it in the context of natural human emotion. Imagine your first day at a new job. Chances are, you’re a little nervous. You’re not sure you’re as qualified for the job as you thought, or maybe you’re unsure if you’ll be able to live up to the expectations you set up in your interview. This is a natural feeling almost everyone has had on their first day at a job. This feeling usually goes away after a couple of days or weeks. This feeling you’ve experienced is a symptom of imposter syndrome.
Of course, if you have imposter syndrome, those feelings don’t go away. Typically, imposter syndrome is defined as someone being unable to believe that they deserve their success. Or they believe their own skills and abilities to not get them to that point. They may also have a fear that someone will eventually expose them for their shortcomings.
These feelings of self-doubt can be incredibly difficult to deal with, especially for long periods of time. Imposter syndrome can ruin someone’s confidence and give them a warped self-image. It’s a realistic danger in any field of work, so it’s important to be familiar with the types of imposter syndrome and the possible symptoms. This way, if you or someone you know is showing symptoms, you can seek the help you need and work on overcoming it.
Types of Imposter Syndrome
There are five primary types of imposter syndrome. A foremost expert on imposter syndrome, Dr. Valerie Young, has identified and defined these types through her research. The types are:
- The Perfectionist
- The Expert
- The Soloist
- The Natural Genius
- The Superhero
Let’s take a closer look at each of these types.
The perfectionist never thinks their work is done. They constantly try to get their work or projects to a point where they’re absolutely “perfect” and if they’re anything less, they feel the weight of imposter syndrome on their shoulders.
Instead of looking at their accomplishments and victories, they look back on their accomplishments and ask what they could have done better. This isn’t necessarily a bad trait to have when it’s constructive, but often their self-criticism is harsh and instills self-doubt and high levels of anxiety in the individual. They’re constantly trying to exceed expectations to an unnecessary level. Often, they may not even complete work because it’s not good enough for them.
The expert needs to know everything, and that means absolutely everything. They become hyper-focused on a subject area and relentlessly track down new information until they deem themselves extremely proficient in that area of knowledge. While continuous education is important, they take it to an extreme. They may leave work incomplete because they don’t think they know enough to move forward, or they may not try to do new things or get new jobs because they don’t think they know absolutely everything they need to know.
The soloist is often considered a lone wolf. But, it’s important to remember that wolves do better in packs. A soloist believes that asking for help or seeking it out shows weakness or a lack of knowledge on their part. They will try to take on too much on their own or they’ll try to finish everything without any help at all. This can lead to them not doing optimal work or not being able to complete work on time. Also, their isolation can contribute to mental fatigue and anxiety.
The Natural Genius
Natural geniuses are typically quick learners. They’ve most likely mastered several skills throughout their lifetime and have done so in an efficient manner. When they come across a new skill they find difficult or they’re unable to learn it at their typical pace, they become disappointed in themselves and sow seeds of self doubt in their abilities. They don’t believe that new skills can sometimes require extra effort and time to master, and this is to their detriment. It causes them to be frustrated and give up on learning new, potentially valuable skills.
Superheroes believe that they should take on extra burden to prove their self worth. They’re typically proficient in multiple areas of their job, and constantly offer to take on more work. They believe that taking on more work will prove they are worthwhile and useful members of the team. This need to please can lead them to workaholic levels. This can lead to work affecting their mental and physical health, as well as their personal lives.
If you identify with any of these types, you may be dealing with imposter syndrome. But to be sure, it’s good to know some of the telltale symptoms. Let’s take a look at those next.
How do I Know if I Have Imposter Syndrome?
There are a wide array of symptoms that could indicate a case of imposter syndrome. It’s important to keep in mind that many people may experience one or many of these feelings at some point during their life. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have imposter syndrome. If these symptoms are a persistent part of your life, that’s when it’s time to seek help and attempt to overcome your condition. Here are some signs to watch out for:
Your Success is Not Your Own – Often, people with imposter symptom don’t believe they earned their success through their own means. They’ll attribute it to others and believe other factors played a bigger role.
You Won’t Take on More Responsibility – People with imposter syndrome tend to only focus on their own work, trying to perfect it. They won’t do anything else because it could compromise their work, even if the extra responsibility has the potential to increase their skill set.
You Take on Too Much Responsibility – On the flip side, people with imposter syndrome might set impossible goals for themselves or take on too much, essentially setting themselves up for failure. They’re hard on themselves when they don’t reach these lofty heights.
You Believe You Won’t Meet Expectations – People with imposter syndrome often feel like they won’t live up to what others expect of them, or what they expect of themselves. This beliefs can create intense self-doubt and anxiety in the individual.
You Self-Sabotage – Self doubt and low self esteem will inevitably lead to self sabotage. This is because someone who thinks they’re an “imposter” will have the belief they don’t deserve anything, and thus won’t make attempts at bettering themselves or their situation.
You Hate Your Job, but Don’t Do Anything About It – People with imposter syndrome may be dissatisfied with their job, but they never do anything to try and leave it. This is because they undervalue themselves and believe they couldn’t get a better job even if they tried. This also prevents them from being able to ask for a raise, since they think they wouldn’t deserve it or would be unable to take on the extra responsibility required in a higher position.
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You Have a Fear of Being “Found Out” – People with imposter syndrome think that eventually their lack of ability will be exposed and that they’ll be “found out” to be incompetent or unworthy of their job.
If you experience any of these symptoms and you struggle with them often, you may be dealing with imposter syndrome.
Why Do Many Coders Face the Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome can happen in any field of work, but programmers often seem to be a particularly common place where you can find it. Why is this?
Coding is a high-stress skill to learn and apply. There’s no nice way of saying it. Chances are you’re going to hit roadblocks along your journey. Maybe you’re not up to date on the latest technologies, or you haven’t stayed up to date on a language. Maybe a lot of the programmers you work with are proficient in a language that you’re unfamiliar with. All of these things can create feelings of inadequacy, especially if you’re newer to the coding world.
It’s important to remember you’re not alone in feeling like this. Coding is one of the fastest developing fields in the world. There are constantly new technologies coming out and new information to learn. It can sometimes feel overwhelming and feel like you’re falling behind.
But coding and development is a process. Just remember that you’re part of a community that is always looks to further their skills and learn more! As long as you’re willing to learn, you can. Manage your expectations and you’ll do just fine in the world of coding!
That being said, if you have imposter syndrome, of if you feel some of the symptoms creeping in, there are ways to handle it and overcome it. Let’s look at some of those.
10 Ways to Overcome the Imposter Syndrome
Dr. Valerie Young, through her research on imposter syndrome, outlined 10 steps to overcome it. Of course, if you’re having intense feelings of anxiety or depression, make sure you seek help and don’t attempt to deal with it on your own. Here are 10 ways to help overcome imposter syndrome:
Talk About It – Don’t keep your feelings bottled up. Now that you know you’re not alone, you can start seeking solace from others and let them know how you’re really feeling. Just getting this off your chest, instead of holding it in, can make you feel much better.
Don’t Mix Emotions with Facts – Everyone can feel inadequate or lesser at some point in their lives. It’s important to recognize these as just feelings, not actual truths. You’re not incompetent, even if you feel that way sometimes.
Sometimes, the Feeling of Not Fitting in is Natural – Women and minorities are especially susceptible to this feeling, even more so in the programming world. Although diversity in coding is getting better, it’s still a field dominated by white males. If your workplace isn’t especially diverse, recognize that it’s a natural feeling to feel like you don’t fit in. But don’t mistake that feeling for feeling like you don’t belong. Remember, you’ve earned the right to be there.
Look on the Bright Side – Mistakes happen. Not everything will be perfect. Make sure you look at the positive aspects of a project instead of hyper-focusing on every imperfection or mistake made along the way.
Learn from Mistakes – Building off the last step, not beating yourself up over mistakes is important, but you can also learn from them. Look at what went wrong as a learning opportunity, rather than something to obsess over.
Recognize Your Rights – You shouldn’t have to know absolutely everything or be perfect. Everyone has the right to have a bad day, make a mistake, seek help, or ask questions about something they unclear on.
Change Your Mental Script – The little voices in your head telling you you’re not good enough are mental constructs of your own making. So change the blueprints of these constructs. Instead of telling yourself that you can’t possibly do well on a project, due to your lack of knowledge, tell yourself that you’re capable of learning what you need to learn to complete the project and that you’ll be able to finish it due to your competence.
Visualize Your Success – Don’t imagine that everything is going to go wrong. Picture yourself achieving success. This puts you in the right mindset to succeed.
Reward Success – When you achieve something, make sure you take the time to recognize it and reward yourself for your progress.
Fake it Til’ You Make It – It’s an old adage, but it’s effective. No one has all the answers. You may not always have absolutely every skill you need to take on a project. But people are capable of learning. Everyone is. So give yourself that chance to become better and learn as you go.
Imposter syndrome can be difficult to deal with, but it’s not something you have to live with your whole life! Work to overcome it, so you can continue to better yourself in every aspect of life. If the next step of your life journey is learning to code, let Career Karma help. Our app will help match you to the perfect coding academy for your wants and needs!
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I can relate to a few of these imposter types. I haven’t lost all hope yet though. I try to stay positive and keep a desire to learn.
I took a JS crash course on Udemy to prepare myself to jump straight into React. While I was able to accomplish a couple of cool things, I could never do it on my own. The simplest of tasks were intimidating and I felt I needed to see how other people did it in order to finish the task. Maybe that’s normal, but I wondered how I was going to succeed if I couldn’t understand why anything worked.
I’m taking a different approach now. I’m setting my ~30 Udemy courses aside so I can learn from books instead. I’m going back to the basics of vanilla ES6 until I can solve challenges with confidence, knowing I have what it takes to get the job done.