Cure for Imposter Syndrome

By Matt Layman on February 21, 2017

At every stage of our careers, we are learners. No matter how much an individual accomplishes, there will always be more to learn and do. This truth is bound to leave people with a feeling that they have missing knowledge. My understanding of Imposter Syndrome is that people latch onto these kinds of feelings and can translate that to anxiety and other self-destructive forces. I’m certainly not a psychologist, but I can offer this advice to software developers who are feeling inadequate with their experience (including myself):

Remember to be humble.

Humility is hugely powerful. It can take negative feelings about how you picture yourself and transform them into an acceptance of who you are as a person. A humble attitude relieves you of the imaginary requirement that you must be the best at whatever you pursue.

Humility does not mean that you give up your ambition. It’s perfectly reasonable to strive for excellence. I think humility allows you to follow those goals while escaping from an arrival fallacy. Because the truth is that you’ll never arrive at everything. In fact, there’s a good chance you may never arrive at anything. The world is a huge place and being the sharpest tip of the spear on some subject matter is extremely unlikely given all the intelligent people in the world.

With a humble stance, a term like “novice” or “beginner” loses the stigma that it might otherwise have. I think it’s impossible to feel like an imposter when you embrace a position that naturally has tons of upward mobility because you’ll know that you can always grow more.

This attitude even applies when you’re extremely proficient at something. Much emphasis is placed on “high achievers” who still manage to feel like frauds. I’d speculate that much of this inadequacy stems from natural challenges in a work environment. At work, developers are asked to solve problems with no previous solution. There is a good chance that a solution will require novel composition of different ideas or technologies. And we know that synthesis of different ideas is hard. Like, really hard. Naturally, if a developer is proficient at one half of a solution but not the other half, those fradulent feelings may creep in. Again, a humble mindset will be a boon to this developer. The mindset should set upon a developer the thought of “I guess this is where I need to grow.”

Everything I’ve discussed are merely my thoughts on this subject. Humility is the strategy that I choose when dealing with my own humanity and my path in life. I hope that a humble attitude can help some of you who may struggle with your sense of self in your work. Good luck to you.

If you want to chat about this with me, I'm @mblayman on Twitter.



Matt Layman

Matt is the lead software engineer at Storybird.

Always eager to talk about Python and other technology topics, Matt organizes Python Frederick in Frederick, Maryland (NW of Washington D.C.) and seeks to grow software skills for people in his community.