A simple definition of Impostor Syndrome is the feeling that you’re not good enough even when you are actually good. This feeling also shows itself as the fear that people will think of you as a “fraud” - an incompetent person wearing a mask of competence.
Dealing with Impostor Syndrome is important because we don’t want to minimise our own accomplishments. Impostor Syndrome is not the same as humility; it’s self-denigrating and at its worst, it prevents us from contributing to society even though we are perfectly capable of doing so.
There are two perspectives that are worth investigating when dealing with Impostor Syndrome. As a bonus, I’ll throw in four sophomoric renditions of these perspectives which I hope can visualise them better.
The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know
Learning can make you think this, especially when you’re in IT. The rate of growth is so great that when you have just finished learning something, you realised that the field is much larger than what you initially thought.
You are the star and your size represents your knowledge.
When you learn something new, your size stays the same but the dark circle of world’s knowledge grows bigger.
Knowing this, you start to question if it’s worthwhile to learn new things. There’s too much to know, you’re overwhelmed, and no matter how hard you work, you are not moving forward by much.
The more you know, the more you know.
The world’s knowledge will keep on expanding without regards on whether you are keeping up or not. And that’s why it is important to not be afraid of that expansion; the only one you can control is you.
Instead of the circle getting bigger, the star gets bigger instead.
I purposely made the size of the circle constant because it has always been that way. The world’s repository of knowledge is constantly unlimited.
Before you learn something, it’s unlimited.
After you learn something, it’s still unlimited.
But one thing that’s certain is that when you learn something, you are better than who you are before.
I’m not sure if it’s useful to think of learning as if you’re a text on a responsive screen of unlimited width and height. It’s not necessary for your font-size to perfectly scale as the screen grows bigger.
As long as you put in the effort to learn more, you can be certain that you will know more.
Of course, at times we truly want to keep up with the ever-expanding knowledge. But, if we are always afraid of our inability to learn and keep up, and optimise our learning prematurely without developing the ability for self-appreciation, we’ll forever feel we cannot keep up no matter how much knowledge we accumulate.
The More Rockstars You Meet, the More Incompetent You Actually Are
You are the yellow star.
And one day you met a huge red star - let’s call it the RockStar.
The RockStar is far better than you at the craft. Realising this, you felt small; it seems as if the great RockStar is at the end of the skill spectrum while the lowly you is at the other end.
Another realisation you have is that the RockStar will continue moving along the spectrum with no care for your ability to catch up to it. The gap widens and the farther the RockStar goes, the lower you are in the spectrum.
What’s the point of learning if you’re always going to be at the bottom?
The More Past Selves You Know, the More Competent You Actually Are
There’s value in comparing yourself with others. It’s a great learning tool if and only if it doesn’t generate negative affects like self-doubt or envy.
Before you compare yourself with others, learn to compare yourself with your past selves first.
Our past selves are static. Every time you become better at anything, you leave behind your past selves as artifacts. Most of the time, these past selves are inferior to your current self. This means that as long as you continously become better, you’ll always win if you compare yourself with your past.
When you keep that perspective in mind, comparing yourself to others is just a mean to make yourself even better than your past selves, rather than you trying to win against other people.
Another thing to note about competing with others is that no matter how many times you win the race to the top, you’ll realise that the top gets more and more difficult to reach with each win. Eventually, you’ll get to a certain point in which there are always people you can’t win against no matter how hard you try.
And that’s okay.
Even if the distance between you and others are not getting shorter, the distance between you and your past selves are getting longer and longer.
That’s something you have control over; a win that you can repeat over and over.
Whenever you feel that you don’t deserve your success or fear that others will find out how incompetent you are, it’s important to stop and assess your perspectives.
Always ask (and answer it honestly - never discount your efforts and achievements):
Have I done a good enough effort in my learning and work?
Yes? You’re fine. Keep on improving.
No? Well, you know what to do. Again, keep on improving.