Let’s talk about impostor syndrome and how to get over it as a web developer.

What is impostor syndrome?

Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence
- hbr.org

☝ A bit too technical for me… Let’s break it down.

Impostor syndrome is basically this: You feel like you aren’t good enough, or that you’re “faking it”.

Strangely enough, the more you know and the better you get at a particular skill, the more of a fraud you’ll feel like.

But guess what? You’re not alone.

And it’s PROOF that you’re learning a lot and you’re walking into a world bigger than yourself. That’s a positive thing!

The opposite of impostor syndrome is even worse.

The opposite of impostor syndrome is called the Dunning-Kruger effect. There’s a big ol’ technical definition for it, but basically, the Dunning-Kruger effect is this:

The Dunning-Kruger effect is when someone doesn’t know very much about a given subject but acts like they know everything.

So we have three buckets now:

  1. People with impostor syndrome
  2. People with the Dunning-Kruger effect
  3. Everyone else (virtually nobody)

Out of the choice to have impostor syndrome or the Dunning-Kruger effect, which would you prefer? Me personally, I would prefer impostor syndrome. It at least means, on a logical level, that I know about a subject even though I don’t feel like I know about that subject. It’s logic vs. feelings here.

Who is affected?

Just about everybody. If you value other people's opinions, you are probably affected by impostor syndrome. It’s so common that probably most of the web developers you know in your life have it, and never talk about it.

Because nobody likes admitting they feel like a fraud. Even if they aren’t fraudsters, feeling like one is a pretty big bummer.

What does this mean? Again, it means you are not alone.

Ways to get over impostor syndrome.

Well.. here’s the good news and bad news. Most people don’t get over their impostor syndrome, or if they do it can take A VERY LONG TIME.

So how do you get over your impostor syndrome? You don’t. You go through it.

Impostor syndrome is like a big glass wall that never ends and you’re a person walking towards it. You have two options:

  1. You can try to walk around the big scary wall and may never get to the other side, or
  2. You can pull out your tools, cut a hole through the wall, and walk through it. (Or maybe use a ladder). Either way, you’ll need a set of tools, time to learn how to use your tools, practice, and eventually, you’ll get through it.

In web development teams this means: learning your tools, practicing how to use them in different scenarios, and eventually becoming so good the wall doesn’t stand a chance against you.

^ That’s the best-case scenario. For a lot of us, including myself, we may never breakthrough that big scary glass wall. For some of us, it’s a wall made of clear diamond and we just get to look through it to the other side.

Ok, I know.. Kalob, that’s depressing as hell.. what are you getting at?

Let me frame it this way: there’s nothing on the other side so being able to see the other side of that big metaphorical wall and not having to break through it isn’t actually a bad thing. We just need to learn to come to terms with living on this side of the wall. And there is nothing wrong with that. But there are still things you can do to make life easier on yourself.

Practical ways to break through impostor syndrome

Here are a few ways you can break through your impostor syndrome. Or if you’re like me, ways to live with it so it never slows you down or makes you lose an opportunity.

Think logically and reflect on your accomplishments

This is easier said than done, I understand that. But one way that really helps me is to reflect on the last 30 days. What did you learn this month? How has that made you a better web developer?

Have faith and keep pushing forward

If you believe in fate or that all things happen for a reason, this exercise might resonate with you more than other exercises.

Have faith that what you’re doing is for a purpose. Whether that’s to change careers, get a new high-paying job, or just have a nice steady income with lots of flexibility in life. Have faith that everything you are learning is for a reason. Especially if you’re taking an online course or Coding Bootcamp you need to realize the teacher has built the curriculum out of their experience. Trust it.

And regardless of what your beliefs may be, keep pushing forward. It’s like driving in the dark sometimes. You can’t see past your headlights but you know if you keep driving there’s more road. Web development can feel like that, so keep pushing forward.

Be open about it

This subtitle says it all. And for me, this was the most powerful exercise. Once I started talking to people about it, and broadcasting my impostor syndrome to my 350,000+ coding students… life got easier. It made me realize I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t strange, and that most people actually fight with impostor syndrome every day. Be. open. about. it.

Don’t listen to negative people

The world is a negative enough place already. You don’t need MORE negativity. If you have friends or family that question your decision to get into web development, please ignore them or have a very blunt conversation about it with them. You’re fighting a mental-uphill-battle. You don’t need people at the top throwing stones at you while you climb.

Practice. And then practice some more

When you think you’re getting good at something, that’s a good sign! Now start it over from memory and build something MORE complicated and scary using what you already know. The more you push yourself, the more you prove to yourself that impostor syndrome is just a made-up thing in our imaginations.

Find a support network

Whether that’s in real life, or in a Facebook group like Learning to Code, you should have a support network. Learning web development is a BIG skill, and hey… we all feel down from time to time… but with a support network, you can push through those hard days a bit easier.

Nobody is immune

Not even me. I’ve been coding for over 20 years. I know people who have been in web development for just a few years and are way better than me. That can be tough to face. So just know… even people like me, who have seen technological ideas come to life, then die, then come to life again (2007 vs. modern React.js for instance) feel the pulls and woes of impostor syndrome.

But know this… you are not alone.

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