As I said last week, I’m going to talk about unreasonable doubt.
‘Unreasonable’ doubt (for these purposes) is when you doubt your own abilities wrongly – imposter syndrome, or under estimating your own abilities, maybe due to inexperience.
Sometimes this can be a good thing; doubt about a skillset you have can be a motivator to learn more and become better, but it can be detrimental; holding you back when you have no need to doubt your abilities.
I think you can tell the difference between the two – imposter syndrome is a lot more anxiety inducing than being inexperienced is. If I don’t feel confidence in a specific area, it feels like a weakness (even if I’m not actually deficient in that area), but a specific weakness. Imposter syndrome is a much more overwhelming anxiety, one that is much more diffuse; its not an area or two that can be pinpointed, its everything you are and do in your professional world.
I want to talk about a few different strategies for tackling these kind of doubts.
I’m going to start with being new, or inexperienced.
I read a brilliant blog post this week about being ‘a dumb girl in computer science’. It’s really good – it’s about just saying loudly ‘I don’t understand’ and people coming together to help each other out.
Asking questions is really important! And yeah, sometimes it does feel like showing weakness, but everyone’s been where you are, and a lot of us still are – the world of testing is huge (and I think this applies to all spheres of professional life), and you can’t know everything and all things.
So question things. You may get corrected, in fact, through your career you probably will get corrected. Firstly, try to step back when someone corrects you. Assuming they’re not being a cockwomble about it, they’re helping you out. Also, don’t be afraid to question their corrections. They might be wrong? Both of you could be wrong? Start a discussion, go somewhere with it.
You could try focusing. This is something I’m having issues settling on. I’m very much like a magpie in that I’ll go ‘ooh, shiny’ and go over there for a bit, then get bored and never actually sit down and focus on anything (like this podcast!). You may find, if you focus on one or two areas that interest you, and settle on those, becoming more knowledgeable, keeping upto date, you can carve a place for yourself, and feel a bit more grounded and ‘deserving’ of your place in your professional world.
While some of these may help to lessen your imposter syndrome, there are some steps you can take help tackle imposter syndrome specifically.
Talking about it is a key step (yes, it does feel like you’re fishing for compliments, but sharing experience is important). This is a thing that a lot of people suffer from, and so you’ll get a sense of solidarity and knowledge that it’s not just you. It will help.
Studying is sometimes recommended, and while professional and personal development is important, if the motivation is to combat imposter syndrome, you’re gonna get worse, because there is always a lot of stuff you don’t know, but that doesn’t make you a fraud, it just makes you human. However, if you’re aware of a deficiency in a part of your skillset, or something you want to get better at, it’s good to build on these, and it might make your foundation solid and help you find your place.
Share. Tweet, blog, vlog, podcast. Sharing has so many pros – it’s good for you, and good for others. Talking to others will help you structure your information, and will let you realise how much you do know about a thing. Share what you know, and, what you’ve discovered, what you succeeded and failed at. People will listen, and interact, and bring you into the community. Don’t want to maintain your own blog etc? Comment on other people’s’! Retweet, become a curator of awesome, because you’ll be reading this stuff anyway, you may as well share.
Comparisons will kill you slowly, they will. You have no idea what people are choosing to trade off when they do all these extra-curricular things, you just see them fly about doing talks and running events and holding down a job and they’re probably an awesome friend who sends you random texts once a week to see how you are, and has the neatest house in the world but maybe that person leaves toast sweat on their kitchen counter. They drink milk straight out of the carton. And they have a secret love for Sex in the City 2. You see the point I am making here, yes? Most importantly, they probably feel the same way as you when they think about themselves.
Therapy and drugs. I’ve spoken before about my clinical anxiety, and it may be that you need some professional help. Imposter Syndrome could be a symptom of some larger issues. Get help, reach out, if you need to. People will help you, and needing help is not something to be ashamed of. A therapist is a great impartial ear, and nothing deflates your jerk brain like having to justify it out loud. Practice kindness to yourself and others.
This isn’t a comprehensive guide to overcoming doubt. This shit is hard, and it’s hard to maintain, and some of it won’t work. I’ve taken a fairly lighthearted approach to this, but don’t mistake that for me making light of this. I know it’s hard, and I deal with it on a regular basis. If you need to talk, reach out, whether it’s to me, or to the community, or a loved one, or a professional. (Incidentally, would people find an episode on how to respond if people reach out to you useful?)