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Nile Clark
Nile Clark

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Fencing with imposter syndrome

A week ago today, I graduated from my full-stack development bootcamp. When my instructor said "Congratulations!" and popped his bottle of Trader Joe's fizzy wine for a virtual toast, I distinctly remember the electric muddle of feelings churning in the pit of my stomach: excitement (now I can build what I want!), relief (it's over! I made it!), despair (it's over... Now what??), and anxiety (now I have to get a JOB!).

Over all the others, though, I remember the high, tense hum in my ears of What were they thinking?? Why did they let me through?? I don't know what I'm doing! Fredericka, my pet imposter syndrome monster, had reared her head again and was whispering in my ear once more. Yes, I named it.

They tell you all the time in bootcamp: imposter syndrome is are going to experience it...everyone feels that way... Theoretically knowing this doesn't do that much to actually prepare you to transform that knowledge into a counterattack when your monster comes calling. It doesn't make it any easier to tell it to shut up, or that it's wrong.

I've noticed that when people talk about dealing with imposter syndrome, they use words like "grappling," or "wrestling," or "battling." To me, these all sound like imposter syndrome somehow snuck up on you and pounced on you unawares, and now you're having to beat it off. Which, ya, is probably going to happen sometimes, when you are stuck on a bug that you just can't seem to solve.

But we know it's coming! I think a better way to think about dealing with something you know is going to happen to you is with prevention in mind: I'm going to play chess, not checkers. I'm going to fence, not wrestle. I'm going to put in small, continuous, calculated efforts for the long-term win. I know that at any time, I may hit up against something I think I should know but don't, or get rejected from a job, or read a comment about my work that just hits me wrong, and Fredericka will be back whispering un-sweet nothings in my ear again, causing me to question every decision I've made that's led me here.

I don't think Fredericka is every going to go away. I think she will be with me for the whole of my career. And frankly, that's probably a good thing. In an industry where the very bedrock upon which it's built is constantly changing and updating, if you don't feel insecure in your knowledge and abilities, your knowledge is probably stale and you should be pushing yourself harder.

So I'm making a plan now, because I'd rather roll over a pot hole than fall into the Pit of Despair and have to try and climb out. Whenever I hear that whisper, I'm going to go do some CodeAcademy lessons to learn something new, go throw together a fun little CodePen animation, read or listen about other people's struggles and how they handle them, or even walk away to exercise or just poke my head outside for a while to clear it. I'm making a plan so that the next time Fredericka starts whispering in my ear, I can respectfully tell her to shove it.

What's your plan?

Oldest comments (3)

therealnc profile image
Nile Clark

What helps you deal with imposter syndrome?

tedglein profile image

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larrymartin1job profile image
Larry Martin

Viewing imposter syndrome as a constant companion rather than an adversary makes sense. It is intriguing how this perspective shift from wrestling to fencing emphasizes continual strategic efforts.
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