When I'm plowing away at a project, I almost always feel confident in my abilities. Sometimes, I question if I am a good enough engineer, designer, or statistician, but once I get started, my excitement transforms those doubts into motivation.
But all bets are off as soon as I want someone else to be excited about me and my work - I feel like an impostor. I often feel like I can't be a real software engineer or a data scientist because I do this work within a finance company. I frequently don't feel like a singer or designer because no matter how deep I dive, I have no plans to pursue either professionally. I love the life I live because I span a lot of fields instead of fitting neatly inside a box, but I have trouble feeling like that's something other people will appreciate.
I know I am wrong.
I'm working on fighting it. I haven't figured it all out yet, but here are some things that have been helpful for me:
- I maintain a list of things I'm proud of. Some are tangible things like code I've written to solve a problem; others, like someone I respect thinking I'm talented, aren't. Looking over this list makes it harder for me to dismiss myself as having done nothing worth discussing.
- I write down small, even very small, projects that I'd like to see happen. When I'm feeling as though I don't bring enough to the table, I find a bit of time to knock out one of these projects. I get to add another small accomplishment to my list and benefit from something that makes my life a little better, too.
- Instead of shying away from seeking an opportunity I want but don't think I deserve, I ask a friend to read over my application or talking points and hold me accountable for following through. I find it easier to feel proud of things I've done when my audience is a friend - it's less intimidating when I already know they believe I'm qualified. I'm betting that enough practice with writing first to a friend will translate into being comfortable writing about myself without this step.
- I remember to pat myself on the back for trying. It's all too easy to decide that not finishing a project or getting a conference talk means you didn't do anything, but that's wrong. You tried, and by trying, you get to think about what didn't work and how to do better when you try again. Or at least feel a little bit more comfortable putting your neck on the line. I can't say thinking this way about failure is easy - it's not. I've been upset on more than one occasion over not getting what I wanted, but after a bit of distance, I make it a point to think of my attempts as accomplishments.
I'd be lying if I said doing these things have eliminated my impostor syndrome, but they've helped me make progress. And I'm going to keep on fighting it.