All Articles

Demystifying Impostor Syndrome

Recently, for the first time, since I can remember, I fell very ill. Due to this, I was unable to perform at my best — 200% percent uno 😂. It was the first time since I started writing code seriously in 2015 that I felt “powerless” because I was falling behind deadlines I had set earlier for various projects. I felt like a scam. People have this idea that you’re doing amazing, writing code and enjoying life. Meanwhile, you’re staring at your VIM editor in “Insert mode” for hours — days — waiting for the motivation to create those models. I felt I was experiencing a bout of impostor syndrome.

I eventually was able to overcome this minor setback. I’ll share steps I took to do this, findings from people I reached out to and some other interesting musings about life. Here’s to tackling feelings of inadequacy and figuring life out! 💪🏾

Views on Impostor Syndrome from others

I reached out to friends in my circle on their views about it. I’ll share their responses before I share mine.

Here’s a response from Jenny:

“Well, my take is not everyone can have impostor syndrome. Stephen Hawkins, had he not died, maybe. But not me. Sometimes, the problem is merely a knowledge gap.” — Jenny

She went on to explain detail:

“Yeah, there are times that I don’t even remember what I know in my field, and I’m like wow, you’re empty. Then someone shares something, and I realize it’s rookie stuff I’ve done before. Then I’m good again.

Other times, it’s someone more knowledgeable. When I see someone with more experience who has seen more, done more. If I compare myself to them, It’ll only have me thinking I should know what they do. I could, but I don’t, and I should learn and seek more experience at the level I’m currently at.

So, finally, sometimes, people reach a little too far up. Relax, learn, do the work. That lump in your throat is not impostor syndrome. It’s what you haven’t learned yet, but know that you can. That’s what’s biting you and makes you question the things you already know

But this isn’t always the case. It could be impostor syndrome for real sometimes. But not when it’s someone who started coding last night and wants to be as good as an engineer with 6+ years of active coding by morning” — Jenny

I also spoke with, Lynda Chiwetelu(@lyndachiwetelu) and here is her personal perspective on it:

“I like to think that I don’t often feel like an impostor because I don’t.

I sometimes feel like I don’t know enough about something but in those cases that’s usually true. Not knowing these things doesn’t make me confident about them, which to me, is normal.

I wouldn’t attempt to treat someone with confidence knowing that I don’t really know what I’m doing.

I get that there’s a certain case of impostor syndrome that comes from one trying to match what other people’s perception of them is.

So it’s like oh people think I’m X but I know I’m just Y.

Well, I think the perception will almost always be hype so I don’t ordinarily worry about this.

I also focus on representing myself as accurately as possible so there’s just no dissonance when I think about what I am doing or can do.

But then again I was reading an article of mine from when I was younger and I saw that I wrote that I had impostor syndrome and now I think it was definitely because I knew I didn’t know certain things.

Because right now, I hardly, for example, feel like an impostor about work or anything. I just know when it’s a case of not knowing or having worked on something before” —Lynda Chiwetelu

Jessica(@jessicaiwu_) also added:

“I used to get overwhelmed by the things I do not yet know, and feel insecure about the things that I expect I should know, but don’t.

However, every time I feel this internal pressure, I come to terms with the fact that learning more I‘ll build my confidence, and I‘ll bridge the knowledge gap.

A friend once told me not to be scared of what I don’t know, but to develop the mindset that I can know it if I want to.

So, I have learned to accept that I actually know stuff, while also reminding myself to continually learn more.” —Jessica

Adewale Abati ♠ weighed in saying:

“I realized that I beat myself up too much over insane expectations and people’s assumptions of me. Instead, I highlighted things I felt less confident about that I felt I should have known but don’t and started learning them one after the other. Eventually, the feeling would disappear. And I’ll have new things to worry about and then conquer 🙂” —Adewale Abati ♠

Obaseki Nosa also added:

“ Me I don’t even have or understand what this impostor something is. I know what I don’t know, and I know what I know.

I see every task as an opportunity to learn something new. If I don’t know something I just say I’ve never done it before but I can always figure it out 🌝

There’s internet and there’s only one way to know this thing… nobody knows it all we all dey learn “ni” and for me if I don’t actually do something I never really get to know it. I might read about it and have an idea of what that is but I don’t exactly know it. I’m just not lost when that conversation comes up.” —Obaseki Nosa

Finally, The Dreamer ended the discussion with his take:

“I believe impostor syndrome happens because we hold ourselves to very high standards. It is a good thing because, it pushes us to be better, to not settle.

But it can be a bad thing because it can make you feel as though you’re never good enough. What I do to combat this is, whenever I feel like a fraud? I remind myself that “I’m the shit”.

I revel in my accomplishments, no matter how small, no matter how insignificant. I allow myself to gloat a little. I tell my self that I am doing very well and most importantly, I tell myself that considering all I’ve managed to pull off, almost nothing is impossible for me to do.” —The Dreamer

Their views generally centered around not comparing yourself to people around you and being confident in your own ability when you put in the work when you need to and these are all valid way’s to look at it. They’re all badass engineers, so trust me when I say they know what they’re saying.

It’s good to look up to people and be inspired by them, but don’t over indulge to the position of self-doubt.

My view on Impostor Syndrome

One thing that makes me feel less competent is when over a period of time, I’m unable to deliver on said plans/goals I’ve made. Generally, I used to keep a mental note of things I have to do, but as I’ve grown, my tasks and plans tend to increase at an exponential rate. When things become so scattered up in my head, I’m unable to function adequately. The thought of other things I may/may not have to do distract me and I just keep trying to constantly plan. Sometimes I’m able to do some of the things I have planned but then other times, I get busy/tired and then I realize that I’ve made plans to do stuff with people and totally forgotten about it. This is where the judgy voice comes up in my head — you na scam!

In the past year, a friend introduced me to Todoist, which I started to use to plan and note down my tasks — not just in my head anymore. You may wonder how this helps me. Since I know I forget some tasks when they become too many, noting them makes it easy for me actually visualize which tasks are important and which ones aren’t.

Noting my tasks with Todoist frees up my brain’s RAM (internal constant storage in the brain, in a real world, brains don’t have physical RAMs, machines do 😂) and now I’m able to focus on the task I’m performing at a certain time. Now you may be wondering:

“ah ahn, OG, you want me to note everything single task down?”

My reply to this is, “definitely not!”. Note the tasks that are important to you. Any task that didn’t make it to the list is either a menial task or really not as important as you think it is.

Focusing on the present helps you be your most productive self as all your energy is being put to one task!

I tried this and I realized that my productivity levels increased. This makes me feel more confident in my ability to perform and do what I say I can do — so Impostor Syndrome can like to jump out the window 😂.

Finding your mojo / Coming Up with a Routine

The human brain associates and works best when it identifies patterns in activities we engage with. This explains why it’s a lot harder to learn how to drive a car / ride a bike at first and then once we get used to it, you wonder why you thought it difficult.

For this same reason, I tried to come up with a routine/structure for me getting work done. I can’t tell you what works best for you, but here’s what I do that works well for me — at least so far. The early hours of the day are when I’m able to get the most work done. It’s a lot quieter and I just put on a Spotify playlist to get me cranking.

I was scrolling through twitter recently and Jack Dorsey shared a link to a youtube video that I can vibe with on many levels. This is why I believe we all need some semblance of a routine to find out when we do our best work and then do that often. Once the brain is used to performing productive tasks, it becomes a habit. Imagine having a habit of produktivity🔥

Take time to figure out what works best for you, nobody knows you better than you know yourself — apart from Spotify’s and Medium’s recommendation engines 😅. Took me a while before I could form a good routine and stick to it. Try different methods and use what works.

Update (1.5years after): It’s perfectly okay for methods to lose ‘effect’ over time. That’s why we’re human, we’d figure out what works next & keep iterating :)