Imposter Syndrome – It’s a real thing

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Over the weekend, we asked what you people would like to see more of on our blog. Without exception, the majority of the vote went to “Mental Health”. Something that is so important to both myself and Ashleigh – your mental wellbeing is as important, if not more so, than your physical wellbeing. Just because we can’t see the problems, it certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

I’m going to start off by talking about Imposter Syndrome – as it’s something I have suffered from, and still do on many occasions.

Imposter Syndrome (aka impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is simply feeling that you are inferior to others in a similar field. In my instance, it’s always been in the field of Software Engineering / Development, and more recently, parenting.

A bit of background on me, first, as this might make things a bit clearer. I’ve always had a passion for the internet. I remember getting a 56k modem back at home, and listening to those dial tones and beeps as it connected. Timing my connection to get the free 60minutes before disconnecting and dialling up again. I’d use those 60 minutes to make websites with my friend – we were both huge Manic Street Preachers fans, so we made a fan website for them. I’m talking, 90’s here, so you can imagine what it was like. Suddenly, my friend knew more than me about things. Like, it happened over night. He’d update our website with all these fancy things, and I had no idea how he’d done it. I got annoyed with myself – so I made more of an effort to learn more. And that’s where it started. I would look at him and just feel like giving up on the internet stuff all together, I simply wasn’t good enough.

This passion progressed, and my friend moved away to another part of the country – he started making his own websites. I too had my own little ventures (hell yes I had a Shakira fan website, I mean, back then, which teenage lad didn’t?!). I wanted to be better, to do better, but I just never really felt like I could. I got through college, never really believing in myself at all, and amazingly, I went on to get a 2:1 (Hons) degree. I remember my first day at uni, just as my parents left, and I said to them:

I don’t deserve to be here – I’m just not good enough

A young Mark

My first real world job was for a web agency in Cardiff. I’d gained a little bit of experience before joining them – but the nerves hit home when I went for a job interview there.

I. Knew. Nothing.

Or at least, I thought as much. Imposter Syndrome was hitting me hard before I’d even started to work with others.

I’d done a bit of research in to the company, and had a friend who worked at there, so I knew what to expect. I drove home from the interview thinking it was an absolute disaster and a total waste of mine, and their, time. By the time I’d got back home to Norwich, I had a voicemail offering me the job. I was shocked. Surely it was a mistake – they must have got the wrong Mark!

I was really thrown in the deep end with this job – it was new programming languages, new people, new city. I remember coming home after day one and going through everything I’d learned. It was crazy. So many stupidly intelligent people, doing amazing things. And me.

Years went by, and my confidence grew, but it never stopped me from looking at me colleagues and just thinking “they are so much better than me – I shouldn’t be here!”

I think I’ve suffered this in every single job I’ve had – even when I was managing a team of developers that I picked myself – I just felt that they were all better than me. Which of course, is a good thing, they could do the work for me, right?!

It’s funny isn’t it, because looking back on these events, it’s clear to me that Imposter Syndrome has been a huge part of my life from my teens – but only recently have I become aware of it. I often wonder what might have changed had I have handled things differently?

Of course, I’m talking about it in terms of Software Developers – but I’ve purposely tried to be vague here. Imposter Syndrome effects us all, no matter what field we work in. Even if you don’t work, if you’re a stay-at-home parent – every time you feel like you’re not doing enough, or you’re not as good as someone else, THAT is Imposter Syndrome. As a Dad, I suffer with it ALL the time. Am I being a good dad for Grayson? Have I changed his bum properly? Is he eating properly? Should I have taught him more by now? It never stops!

It’s not defined as a mental illness / disorder, because quite simply, it’s not. It’s not like depression or anxiety – it’s classed as a phenomenon / experience. There’s no medication to help with it, but there are some techniques that I’ve employed over the years that might help.

  • Ask for help and advice. One of the greatest things I’ve learned to do is not to be afraid to ask. It’s a bold step to stand up and simply say “I don’t get it” – but do it. I can safely say that every time I’ve done this, someone has helped, explained it, and often it’s the case that they’ll say “it took me ages to get it too!” As dark as the internet can be, it’s also an incredible resource for, well, everything, really.
  • No one knows everything. We all learn at different paces. No matter what the subject matter, you’re learning all the time. I never knew how to change a nappy until 20 months ago.
  • Take a step back. Look at how far you’ve come. Look at what you HAVE learned. You’ll be amazed at the things you’re doing now that 6 months ago you simply convinced yourself you couldn’t do.
  • Forget about what you don’t know. Concentrate on what you do know. You’ll feel better for it. Share your knowledge with others. Talk about what you’ve learned – fill your own confidence from your existing knowledge.
  • Just talk to people. Joke about what you don’t know, be proud of what you do know. Don’t talk down to people who ask you for advice, be flattered that they are asking, and humble in your responses. And hell, if you don’t know the answer, then it simply shows you’re not alone. Imposter Syndrome has us all!

I guess the main take away from this post is to remember that you are not alone. We all have the Imposter Syndrome, no matter what our field of work is in life. Talk more, ask questions – be inquisitive and open about what you’re thinking – you will find you’re not alone (I promise)

3 thoughts on “Imposter Syndrome – It’s a real thing”

  1. Wow, thanks for being candid about how imposter syndrome has affected you! I agree that it can affect any facet of someone’s life- work, relationships etc.
    p.s the dial up story is hilarious! I had my fair share of dial up experiences too. I would go to the Internet cafe to write a blog post in Yahoo 360 and I would run out of time!!! It was really slow!!!!
    Thanks for sharing!!!

  2. Yes, imposter syndrome is as real as anything but many do not have an idea that it even has a name. I have struggled with it for a while and honestly I am still trying to figure it out, but your thoughts here have really helped me look at things from a different angle.
    Thanks you

    • Glad they have helped! It’s something that so many people struggle with but know very little about, so to spread the word is really important! Take care!


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