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“Forget About Impostor Syndrome”

The percentage of people in the IT field diagnosed with impostor syndrome is growing: and our expert recommends that you stop focusing on it. Psychologist Olga Losich talked to our Anywhere Club blog and explained how insecurities are connected to self-esteem, what modesty has to do with it, and how to compete in the job market without feeling anxious.

Olga Losich

What is impostor syndrome?

— Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon. A person suffering from it attributes their achievements and success not to their personal qualities, skills, competencies, or effort, but to coincidence and luck. Spoiler: most of the time, that’s true.

A person dealing with impostor syndrome is very anxious because they are insecure about what they are doing, and are always afraid that they will be exposed as a fraud. The wider the gap between their real selves and the image they are trying to convey, the more anxiety they feel.

Impostor syndrome in IT

IT specialists are usually aware of psychological concepts and terminology. This is why they tend to self-diagnose impostor syndrome. Relocatees, for example, become more anxious due to the change in their workplace, position, or team. They feel less confident and are afraid that they won’t meet the requirements of the new position, or of the old one in a new office, with the new team. They think that everyone will see their real self, realize they are inadequate, and cast them out.

In a foreign country this feeling is even scarier than back home. You already feel very vulnerable, since your usual sense of security has been compromised. Anxiety can be more intense, particularly when combined with the pressure of a new culture and language.

Relocatees tend to formulate this in the following way: “I am relocating to a new country, new company, and everyone is so amazing and extraordinary - it’s a dream job. I got the offer, but I am afraid I don’t have what it takes to succeed; I am hounded by impostor syndrome.”

Incompetence or insecurity?

— Usually, we are sure about the things we know, things we are good at. It’s okay to be insecure about doing something we don’t know. However, being insecure does not have to mean being anxious. If you are ok with your skills and abilities, if they are adequate, then you won’t need to have issues with confidence. How does that work?

  • You understand what you are competent in and what you are not competent in.
  • You don’t claim experience or skill in things you are not sure about, and your expectations are realistic.
  • You don’t expect things you can’t yet do to be easy, and you won’t expect great results from yourself in unfamiliar areas.
  • You understand that confidence comes with experience, possibly many years of it. Thanks to this understanding, your insecurity won’t cause troubling anxiety and worry (it can cause a light form of it, but this is normal).
  • You will be relatively calm in respect to things you are not sure about, and you will simply work with it.

We are anxious when we want something we aren’t prepared for yet. And instead of admitting that we don’t yet have the necessary skills or abilities, we may choose to think that we actually know how to do it, but that we just lack confidence. Thus, we look for ways to create this confidence artificially.

Impostor syndrome can be one of those ways: it’s not me who is incompetent, this is a syndrome that I have. It is a widespread phenomenon in the IT sphere. It is connected to the illusion of easy access to IT success. You can finish short IT courses and already want a job. It may be evident to everyone that courses are not a sufficient basis to call yourself a specialist. Instead of accepting your real level, however, you may choose to use impostor syndrome as a shield and calls yourself insecure. Competent, but insecure.

Confidence and modesty

In order to assess how realistically you see yourself, identify something that you are really good at. It can be something simple, but it should be something you definitely know you are great at it. You are sure about yourself in this example, aren’t you? You don’t have thoughts such as “I can do this perfectly but I lack confidence,” do you? You have enough confidence, right?

Even if an IT specialist lowers their assessment of their abilities, the demand for someone like them on the job market will quickly boost their confidence and will raise their self-esteem to a normal level.

It is also important not to confuse modesty with insecurity. If a person is not boasting or praising themselves, that doesn’t mean they are insecure. Instead, it can be a sign of modesty. Modesty is about claims corresponding to performance. Not trying to look better than we really are, or relying on smoke and mirrors, just being good at our job.

Checklist. 4 rules

So how can you restore confidence if it was lost? Forget about impostor syndrome. The problem, as you can see, is not the syndrome. And if you hide behind the syndrome, the problem will never be resolved. Trying to look cool and competent when you are not will cause you more harm, since you are likely to do the wrong things and react strongly to failures. I offer some simple rules for restoring your confidence:

  • Look at your life, assess who and where you are. This will be the basis for your appropriate self-esteem.
  • In order to judge yourself realistically, eliminate unreasonable expectations and thoughts of yourself as a perfect individual. This can help you accept your shortcomings and weaknesses calmly. Appropriate self-esteem is when you clearly see what you can and can’t do, what can be changed with some effort, and what you shouldn’t try to change, so you don’t waste your time and energy.
  • Appropriate self-esteem leads to appropriate, realistic goals. Even at the junior level, you can feel confident, understanding clearly what you can do and what are reasonable expectations.
  • Learn how to deal with competition. Objectively, there are many good specialists out there, and this is okay. The success of others doesn’t diminish your own chances for success.
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