How to Deal with Impostor Syndrome 🥷
How to set expectations for yourself, raise your confidence, and adopt a growth mindset.
Hey 👋 this is Luca! Welcome to a 🔒 weekly edition 🔒 of Refactoring.
Every week I write advice on how to become a better engineering leader, backed by my own experience, research and case studies.
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At the end of 2022 I published a couple of quite personal articles, respectively with thoughts about personal growth, and happiness.
I published them as free articles, because I care deeply about those topics and I wanted to reach as many of you as possible.
These articles ended up as some of the most popular I have ever written. They also sparked many good conversations later, both in the community and via email replies.
Many of such talks revolved around confidence.
When discussing our own skills and happiness, especially when connected to our work, the elephant in the room is that a large share of engineers and managers are deeply insecure about their capabilities. They feel unprepared.
They feel like impostors.
Here is what a dear friend of mine — who also happens to be one of the brightest minds I know — told me just recently:
I do realize that, if I lay down my results they sound amazing.
I graduated in CS with a Machine Learning thesis on new OCR techniques. I obtained a PhD in ML with flying colors, publishing scientific papers in top conferences and journals.
I have joined Google Cloud AI and I'm getting positive feedback both from my colleagues and my Team Leader.
And yet if I analyze critically what I can actually do and what I do actually know, I feel that I am vastly unprepared, that I lack even basic knowledge of important ML topics, and that I'm not learning things quickly enough.
I'm scared that sooner or later my new colleagues will find out that I'm a fraud. This pushes me to a work way more than I actually should (e.g., also in the evening or during the weekends, even if my very colleagues tell me that it's not necessary!).
Personally, I felt unprepared throughout my whole career.
My first job out of university was co-founder & CTO — I had to learn everything I was expected to do, with no one to teach me. Likewise, today I am a full-time “writer”, and I never wrote anything before Refactoring.
Insecurity has been a travel buddy for a long time, but I definitely feel better now than how I used to. So, today I will share what works for me, both in terms of mindset and practical behavior. And, if you are a manager, I will also address what you can do to help your reports through this.
Here is what I will cover:
🏋️♀️ The Confidence Equation — where does insecurity come from.
🧠 The Dunning-Kruger Effect — what it is and why it happens.
🪢 Setting expectations — how to keep them in check to be at peace with yourself.
🌱 Growth mindset — how to flip insecurity on its head with a jujitsu move, and use it for good.
Let’s dive in!