I am proud of what I’m doing in my IT and coaching practice. I feel that I am good at it, in fact, most of the time I feel like I’m an expert in what I do. But it all came crashing down one day.
Without trying to bore you with what I do in IT, let me tell you what I do in the most simple way I know (this is how I usually describe my work to my wife), I create “programs” so that the computer will be the one doing the testing of an application for us. I’ve been doing this for more than a decade and I believe I have all the right to say that I’m an expert in what I do, or probably that’s what I try to tell myself everyday so the impostor in me won’t come out.
I am in the process of renewing my contract and just in case it doesn’t get renewed for whatever reason, I am going on interviews with other teams and companies. So I went to one with full confidence, knowing that I’m going to nail it because I am an “expert” in this field.
The interview went great for the first 10 minutes until the interviewer asked me questions that I don’t know the answers to and it went on until the end of the interview. We capped it off with the interviewer saying, I’ll give you a chance with a programming assignment which validated that I didn’t pass the face to face interview. The impostor syndrome started to surface and I sulk for the next few hours.
A quick google search returns Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
This is exactly how I felt! Like a fraud! All the belief that I have built over the years about myself was gone in 30 minutes! Why? Because I let other people’s validation define how good I am, because I let one set back shatter my self-belief and because I let overconfidence made me think I can go to interviews without preparation.
How to get out of this slump you ask? Focus on what you can do NOW! You can’t do anything about the past (I can’t go back in the past and study for the interview). You can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future (what possible questions the interviewer will ask) either but what we have is the gift of NOW, and it’s the only “time” we have control of.
This setback has made me realize that I still have tons of things to learn so I started sharpening the saw again. I started reading about what I do, even if it’s boring, even if I already know it, even if there’s no upcoming interview. I was really passionate about what I do but due to complacency and probably overconfidence, I forgot that there are so many things I need to learn and explore.
What’s my point? We will always feel like a fraud from time to time. There will always be people who are smarter and better than us so we should not compare. There will always be questions wherein we just don’t know what the answers and it’s OK. Accept that you don’t know it and then study about it. There will be times when we fall, so pick yourself up again and again and learn!
Don’t throw your achievements and everything you’ve been working so hard for just because you don’t know the answer to a question. Instead of moping, use what you don’t know now as motivation to learn more, to be more. Life entails a never-ending learning about yourself, the things you don’t know and even for the things you already know. It only really ends when you die so while you are alive, fail, learn and become better.
The next time you feel like a fraud, think about what you’ve accomplished and you are about to accomplish because you have it in you.