Imposter syndrome: you’ve heard about it and probably even experienced it one point or another. Or maybe you don’t know what it is so we’ll quickly define it here: imposter syndrome is a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one's abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one's ongoing success.
Simply put, it’s the feeling of not belonging because you perceive your abilities to be less than others around you. It frequently rears its head at the beginning of a new experience, such as the start of university or the first day at a new job, especially if you’re making a jump, like moving from high school to university or an internship to a full-time position.
Sound familiar? It’s probably happened to you once or twice before and we’re not surprised. In fact, we’d be shocked if you said it’s never happened. Before we dive into how to overcome imposter syndrome in the tech sector, we’re going to discuss where it comes from, the five main types of imposter syndrome, and how it manifests itself.
Where Does Imposter Syndrome Come From?
Anyone can suffer from imposter syndrome, but there are a few groups that are more likely to experience it once or multiple times throughout their lives:
Those who grew up in a family where they were constantly pressured to succeed
Those whose family alternated between overpraise and criticism
Those who frequently compare themselves to others
Those who feel societal pressure to meet certain achievements
This relatively new term can be used for more groups than others; at first, imposter syndrome was frequently identified in high-achieving women in the workforce, but is seen all over, especially with those that are different from their peers, such as women in male-dominated sectors or first-generation college students.
It may seem like just a passing thought that will improve over time, but the effects of imposter syndrome can actually be quite intense in your professional, personal, and academic lives:
Imposter syndrome at work: those suffering from imposter syndrome at work are less likely to ask for a raise or promotion and more likely to experience burnout or high stress levels.
Imposter syndrome in your personal life: if you feel unworthy of your partner or friends, imposter syndrome is a common side effect, in addition to parents feeling they’re unprepared for that role.
Imposter syndrome at school: if students don’t feel like they belong in a class or university, they are less likely to speak up and ask questions.
Now that we know where imposter syndrome comes from and who it can affect, let’s dive into the five types of imposter syndrome.
The five types of imposter syndrome
The vast majority of those experiencing imposter syndrome can be grouped into five titles: the perfectionist, the natural genius, the rugged individualist, the expert, and the superhero.
One of the key indicators of imposter syndrome is perfectionism and that’s why it’s our first group; perfectionists set very high expectations for themselves and are very hard on themselves if even one small part of those expectations aren’t reached, leading them to experience imposter syndrome and think they don’t belong or aren’t good enough.
The natural genius
This is more common than you’d think: many are the top of their class in high school and have spent their whole life as one of the best. Then they head to university and realize that they’re surrounded by people who are equally intelligent or even smarter for the first time and they struggle with no longer being the best.
The rugged individualist
Those who have spent their whole lives solving issues on their own can feel a sense of imposter syndrome if they don’t achieve things by themselves; asking for help is a key part of life, but those who struggle with it or see it as weak frequently experience imposter syndrome.
Some people only like entering situations where they’re an expert, having done all the possible research or preparation beforehand to ensure they reach the highest level of success. When they’re faced, on the other hand, with unfamiliar situations, they experience strong imposter syndrome.
People who fall under this category try to work harder than everyone around them to prove that they belong and aren’t imposters; however, when there is a part of their life that is even a little bit weaker than others, they experience strong feelings of imposter syndrome.
How Does Imposter Syndrome Manifest Itself?
You probably have a pretty solid idea of what imposter syndrome is, but let’s discuss some of the tell tale signs that imposter syndrome is creeping up on you:
Do you think that others believe that you’re smarter/more accomplished/skilled than you really are?
Do you think your success is due to luck or other people’s decisions?
Do you frequently feel unprepared for the same task?
Do you hold yourself back from setting high goals due to fear of failure?
Do you feel unworthy of praise?
If you answered yes to any of these, you’ve probably experienced imposter syndrome in one of its many forms. And while there’s no simple cure to imposter syndrome, there are some steps you can take to both identify and prevent it from becoming an issue in the future.
Imposter syndrome in tech
The tech sector just might be the industry with the highest level of imposter syndrome, due to the rapid speed of innovation and change that makes it feel impossible to keep up, the incredibly fast-paced and competitive nature of the industry, and both the current workers and the stereotypes associated with tech employees. Traditionally, tech jobs and career paths were held by overachievers and those at the top of their classes; this led to many of the imposter syndrome groups we listed above.
But we have a little spoiler for you: you do belong and your past doesn’t define your future success in the industry. In fact, employers are actually starting to favor those with diverse backgrounds and experiences because tech skills are needed across absolutely every industry.
At the beginning of your career, you may begin to feel stronger feelings of imposter syndrome as you grapple with educated and intelligent co-workers and new technologies. But once you’ve recognized that you suffer from imposter syndrome, you’ll be able to take the necessary steps to prepare yourself to overcome it and make sure it doesn’t affect your personal and professional growth.
Overcoming imposter syndrome
Avoid comparing yourself to others
Comparing yourself to others is a fail-proof way to ensure you end up feeling bad about yourself or experiencing imposter syndrome; no matter if you’re in the same role as someone else or taking the same course: everyone has different circumstances and backgrounds which contribute to where they are today. Your achievements are your own and can’t be compared to anyone else, regardless of how similar you seem.
Failure is an unavoidable part of human life and even if you relentlessly try to avoid it, it will happen. As disappointing as that might be to accept, it will help you see that mistakes and failure happen constantly and are totally normal! Your mistakes do not define you and can actually help you grow and improve.
Write down your accomplishments
We’ve all had those moments where we feel like a failure and out of place, but the truth is simple: we’ve gotten to where we are because we’ve earned it. If you have trouble realizing that in a tough moment, try writing down your accomplishments so that when you’re having a tough time and experiencing imposter syndrome, you can go back and see what you’ve achieved.
Talk to someone
If your feelings of imposter syndrome are affecting the way you work or function on a daily basis, it’s probably time to talk to a therapist. They can help you work on your feelings of self-doubt and feel better overall. Another idea is to talk to your peers; odds are they are feeling similar feelings of imposter syndrome and hearing that people feel inferior to you and are in awe of your achievements, or simply hearing validation from those in similar positions, can help your overall self-worth.
No matter your background or skill set, Ironhack’s bootcamps are designed for everyone to reach success, preparing all students to enter on an even playing field and find their calling in tech. Sound like something you’d be interested in? We can’t wait to see your application.