Impostor Syndrome: Slaying the Beast

Part III: Fight Scene

Posted by 'Tine Zekis on December 20, 2019 · 13 mins read

Welcome to Part III of a three-part series on Impostor Syndrome: Slaying the Beast. In this section, we will go over ways to fight off Impostor Syndrome. Here are the sections for the full series:

This series is adapted from a talk I gave in 2019 at Music City Tech, Cream City Code, and TechBash. You can find the slides from that talk here, and you can watch the talk I gave at TechBash here.

If you have not yet read parts I and II of this series, you can check those out here: Part I, Part II.

I imagine that you are reading this because you have experienced some amount of Impostor Syndrome in your life. So, now what? It's time for our fight scene!

Cartoon of a person with brown skin and short, black and pink hair, holding up fists as if to fight

Impostor Syndrome: Slaying the Beast

Cartoon of a person with brown skin, dressed in a Godzilla costume and kicking over a building

Let's talk about how to slay the beast of Impostor Syndrome. We're going to cover various tools you can use, so hopefully you'll have a few powerful weapons in your arsenal to reach for whenever you need them.

Track Your Accomplishments and External Praise

When tracking your accomplishments, focus on what you did, not just the outcome. For example, we don't want to simply say, "I got the job." Our Impostor Syndrome can easily turn that into, "I somehow tricked them into giving me the job," or, "I must have just been lucky." Instead, I would log something like this:

  • I successfully completed the code challenge
  • In the in-person interview, I answered questions thoughtfully and thoroughly
  • I nailed the data modeling whiteboard exercise

Don't forget to review these once in a while. I started logging my accomplishments a while ago, and at some point realized that I was never taking the time to look back at them. It might be helpful to set up a weekly reminder or develop some other system to regularly review the awesome things you've done.

There are other great benefits to logging your accomplishments. They can be a helpful guide when it comes time to advocate for a promotion or a raise. It's also very handy when you need to update your resume or portfolio. You might find a few points that you completely forgot about, but decide you actually want to highlight on your resume.

Now let's talk about tracking external praise. Take note of every compliment or positive feedback you receive. Be sure to include the source of the feedback. Consider also jotting down how you felt about the compliment. Did you believe it? Did it make you uncomfortable to hear? It may be easier to simply identify your behavior: How did you respond to the compliment? Did you accept it? Did you contradict it?

Once in a while, review this log and see what trends you notice. Perhaps there are certain areas about which you consistently receive positive feedback. Also look for trends in your responses. As you track the experience of getting this kind of feedback, you can start to be intentional about how you respond to it, disrupting your instinct to contradict or disregard positive feedback.

Catalog Your Skills

Cartoon of a person with short, black and pink hair, smiling and holding up a plaque that says, You're the Best

It can be a helpful exercise to list out your skills, the assets you bring to your current role (or to the role you're going for next). Sometimes it helps to think about your past experiences as a guide here. How were you able to be successful in your previous roles, or in school?

Maybe you're good at studying new concepts. Or you've worked in customer service and you've developed excellent communication skills. Maybe you're a musician and you're great at pattern recognition. Or you've done work with creative problem-solving. Or maybe your previous work has helped you to master the art of persuasion. These kinds of transferrable skills make you an invaluable asset to any team.

Then, be sure to stress these skills in your interviews. And try to hold them in your mind as you go about your day-to-day. You are an asset to your team, and to your company. This applies even if you're brand new to the industry, or to your role. Being new is an asset. You're a fresh pair of eyes on the code. You can ask questions no one else has because, "Well, that's just how we've always done things."

Assemble Your Hype Squad!

Okay, so what is a Hype Squad? A Hype Squad is a group of people who are in your corner, helping to support you. They listen when you need to vent. They build you up when you need confidence in yourself, and they push you when you need encouragement. If you don't yet have this group of friends, try to network at meetups, conferences, and other events. I bet there's someone at one of those events who would love to grab coffee or lunch with you and start learning about how awesome you are…so they can remind you about it later.

Build Up Others

Cartoon of a person with brown skin and pink hair, cheering and holing up a sign that says, You Got This

Obviously, it will be your job to help out the other members of your squad. But let's go beyond that for a moment.

There is great value in becoming a mentor to others. When you talk to someone who is somewhere along the path you've already traveled, you'll learn that you know a lot more than you realized. You will also start to see how valuable your experiences are to someone else, and how far you've actually come on your journey. And remember that for all of us, it's important to continue to normalize Impostor Syndrome. For someone who may be struggling with their own Impostor Syndrome, you can help by reminding them that they aren't alone.

Speaking of mentors, I'd like to take a moment to tell you about a man named Jeff Smith. He's the head of ProdOps at my company, and he's one of those people who seem to be the go-to person for literally everything. Though, he seems to trust his team and give them autonomy as well. He's an awesome, engaging speaker, and he's currently writing a book. Not only do I look up to him, but as one of the only other black people in our tech department, he has been there for me when I need to talk about something awful in the news, like the state-sanctioned murder of a black man by police. He has reminded me that it's okay to call in black once in a while if I need to.

I think of Jeff as someone who's made it. So, the day I heard him casually refer to his own Impostor Syndrome, I was floored. If he deals with Impostor Syndrome, then maybe I'm not as unimpressive as I think I am.

Embrace Impostor Syndrome

Cartoon of a person brown skin and short, black and pink hair, erupting from a volcano with text that says, Hell Yeah!

This is one of the best tweets I've read this year:

I'm sure you've heard the old adage to fake it 'til you make it. Well, for those of us with Impostor Syndrome, there may not be a clear concept of what "making it" looks like. So, let's keep being really good at faking it! It's important to understand that no one really knows what they're doing. Don't let the people with an unearned sense of confidence fool you into thinking they know more than you do. They just know how to look good…and so do you!

Call to Action

So, what's next? It's time for our call to action! What are you going to do differently, starting tomorrow?

If you've decided to start logging your accomplishments, external praise, or skills, go ahead and create that document. Maybe it's and Excel sheet, or a Google Doc. Just figure out where you're going to keep track and make it happen.

Reach out to someone you think should be in your Hype Squad. Ask to grab coffee or drinks and catch up.

Remind yourself of how good you are at coming across as a badass. There's a reason people think you're great. Try to remind yourself of that every day.

Cartoon of a person with short, black and pink hair, smiling into a mirror above the text, Today is gonna be great!

Remind yourself of your unique skills. What do you have that no one else on your team does?

Try to view yourself through the eyes of your Hype Squad, or through the eyes of the people who hired you after your awesome interview, or who promoted you after you kicked butt in your job all year. It's possible that they see something that you don't…try to see it.

And finally, practice the act of confidence. They say that just by smiling or laughing, you can make yourself start to feel happy. So why not start acting confident? Speak up in your next meeting. Raise your hand for that challenging task you want (and say no to the administrative task you're not interested in). Walk into your next interview or daily standup like you own the room. And if you're worried this won't come naturally, I find it's best to take it at a bit of a strut.

Cartoon of a person with brown skin and short, black and pink hair, posing on a fashion runway

Thanks for reading! For the rest of the series, check out the two previous posts:


Special thanks to all the people who made and released these awesome resources for free:

  1. Images by Bitmoji app and Chrome plugin
  2. Impostor Syndrome definition paraphrased from Wikipedia
  3. Research by Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., ABPP
  4. Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality by Columbia Law School
  5. Quotations by InStyle and Goodreads
  6. Impostor Syndrome warning signs by Power of Positivity