So let's start this post with the Wikipedia definition of Impostor Syndrome
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"
I suffer (is that the correct word?) with impostor syndrome and I doubt what I have achieved. Some feelings that I have
- Does this post / article convey the correct information?
- Have I checked all my references?
- Has someone done this before, did they do it better?
- Why are they so successful?
- Why are their projects so good?
But most of the time I use this in a positive manner, to ensure that my work meets my own, and the clients criteria. I understand that comparing myself to others is not a great way to measure my achievements
But sometimes it can all get on top of me and then the darkness approaches.
So I wanted to tell you all about five times where impostor syndrome has crept into my life. Treat these stories positively, they are not here to accuse or cause malice. Rather they serve to clear my mind of doubts, and help you understand a little about how I feel in these situations.
The first time
In May 2013 I lost my job as a project manager at a web company called FARM and started my career as a freelancer. I traveled to my office near Chorley, about an hour on the train from home. I was called into a meeting and told that my contract would not extend past the probationary period. At that moment I felt like shit. I was 34 years old, with a mortgage and partner and I had lost the main income for our home.
I went home and talked to my partner, MrsP who was supremely supportive and we managed to keep our heads above water.
I started out as a freelancer and for the first few months I was earning less than £100 a month, way less than claiming Jobseekers Allowance (Unemployment Benefit) but I had to start somewhere.
In my first month I was depressed. For years I had linked my personality to my job. I was Les Pounder - Project Manager, SysAdmin, Incident Manager, Senior Business Analyst. But I had become Les Pounder - No clients and no contacts. I would wake up thinking "What the f$%k am I going to do?" and that really brought me down.
I was an impostor, I had no skills in freelancing and with dwindling money I didn't have the time to mess around.
So what happened?
A mixture of timing and luck happened. The Raspberry Pi had been out for just over a year and companies wanted to learn more. On a Friday afternoon I was recommended for a role as a CPD (Continuing Professional Development) trainer at a UK company by my good friend Ben Nuttall. So in a weekend I learnt how to do some basic Python (Python 2!!!) coding and a little Raspberry Pi GPIO. Then on the Monday I was teaching it to eager ICT / Computer Science teachers.
I spoke about this at PyCon UK in 2018.
Behind the scenes gossip: I was absolutely "bricking it" before this session, but I got lots of great feedback and spoke to many people who came up to me after the talk.
The second time
In 2017 I was asked to give a workshop at FLOSS UK's annual conference for system administrators. I was so excited and eagerly worked on content for the session. But as the event drew near I doubted my own abilities and that doubt forced me to cancel my appearance. Who was I to talk to a room full of sysadmins? What skills could I pass on to the room? Surely they were all better than me?
I felt awful after wasting the organisers time. But I felt helpless and useless in equal measures.
So what happened?
I dropped out, giving the organiser little time to find a replacement. It never happened again, I learnt that I needed to communicate with the organisers and that we both needed to be clear on what was expected of each other. Communication and clarity helped alleviate this problem.
The third time
In May 2018 I was asked by Adafruit to write resources for their range of boards. Now this company is BIG and I gladly accepted. I wrote my first resource for them. But it was then that I thought "Hang on this is Adafruit, how the hell am I good enough to write resources for them?" I never submitted the piece of work. It exists, and it is ready to be sent, but it has lived for over a year in my Google Drive. I didn't feel good enough to work with / for Adafruit and the opportunity slipped by.
So what happened?
The opportunity passed me by, everything went quiet and I never chased it up. I regret this happened, but it did. I learnt that how I see myself is not how others see me. But there are still times where I doubt my skills.
The fourth time
At Makerfaire Rome I was going solo and walking around the event, interviewing stallholders and making contacts for Electromaker website. I met with a few of my friends who were working on another competitor stall. As "Brits abroad" usually do we met up during the day, got each other coffee, snacks etc. But because I was a competitor..yeah me in a t-shirt, I was asked not to go near the stall or talk to friends when they were "working". So I felt isolated, alone in a country that I knew little about. Trying to make conversations with people who have cool projects. Then at night because my hotel was far away from the centre of Rome, where my friends were, I was alone. So I spent 3 days in Rome, constantly feeling alone and unworthy to be there.
So what happened?
I worked as best as I could, I made some good contacts, but I just felt shit. I was in the "Eternal City" full of history and culture, but I never left my hotel room unless it was for work. I watched Netflix, wrote content and had breakfast alone, well one day I had breakfast with an American couple, which turned out to be Don Eyles of the Apollo missions fame! It was just a really shit experience. On my last day in Rome I just wanted to go home early, but the conference had organised my transfers and flights so I had to wait for hours!
But it wasn't all bad. I met Avye and her mum Helene, and learnt about Avye's micro:bit and Raspberry Pi projects.
The fifth time
Monday 24th June 2019 and the Raspberry Pi 4 came out. For previous releases I get a heads up around 2-4 weeks before and then have to sign multiple NDAs. But this time there was nothing, and on the day of release I was facing a few issues
- I was organising my uncle's funeral that week
- I had a lasting issue with a piece of work that was taking multiple attempts to get right, and I was running behind
- I was running out of time for multiple deadlines
So when the Pi 4 was released I had to scramble to order boards, contact my editor, schedule the work while giving myself time for funeral planning. I received countless DMs and emails asking for advice on Pi4, spec changes etc but I couldn't help anyone!
So this led me to think "Why did the Raspberry Pi Foundation leave me off their pre-release list?" "Was I a shit journalist?"
This was compounded by seeing other journalists releasing their full reviews and benchmarks as they were on the pre-release list and had their boards for a few weeks. I felt awful and completely useless.
So what happened?
Well I had a meltdown and yeah the Pi 4 release did pi$$ me off, but not because I felt entitled to have one early, after all it is merely a computer. I had a meltdown because I was already out of time and had no capacity to review the board at that time. My family came first but I had nagging doubts of my ability as a journalist. I reached out to the Foundation, just a friendly hello, hope you are well, congrats on the release. No moaning, no begging, no tears. But I have yet to receive a reply.
So sure my reviews are going to be later than others, but along with my Linux Format review, I will also be writing a review for Tech Radar, a website that gets 30 million unique visitors per month, that has banished my impostor syndrome for now.
What have I learnt?
We will always doubt ourselves, but we must never measure ourselves against others.
Comparison is the thief of joy
We grow at our own pace, we make mistakes, we learn and change how we tackle life based upon those lessons.
I know that there will be future episodes, but I will do my best to tackle them and learn new lessons.
It seems that those of us that have a multidisciplinary career, of which being a maker is one, share similar impostor syndrome experiences. We push ourselves to learn new skills, jumping head first into a subject that we know nothing about. Learning and pushing these skills to quickly solve a problem. So it would seem that my greatest strength is also my biggest weakness.
There will be times where we falter, fail and feel like crap. But we can only know who we are by forging into the unknown, pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone and taking chances. It may not go exactly how we want it to, but we move on to the next step in our journey with a little more knowledge than we had before.