Reclaiming Imposter Syndrome
I am pretty much an outsider no matter where I go. In my running group, I exist in the space between the fast groups and the back-of-the-packers. I have two older brothers and am my parents’ only daughter. I work creating tools for developers, but I have never actually been a developer. I can’t think of a professional effort that I have undertaken in the past 15 years where I would have been considered an expert of any type. And if I had a nickel for every meeting attended where I am the only one without a goatee…
In other words, I am 100% an imposter and proud of it! Here’s why.
The Beginner’s Mind
In Buddhism, the concept of the Beginner’s Mind is not only positive, it’s essential to learning, improving, and coming up with new ideas. People who see themselves as experts often don’t see outside their line of experience. Assumed expertise can limit the possibilities their mind allows them to see. The nice thing about not being an expert is there are no expectations that I will get something “right”. This gives me the freedom to ask any question I want.
More often than not, these moments where I am free to throw out crazy ideas add incredible value! Sometimes it’s a new connection, a new market, or a new product idea. Other times, my willingness to fall on my face and be seen as less-than-perfect gives someone else in the group the confidence to do the same and they come up with something genius as a result. (Remember, if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.)
The Edge of Fear
Learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable has led to my biggest accomplishments. When I feel out of my depth, I like to see this as the universe’s way of telling me exactly where I need to focus my attention and energy in order to improve. The fun thing about existing in one of these uncomfortable spaces is that a tiny bit of work makes a HUGE difference. It is much more difficult to improve in an area in which you are already an expert. Look at elite athletes and the amount of time and energy they have to put into making the smallest bit of progress. Then take a look at me experimenting with Kubernetes! While no one is likely to hire me any time soon to manage their enterprise container architecture and orchestration — with a little bit of effort, I can learn enough to be able to understand the new potential benefits and pitfalls.
I always giggle when I see people describe themselves as “DevOps Experts” because I strongly believe that there is no such thing. One of the fundamental principles of DevOps is continuous improvement, and one of the best ways to do this is to throw yourself into content that is above your head and outside of your comfort zone.
One of my favorite ways to learn new things professionally is to drop into meetings that are “too technical” for me. I seek these out, listening in stand-up for when engineers say they will get together to resolve a blocker and asking to be included. I strongly encourage this practice — just remember to ask questions after they are done so you don’t derail their work. I can’t think of a single time where my inquiry wasn’t welcome.
I won’t pretend that doing any of this is easy, or that my chronic imposter syndrome hasn’t taken a toll on me. I can’t help but imagine where I might be in my career if I had taken a more traditional path — had I not been paralyzed by fear of failure in high school and college. I have found that as I cultivate my practice of embracing imposter syndrome, I also need to put more time and effort into taking care of myself and building up my personal support crew. Not fitting in, being uncomfortable, and existing just on the edge of fear depletes my energy, causes me to doubt my self-worth and intelligence, and just flat out makes me sad sometimes. To counter this, I make sure to put time into recharging myself through activities that put me at ease and where I can take a break from “not belonging”. In my case, this usually means reading fiction, spending time with my dog, or hiking out in the woods.
I have also found that taking online classes helps build my confidence. There is so much great content out there and a lot of it is free! I like being able to learn at my own pace and try things out without the pressure of having to prove myself in front of others. I’ve taken courses from all sorts of programs and providers, including here at Liquibase. Liquibase University is a GREAT resource that has a bunch of really great free classes and I can personally attest to its effectiveness as I used it to prepare for my interviews to work here!
Liquibase University is now offering a new certification path for intermediate learners. If you are ready to take your Liquibase expertise to the next level and add another certification to your LinkedIn profile, you can call yourself a Liquibase Certified Associate. Imposters are always welcome.