I'm (not) Good Enough

I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve to be here.

I had just landed the job of my dreams working at a cool design and development agency downtown (yes, Oven Bits). I had great co-workers, a cool office space, and all the pour-over coffee I could ask for. I was genuinely happy, except for one fact: I didn’t think I deserved it.

Before joining Oven Bits, I had worked for three years in the slow-moving enterprise software space, and I always had the feeling of being behind the industry’s latest and greatest. When I started at Oven Bits I was fast-forwarded to the present day where we use cloud hosting, the latest programming tools, agile processes, and move super fast.

It was a new, different world, and I loved it. But, I couldn’t help but feel a little self-conscious about my inexperience in this field. I didn’t know the ins-and-outs of Heroku or the best way to merge a GitHub pull request or the latest CSS naming schemes. I felt like Oven Bits had taken a risk on me, and I wanted to prove that I was worth it.

To add to my insecurities, I was a newbie in a small company. Everyone else had worked together before, learned collaboration styles, and even standardized development practices that were well intentioned but that I didn’t always agree with. When the team discussed these decisions with confidence and intelligence, I assumed I was just ignorant for holding a different view. After all, I was pretty new to this fast-moving agency stuff.

Though these factors contributed to my self-doubt, they were merely symptoms of my bigger root issue: I was insecure in a new position at a company that I was afraid to lose.

Bringing things to light

I started talking about how I was feeling with some of the awesome people at Oven Bits. Each person I talked to was surprised to hear that I had doubts about my abilities and worth. In fact, the entire time I’d been at Oven Bits, I’d received a steady stream of affirmation. And my coworkers were right: I was doing great work. I had no reason to think I wasn’t good enough. Then why did I think it?

The feeling I was experiencing was real, but it wasn’t unique. In fact, it is so common that it has a name: Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is defined as a “collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.” 1 According to Fast Company, over 70% of people have experienced it at some point in their life, 2 and it’s even more common in tech companies.

Getting over it

Overcoming my Imposter Syndrome started with acknowledging the problem and speaking up. As I talked with my coworkers they helped me to realize that my feelings of inadequacy weren’t founded in reality but rather were just a false pattern I had bought into. Here are some other pieces of advice that helped me:

Receive and believe praise

When I started at Oven Bits I found myself dismissing praise by telling myself that it wasn’t authentic, or that I hadn’t really achieved anything noteworthy. I’ve since realized that if people are telling you you’re doing a great job, it’s probably because you are.

Acknowledge your skills

It is easy to feel inadequate in the tech industry. There are so many things to learn, and it’s impossible to know everything. However, this shouldn’t discourage anyone. It is just a factor of the industry we’re in. Work to improve your knowledge, but also acknowledge the skills that you have and recognize the asset they are to the company where you work.

You’re not lucky

It can be easy to doubt yourself and chalk your successes up as mere luck. While it’s true that everyone has a lucky break here or there, chances are that if you’ve had a successful career, it is a result of your good work, not luck.

What can companies do to help?

Though Imposter Syndrome is a bit of a personal issue there are still steps companies can take to help guard against it. Here are a few pieces of advice:

Give candid feedback

Employees shouldn’t have to guess at how they’re doing. This is something that Oven Bits does really well. We have monthly performance reviews. The more honest and candid the review, the better. If feedback is only positive then employees will start to wonder what is not being said. Everyone has areas to improve. We also have a time during our weekly company standup where anyone can give “props” to anyone else. It’s a great way to recognize the efforts of our co-workers.

Have an open-minded culture

Your company should be a safe place for people to dissent and disagree. Especially on issues that are a matter of opinion, like technology and design.

Being a new employee can be stressful. The existing team knows each other and has made decisions together. To make matters more challenging for new arrivals, the company may have formed collective opinions that are counter to what the new employee believes. This is common in the tech community, where the industry is often fragmented and polarized around issues that have no true, correct answer. The truth is, many companies disagree on technical or design issues internally and are still able to be successful. They get past the differences because they share ideas, keep an open mind, and remember that just because something isn’t their style doesn’t mean it’s wrong or won’t work.

Be vulnerable

As a company, talk about the hard things. That’s where growth comes from. We all make mistakes, and we all have issues. Let’s learn together. As I talked to my co-workers I found that I wasn’t the only one who had struggled with Imposter Syndrome. This is where we start to get better.

Going forward

I can’t say that I’ve completely overcome Imposter Syndrome, but I’ve come a long way. I no longer doubt that I’m good enough or worry about being “found out.” In addition, I’ve learned to give myself credit where it’s due rather than dismiss it. I still doubt myself sometimes and put pressure on myself, but maybe that’s just in my nature. It’s part of what drives me to do great work.

Oven Bits is an incredible company, and I’m grateful to have walked through this with them and to have the opportunity to be here. An opportunity that I finally feel like I’m worthy of having.

photo by Steven Schobert