First, I would like to thank Chris Brogan for directing people towards one of my recent posts regarding a label printer, and all that it represented. I have received emails, comments and tweets about how my story of the label printer resounded in their own lives – that many of us have rationalized that a single, truly insignificant “thing” could somehow be the difference between success and failure.
But there is another feeling that can be equally as troubling – imposter syndrome.
I may be naive, but I first learned of imposter syndrome about a month ago when a co-worker brought it to my attention after one of my tweets. I googled the phrase and came u p with a definition that really made sense:
The Impostor Syndrome, sometimes called Impostor Phenomenon or Fraud Syndrome, is a syndrome where sufferers are unable to internalize their accomplishments. It is not an officially recognized psychological disorder but has been the subject of numerous books and articles by psychologists and educators.
Regardless of what level of success they may have achieved in their chosen field of work or study or what external proof they may have of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced internally they do not deserve the success they have achieved and are actually frauds. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they were more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
For the past couple of years, despite my success as a programmer at the web site company I work for, I have been plagued by a feeling of being a fake. That sure, I do the high-profile projects and complicated things, but I’m just faking it. After all, PHP and mySQL programming is always “a lot of the same” and code is reused here and there. Anybody can do it. If I’m ever found out, I’ll be fired.
This fear caused ups and downs in my mood, resulting in a lack of self-confidence, even in the midst of extreme accomplishments.
It is also a part of baggage I have been carrying since being laid off as a result of the AOL Time-Warner merger in 2001. Up until the layoff, I had left jobs on my own terms, now suddenly I was told to go. The dot com bubble had burst, and I limped back to Iowa where I got a job doing tech support at an ISP, answering phone calls.
I’ve also come to realize, thanks to reading an article on The New York Times Web Site that people exhibiting imposter syndrome:
adopt self-deprecation as a social strategy, consciously or not, and are secretly more confident than they let on.
“Particularly when people think that they might not be able to live up to others’ views of them, they may maintain that they are not as good as other people think,” Dr. Mark Leary, the lead author, wrote in an e-mail message. “In this way, they lower others’ expectations — and get credit for being humble.”
Not taking credit for my accomplishments now makes sense. I can now fully realize that yes, this is exactly what I have been battling the last few years. Overcoming this is will be difficult and it won’t happen overnight, I just need to realize what I have accomplished in my short career:
- Got a job at Warner Bros. studios while still a senior in college at Iowa State
- Worked on some of my favorite TV shows like Babylon 5, Friends, Third Watch, Drew Carey, 7th Heaven, and others
- Worked my way up the ladder at Warner Bros. and eventually started and managed the community division of the company.
- Worked on the original Harry Potter web site
- Was a senior programmer for the Warner portal Entertaindom
- Attended several movie premieres, walking the red carpet
- Worked with several young actors, actresses and musicians who are now adults and in their prime
- Earned my Screen Actor’s Guild card
- Went back to college while working full time and finished my degree
- Wrote and published a book on helping kids get started in the TV/Film industry
- Became 1st Vice President of a community theater and directed 2 productions
- Worked my way up the ladder again at a web development company, going from tech support to lead programmer
- Became known in podcasting circles due to a “Troy Needs an iPod” publicity stunt
- Helped build the Des Moines Renaissance Faire into a great festival
- Programmed the back end of two high-profile web sites for the company
Overcoming imposter syndrome will take some time, and although I recognize it, it is still affecting me, even making me question myself more about my label printer. But knowing this about myself can only help me to realize that I really CAN be a leader in my industry again. I get hard on myself because of all the “notoriety” I lost.
Being a leader in your field has to start with yourself, you a) have to WANT to be a leader and b) have to think that you ARE a leader. If you think for one moment you can’t do something, you’ve already lost.
So to you, my new friends with shiny label printers… I say let’s do this. Take something that you have been terrified to start and do it. Buy your label printer, unpack it, set it on your desk and get to work printing out the best damn labels you can. It can get sticky, but let’s do it together.
[TAGS]importer syndrome, AOL, Time Warner, Warner Bros. label printers, self-confidence[/TAGS]