This is the second and final installment in my series on managing impostor syndrome in a remote world. The first post can be viewed here.
“So, if you ever feel like you can’t handle something, maybe just think about what you’ve already done.” – Rebecca Pearson, This Is Us
I didn’t intend to start this blog with an open admission that I have been sucked into a prime-time drama, but there it is. One line from this week’s episode summed up everything I wanted to say. Almost everyone I know has felt overwhelmed at some point over the last year. That can manifest in any number of ways, and for impostors in a remote world that often means we feel like we haven’t accomplished much.
In my last post, I discussed what we have lost by going remote. We lost several things – but two of them really stood out to me. We lost both a physical presence and a separation of time and space that helped to separate work from our private lives. Those have led to many of us losing focus on the things that matter, and often can lead to a dangerous feedback loop where we constantly question everything.
So what can we do about it?
Focusing on what we have lost won’t help us accomplish anything. In Les Miserables, as the first day of the battle wanes, we hear from the defenders at the barricades. They break into the song, “Drink with Me,” and they reminisce of days gone by. Thinking of what was lost could not change the outcome. French soldiers would return the next day and the battle would ultimately be lost. Similarly, we cannot sit back and look at a past that we can never get back. I would encourage anyone who is living with impostor syndrome to consider a handful of actions to overcome the challenges posed by remote work.
This is the final blog post in my series on battling Impostor Syndrome among IT Pros. It has been an enlightening journey. You can start the series here:
Do I belong at this table?
Full disclosure: I had written a post that I thought articulated my final point on Impostor Syndrome well. It was a rough draft, so it was subject to change – but I was confident enough to share it with Don Jones. I was hoping he would have a small insight to help drive my point home, instead he pulled out several points and gave me a different perspective. This post is similar, but far different from my original post.
"That’s the real crux of impostor syndrome: we tend to compare ourselves to our heroes, and unless we mentally 'measure up,' we deem ourselves 'unworthy.' It’s a no-win scenario, because we never think about what someone else might admire in ourselves. Breaking impostor syndrome is, in a small way, about being less selfish: don’t worry about what you think of you. Your value as a professional cannot be set by yourself; it can only be set by someone you’ve provided value to.” – Don Jones
When I started writing this post, I was trying to sum up the one thing that has helped me to get over my own Impostor Syndrome. Throughout the last several years I have developed a love for Microsoft Endpoint Manager. Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility and Security suite has brought me joy – I love the tools that are available to us. Microsoft has provided a suite of tools that allow us to empower end users and drive organizational change. Business is being revolutionized, and the tools that we manage are pivotal in changing the way our organizations do business. This is exciting to me. This drives me. This is my passion.
The original premise was that my passion is the reason I had a spot at the table – but Don pushed back on that premise. Passion is an overused word. I knew that when I was writing the first draft, but I believed that I could drive my point home despite that. He asked me, “Is it excitement? Joy? Does it create a sense of internal fulfillment? Is it something that’s worked so well for you, you want to share it with others?” His questions were all valid – and his concerns mirrored my own feelings about the original post. It felt forced and watered down – I just couldn’t figure out why.
This is part 4 in a 5-part series on Impostor Syndrome among IT Pros. You can find the rest of the series here:
Do I belong at this table?
I hope they don't notice: Why We Experience Impostor Syndrome
From the Help Desk to the Board Room: Defeating Self-Doubt
“What people want is to walk into the room feeling like an impostor and to walk out of the room not feeling like an impostor.
That’s not how it works. In fact, feelings are the last to change.
So now, before I even get to the solutions, I make sure my audience understands that people who don’t feel like impostors are no more intelligent or capable than the rest of us. … The only way to stop feeling like an impostor, is to stop thinking like an impostor.” – Dr. Valerie Young, 10 Steps You can Use to Overcome Impostor Syndrome
The last line of this excerpt from Dr. Young is arguably the most important piece of advice you can offer to someone who is fighting with Impostor Syndrome. The problem is that while it’s important, it’s not very actionable. It’s hard to quantify what helps someone overcome how they feel. There is no way we could come up with a set list of actions that would cure Impostor Syndrome in the general population. If we could, Dr. Young wouldn’t have to give seminars, I wouldn’t have a reason to write this blog series, and countless others would never have spoken up. I can’t give you a formula to change your inner dialogue or silence the doubt.
So, what can I offer you? I can tell you what helps me. As an IT Pro who is writing a blog targeted at my peers, I believe that what works for me is likely to work for others. There are a couple housekeeping items that I want to get out of the way first:
First (and most importantly) – Impostor Syndrome shares a lot of traits with depression. If you feel like you are experiencing deeper feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem, I would strongly encourage you to talk with a professional about how you feel. I’m not a doctor, have never played one on TV, and can’t even remember the last time I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. In the past there has been a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness, but that has changed. If you need help, seek help.
This is the third post in a planned five-part series on Impostor Series among IT Pros. Previous posts can be found here:
Do I belong at this table?
I Hope they don't find out
"For the first exercise Dr. Gervais asked us if we were interested in having an extraordinary individual experience. We all nodded yes. Then he moved on and asked for a volunteer to stand up. Only no one did … But Dr. Gervais was curious: Why wouldn't everyone jump up? Wasn't this a high performing group? Didn't every just say they wanted to do something extraordinary? … The answers were hard to pull out even though they were just beneath the surface. Fear of being ridiculed; of failing; of not looking like the smartest person in the room …" - Satya Nadella, Hit Refresh, Chapter 1
In the first chapter of Hit Refresh, Satya recounts an early team building exercise with his senior leadership team. He had recently been named the CEO of Microsoft. The senior leadership team was made up of some of the most experienced professionals in our industry. They are all well-known and well-respected leaders whose careers have been nothing short of extraordinary. They were given the opportunity to do something else extraordinary, but none of them volunteered. In the book Satya described the awkward silence, shoe-gazing, and unsure smiles the team exchanged. Eventually the silence was broken when Amy Hood, Microsoft’s CFO, volunteered.
Most of us can identify with this situation. Self-consciousness and doubt can be paralyzing. How many times have you not answered a question even though you were confident you knew the answer? Have you avoided volunteering for a demonstration, even though you wanted to take part?
This is the second post in a planned five part series on Impostor Syndrome among IT Pros.
Check out the first post in the series here: Do I belong at this table?
I hope they don’t find out.
What would all these people think if they discovered where I came from? Would my opinions on Endpoint Management and the Modern Workplace matter to them if they knew that just six years ago, I was working as a paramedic? What if they discovered my only degree is a completely unrelated associate’s degree from a bankrupt college they never heard of? How would they feel if they learned that in the last 18 or so years, I have had half a dozen different careers? Who trusts their plumber for mobile device management advice, or a salesman for – well – anything?
In my head it doesn’t matter that I have spent the last six years working as an IT Pro; the last five focused almost entirely on endpoint management and enterprise mobility. The challenge of battling with Impostor Syndrome is that we know what other people don’t. We see our inner demons. We know all the twists and turns that led us to where we are today. Other people only see our accomplishments. They want to hear our perspective. There may be some tangential interest in knowing how we got to where we are, but that doesn’t change the value of what we have to offer to them.
This is the first post in a series on Impostor Syndrome among IT Pros. I will be talking about my journey, the people who have inspired me, and how we can deal with this common challenge that faces many of us.
Do I belong at this table?
At a recent event I was sitting at a table with several Microsoft team members and customers. We all had one thing in common – a love for Microsoft’s Modern Endpoint Management solutions. While I looked around the table, I started keeping score in my head. On my right were two MVPs – Matthew Hudson and Kent Agerlund. To my right was another IT Pro from a Microsoft Partner. Rion was one of the most engaging and charismatic members of the community I have had the pleasure of meeting. The rest of the table was filled with members of the Endpoint Management team at Microsoft – from engineers to project managers.
Everyone at the table was someone whom I looked up to. They were all very accomplished professionals. I had used their blogs and technical articles to build my own environment. A lot of doubt began to creep in. How did I get here? How do I stack up to the other people sitting at this table? Do I have anything to offer to the conversation? What perspective do I have to offer that the other people sitting here can’t give? It was immediately obvious to me that I didn’t have the breadth of experience or depth of knowledge of the other professionals I was sitting with. My credentials didn’t seem to measure up to theirs, and I began to question my experience.
My name is Sean Bulger. I am an IT Pro that has worked in the Modern Endpoint Management work space since 2015. I have worked in various environment, ranging from mature enterprise all the way down to a fledgling IT organization looking to find their way in a cloud first world. Before rejoining the technology field in 2014 I had a wide range of careers - from plumber to paramedic - that have helped to shape my perspective on the world.