This is part 4 in a 5-part series on Impostor Syndrome among IT Pros. You can find the rest of the series here:.
“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. Second – this is something that has followed me for much of my life and will probably continue to follow me in the future. I’m not an expert on Impostor Syndrome, just a fellow traveler on this journey. Hopefully I can offer some hope and a little advice to make finding your path easier. The things I am doing work together, each one being enriched by the last, and in turn enriching the next. My goal isn’t to simply silence my internal monologue; I am on a path toward personal enrichment and professional development. In turn this helps to address the inner voice that says I’m not good enough.
If you recall my first post on Impostor Syndrome, I referenced a study from Blind that said that 58% of IT Pros experience it at some point in their career. It is likely somewhere around half of your team and professional contacts also struggle with self-doubt related to their career. One of the best strategies to combat the nagging self-doubt we feel is to talk about it. Whether you begin talking about it in your professional circles, user groups, or write about it you will find other professionals that feel like you. It is incredibly freeing to know you are not alone. Talking about your struggle will also help others. There’s a ripple effect that begins when one of us speaks up. Positivity is contagious. By speaking up you will build a more enriched community of professionals who want to work to improve as individuals and as a team. One conversation can inspire others an impact you never expected.
The next step I took was to do a self-inventory of my own knowledge, skills, and experience. I have identified areas where my knowledge is strong, other areas where I am skilled but need to grow, and areas where there is significant room for improvement. Having a personal skills inventory means I can lean on my strengths while developing my weaknesses. This has also allowed me to recommit myself to lifelong learning, which is arguably one of the most important traits I have seen in leaders I admire. The most dynamic professionals in the world never stop learning and aren’t afraid to stay engaged with technology or the community.
One of my favorite social media storylines over the holidays was following Michael Niehaus as he completed the Office 365 Administrator Expert Certification. Michael is a principal program manager at Microsoft, working on Windows Autopilot. In my experience, he is a charismatic and engaging leader. There is no doubt that he is an expert in our field, but as he said on his blog, “I decided that if I was going to talk about Microsoft 365 certification, I should probably actually earn one.” He chose to lead from the front, demonstrating a strong work ethic and dedication to his team and the professionals that look up to him. He identified an area he wanted to grow, set a goal, and shared his progress with the community. His example shows both excellent leadership and the desire to continue growing and building his skills.
There was a time in my life when I thought Microsoft certifications didn’t have a lot of value. Some roles require may require a certification, but I was a firm believer that experience was far more valuable. My problem was that quick career mobility left me with some important gaps in my experience. I was always aware of those gaps, and they helped to perpetuate the cycle of self-doubt. Last year I set the goal to complete the O365 Administrator Expert Certification by the end of 2020. I achieved the first certification in Modern Desktop administration in December. It was a small goal – but it demonstrated both to me and to the community that I do know and understand the technologies that I work on. It’s a small piece, but it lays a foundation that I can fall back on when I start to question myself.
The most important part of my journey has been to engage with the Endpoint Manager community. This journey started with me asking whether I belonged at the table with more experienced professionals. I felt like an outsider and was afraid that if they saw my lack of experience that they wouldn’t accept me. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Our community is vast and welcoming. Experienced professionals – Microsoft program managers, MVPs, and community members from around the world – are all open and willing to help. There’s a buzz and excitement in the community, and there’s room at the table for everyone. I had taken a lot of steps to improve myself but engaging with the community provided validation and an unlimited resource pool to help me learn and grow. Local user’s groups can provide the opportunity to meet with like-minded professionals, ask questions, and present content back to the community. Community engagement is an excellent way to learn, grow, and build your own confidence. It has been essential to helping me in my journey and I would encourage everyone to get involved.
No one can provide a perfect step-by-step guide on combatting Impostor Syndrome. On the surface, it may not be immediately obvious what steps I have taken to combat my own self-doubt – but if you look at this entire blog series, there’s a pattern the emerges:
First, I identified that I was in a cycle of self-doubt. I took a self-inventory and identified my own strengths, weaknesses, and skills gaps. That allowed me to set goals, fill the gaps, and engage with the community. By engaging with the community, I found other professionals who were experiencing what I was experiencing – and finally, I decided to push myself by setting stretch goals that are taking me out of my comfort zone.
Things that were once merely daydreams – mentoring, speaking, and sharing my journey – are now goals that I believe are very attainable. Even though there’s still a voice inside that tries to tear me down, I am taking steps every day for my own personal and professional development. My inner narrative is changing, and I am believing more and more in myself.
As Dr. Young suggested, “The only way to stop feeling like an impostor, is to stop thinking like an impostor.” It’s not easy, but through mindfulness and by being intentional I have found personal growth that has helped to change my own thinking.
My friends, I am Sean Bulger, and I am not an impostor.
This is the fourth post in a five-part series on Impostor Syndrome. The final blog post will cover the one thing that has pushed me to grow and overcome my own self-doubt the most.