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.
“You’re five foot nothing, a hundred and nothing, and you’ve hung in there with the best college football players in the land for two years … In this life you’ve got nothing to prove to nobody but yourself.” – Fortune, from the movie Rudy
Sure, Rudy is based on actual events. We know that the movie makers played a little loose with the facts and that Fortune wasn’t a real person, but this quote has always resonated with me. When faced with adversity, the title character walked out on the last practice of his career as a football player at the University of Notre Dame. He missed out on one goal – the desire to dress for a single game for the Fighting Irish – so he saw himself as a failure. When confronted with everything he had accomplished – overcoming dyslexia, walking on to the best college football team in the country, and graduating from one of the top universities in the world – he was forced to reconsider his own accomplishments. Rudy was so singularly focused on one detail he believed he had failed.
Despite how he felt, he had accomplished a great deal. His journey is very similar to many of ours. Many of us have taken a less-than-traditional path to get where we are today. I have spoken to many IT Pros, and I am amazed at all of the paths we have taken. I have met former chefs, other paramedics, and skilled trade workers. There are people who went straight to college and some who never attended a single class. It’s easy to look at job postings that require a degree or specific certifications and say that we don’t meet the metrics they are asking for. Requirements on paper don’t detract from your experience or invalidate who you are. We are the sum of our experience – and that unique experience is what drives us.
In the first article that explored Impostor Syndrome in depth, “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention,” Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Ament Imes describe some possible causes of this phenomena. While their study focused on women in an educational setting, later studies have found that Impostor Syndrome impacts both men and women equally and is experienced by workers in all fields.
Clance and Imes identified two primary populations that suffered from Impostor Syndrome. The first grew up being told that they were the “sensitive” family member while another family member was described as “bright.” Members of the second population were told they could accomplish anything and that things would come naturally to them.
Later studies have identified more classifications of “impostors,” but I find these first two populations to be the most intriguing. The first population faced constant (and unintentional) negative reinforcement. The second was made to believe that having to work hard to achieve something was a form of failure. The unintended consequence of those environments led the subjects to question themselves. The first population always questioned their achievements because they believed someone else who was “brighter” could do it better. Members of the second population hid their hard work, because they equate making mistakes and working hard with not being “naturally good” at something.
There was one constant about both populations. They repeatedly discounted their own accomplishments. When faced with questions about how they achieved what they did in their education they would attribute it to luck, a lack of competition, or errors on the part of graders or admissions staff. People who deal with Impostor Syndrome share a lot of traits, but our self-doubt is relentless.
We constantly keep score. If something comes easy to us, we may attribute to luck. We are afraid that if we have to work hard at something, we might not be good at it. There is a constant fear that we will be exposed. Whatever the case we don’t believe we earned our accomplishments. At best we got lucky, at worst we are here because of someone else’s mistake. In truth we need to stop keeping score. Everything we have been through or achieved gives us our unique perspective. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in your field for five months or five years – you have earned the right to be here.
I’m here because of where I have been. I am a plumber and a paramedic; I am a salesman and an IT Pro. This is my journey, and I am proud of it. There have been some missteps, but through it all I have persevered.
I hope they find out. As I continue this series on Impostor Syndrome, I will discuss who experiences Impostor Syndrome, strategies for dealing with it, and the thing that helps me most when doubt begins to creep in.