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.
Prior to re-entering the IT field, I had worked a lot of different jobs. The two roles that stand out the most were my time spent as a plumber and later my time working as a paramedic. I found great satisfaction in both jobs. When I was plumbing it was easy to look back at the work we had done over the course of the day. There was very tangible value in what we did. I could see the pipes we had run or feel the hot water coming out of a faucet and know that I had accomplished something. The work was hard, but at times very rewarding. Similarly – working on the ambulance gave me a sense of purpose. It was rewarding to have run a call and know that your actions made a difference. I could see the relief in a patient’s eyes when they knew someone was there to help. It could be endlessly rewarding, however working on an ambulance can mean long hours and the emotional toll leaves an indelible mark. For every high point in emergency services there is also a low point. The good moments can easily be erased, but the low points continue to build.
In my original draft, I suggested that the reason those jobs weren’t for me was because I didn’t have the same passion for them as I do my current job. To a point that’s true – however, as Don pointed out, “it’s the outcomes, not the effort that tends to lead most people to satisfaction.” If the outcomes of those jobs outweighed the effort (physical, mental, and emotional) they were rewarding. When the work became too much my passion for those jobs was taken away.
I do believe that being passionate about a subject can help us to overcome our Impostor Syndrome. However, if we can’t define what we mean by “passion” that sentence doesn’t mean much. Do we have to love a subject so much that we immerse ourselves in it? Do we need to be excited about a topic to be allowed to talk about it? Does something have to bring us joy to be passionate about it? I don’t necessarily have the answer to those questions. What I do know is that if we are truly passionate about a subject, we are more willing to put in the effort to learn more. We are more likely to take the time to learn about something if it brings us joy. To that end Impostor Syndrome can’t be cured by being simple passion, but our passion for a topic can be used to bring better outcomes. I stand by my original statement that MY passion helped me to address my own Impostor Syndrome. My passion was driven by my love of endpoint management and empowering end users, but that may not work for someone else.
The problem with my original premise is that being passionate about a subject doesn’t work for someone who isn’t driven by their work. A lot of people do their job for a paycheck. They have determined that a specific outcome (their salary) outweighs the effort that they put in. They may have almost no passion for their job. That doesn’t exclude them from feeling like an Impostor, nor does it mean that they should have to go through life feeling that way.
Don talks about defining our own success. He went on to relay to me that, “Success is an outcome, the result of an effort. Outcomes are what people tend to get passionate about.” This made me pause for a second – what is it that I am passionate about? What is it that makes me so excited? Personally – it’s not about a paycheck. It isn’t about recognition. For me – success is about being part of the community and helping to empower others. My goals are focused on building solutions that other people get excited about – and in a way my original post was pushing my passion on others.
The point that I was missing in my original draft was captured well by Don in the quote at the top of this 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.'
Reread those last four words. “We deem ourselves unworthy.” Feeling like an impostor means that we are projecting our own insecurities on others. We feel that the way we feel about ourselves is also the way that they feel about us.
When I look at the people I admire in the Microsoft Endpoint Manager community the first thing that stands out to me is their passion. I mistook that passion as being what drove the effort they put in, not as being the result of an outcome. Most of the leaders in the Microsoft Endpoint Manager community are driven by the positive outcomes that result from their actions. They see a thriving community that exists because they put in the work to build it. Their passion is a result of their labor, not the driving force that propels them forward. The most influential people in our community are the ones that took the time to make the community better.
When I first read Don’s reply to my email, I was convinced that I failed to get my message across. I reread his message, then reread my original draft. The problem wasn’t that my language wasn’t artful – the problem was that I missed the most common thread in the entire series. I thought I was writing about actions that I had taken to correct my own Impostor Syndrome – but what I was actually writing about was the community of people who were telling me that I mattered.
That community was made up of people like Rion telling me not talk negatively about myself – or Kent and Matthew encouraging me to stretch myself. Then there was Chris who spoke about Impostor Syndrome – a topic I very much identified with. Later it was Satya admitting in his book that sometimes he was afraid to speak out. It was Simon who took the time out of his day to offer me career advice. I can’t forget Brad who retweeted me and then reached out to offer additional feedback and encouragement – and now, in this post, there’s Don – the master – who took the time to read a rough draft and dive in. There are so many other people in my story that have made contributions – both large and small. None of them had to take the time out of their day to talk to me or offer encouragement, but they all have.
After a month of buildup and a handful of blog posts it would have been a disappointing answer for me to simply say that the cure for Impostor Syndrome was to be passionate about something. That answer would be selling myself short and not giving credit to the amazing people I have encountered on this journey.
The most important fact about Impostor Syndrome is that none of us are alone. Many of us struggle with self-doubt. We project the way we feel about ourselves on to other people, and that keeps us from engaging with the community and giving back
Over the last month I have explored my own experience with Impostor Syndrome. Through the entire journey I missed the most important part – there is one thing we can all fall back on when we aren’t sure if we belong – and that is all around us.
Welcome to the community. You belong here.
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.