Many of us have been there in the past; you see experts in your industry delivering content in different formats – blog posts, articles, books, magazines, conference talks – and wonder “Could I do that?”
Then that sinking feeling kicks in. What exactly can I contribute? What makes me an expert in that field? Hasn’t it been done before? (Ironically enough, even conjuring up the confidence to write this piece got me thinking about whether I’m qualified enough to talk about imposter syndrome and if it’s already been covered too much.)
The reality is I’m lacking self confidence in myself and this comes from years of trying to be something different, to stand out with a skill that others see value in and can learn from.
Drudging Up The Past
I’ve been working in the Web industry (professionally) since 2001 and, along the way, leaned on fellow developers to learn the hottest methods. I’ve been extremely lucky to even work with some of these people I look up to. My first day at Yahoo! back in 2007 was like walking through the Web’s Wall of Fame; Christian Heilmann, Drew McLellan, Neil Crosby – the very people who helped mould the web standards we all work with today. I felt inadequate compared to these people who have proved their worth. How could I ever meet such high expectations in a growingly competitive industry?
But why did I feel this way? I clearly “had what it takes” following the grueling interview process for them to offer me a job at (apparently) one of the strongest Web development teams on the planet at the time. But I still lacked that confidence I needed in myself.
I come from a family with a real mix of mental health issues; from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) to schizophrenia, from bipolar to depression. Whilst all these health problems come with a multitude of symptoms, it can be quite daunting to process when it’s your own family who are suffering.
But, thanks to the observational approach I’ve honed through my years as a web designer and developer, I’ve been able to take a step back at times and recognise familiar patterns to reflect on. With a little help from my wife, I’ve been able to identify certain conditions in my own mental health.
Lack of confidence and increasingly high anxiety can be a dangerous combination when it comes to Imposter Syndrome. But I was determined to give it a go.
Rise Above It
When Geek Mental Health was mentioned earlier this month, I noticed a call for speakers from the MK Geek Night crowd for their dedicated event. I thought this would be a great opportunity to cease the moment and approach my demons head on. What better way to get over my inhibitions than to discuss the very topic that stops me from moving forward?
Unfortunately, calendar conflicts dealt a blow to my plan but then I saw Andy Clarke’s call for content on the Geek Mental Health website.
That first hurdle hit when approaching a topic and I start to think “Where do I start?” … “Can I even put this thing together eloquently enough?” … “Why would anyone even be interested?”
Then the anxiety kicks in. It’s bubbling away as I try to elaborate more. All the gremlins come out and question the thoughts I’ve put down. My mind is racing, body tensing up, foot incessantly tapping away; I feel like everything is crowding round me as I’m simply trying to write things down.
I get to that point where I just think “Sod it! Delete everything. It’s not worth it.”
Here’s the hard part. Don’t! Keep going. Continue writing, editing, refining. Sleep on it.
Another day passes and I’m still questioning why anyone would be interested in my piece. I look back over the content and try to find some real value. Is it the structure or just the fact I’ve got nothing to give? Confidence is slipping, anxiety is creeping up, that dark place is returning.
But, again, that little voice on my shoulder tells me it is worth it. Perseverance is important. If I want to beat this, I must try harder.
The Shining Light
Then I realise – everyone loves a happy ending. I’ve hit the critical point of the fairytale story, the turning point. The hero has turned up with the power to complete this once and for all. Through this entire drama, the audience have been waiting for this point to work out where it’s going and why they’ve been reading.
Mental health is a dark, nasty beast that needs putting back in its cage. No doubt it’ll escape again at some point but the hero is always on hand to defeat it.
I take the content out of draft, move it towards the edge of publication with my sword of proof-reading and push the button. It’s unleashed to the world.
The anxiety is gone, confidence is rising and I’m feeling pretty good about it. But how?
We have a cheeky acronym we continually reference on our team at work. We have it placed in prime position of our team whiteboard so, if anyone is ever reluctant or showing signs of weakness, one of us can point to it…
(I’ll leave you to work it out but I recommend breaking up the familiar acronyms starting with FFS.)
This is a (un)pleasant reminder to just take the plunge if there’s ever any doubt. Having it clearly present at all times allows easy access and regular contact. It also adds some much needed humour to diffuse any negativity. It’s interesting to see the reactions from passers-by who slowly work out what it stands for, normally with a positive giggle.
I highly recommend writing it out (yes, not print, handwrite) and placing it within view of your working environment. You can make it your own (we added the final “UD” just for added expletives) but having this constant prompt is a healthy reminder to believe in yourself.
Just f*cking do it.