More than a month ago, Kev Quirk, one of the admins of Fosstodon, wrote a blogpost about how he doesn’t think he is an expert at anything. I read it and replied with:
I have a kinda similar problem, in a much smaller scale, I feel like writing a blog so I might do that sometime this week.
I did, in fact, not write a reply that week.
However, during the following days other people of the Fediverse started answering in their own blogs, so I did not feel the same rush to go ahead and do it at the time.
However, the thought was still floating around in my head, so I sat on my desk and started to just write it down already.
Personally, after reading those responses and stumbling over other older posts on the topic, I have to say I don’t actually have this problem at all; with due respect, I believe a lot of people claiming to have this, simply don’t.
I am not going flat out say Impostor Syndrome is not a thing, although some people do,
and I kinda lean towards that opinion. I think a lot of people just doubt of themselves, or fear failing to someone, and since nobody goes to a psychologist just to check if they actually suffer from this, they just assume those emotions mean that they have this syndrome.
Kev started by defining what an expert is, and yeah, according to the definition, he is not. However, if we go and check for the definition of impostor, which is defined as:
“its one that assumes false identity or title for the purpose of deception.”
– Merriam-Webster dictionary,
I really doubt Kev, or any of the people who also wrote about this, are trying to be deceptive, if anything Impostor Syndrome should be used to refer to those compulsive liars who claim to be better at doing things when they really aren’t, which is something I’ve actually been guilty of sometimes, but that’s another topic.
Also, while its true that the first definition of expert refers to a single topic or subject, it can also be defined as:
“having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience.”
– Merriam-Webster dictionary,
More simply said, being experienced.
I think that accepting you are not the best at everything and deciding to just assist where you can be helpful, is not acting as an impostor, but as someone with who knows when to move aside and let others do their jobs. After all, wouldn’t an impostor waste everyone’s time trying to be the smartest person in the room (and utterly failing)?
Maybe some feel like they are pretending to be smart and failing, but that’s not an impostor, that’s just self-doubt.
My experience with self-doubt
I don’t want this to feel like I am attacking anyone in particular so, I will now talk about what I meant when I replied “I had a similar feeling”.
I think that a lot of these feelings of self-doubt and lack of confidence in one’s ability comes from what happened during the pandemic, and in my case it really showed during the first semester that got into online classes only half-way.
With academic performance
That semester we were supposed to learn about Fourier Analysis, Complex Variables, Discrete Math and other complex subjects that are pretty much the core of my career as an aspiring Mechatronics Engineer. However, the terrible planning and lack of experience showcased by most of our teachers meant that what we were taught was just lacking. For example, with Fourier Analysis We only had one hour per week, and our homework was incredibly basic.
This was pretty common among all of the subjects, and getting high grades was also surprisingly easy. This means my scores don’t actually reflect my acquired knowledge. I mean, they already don’t really do that, but now its an even less reliable way to measure it.
So when we returned to the classrooms, I was worried that we would be expected to know a lot more than what we actually learned, and that the next subjects would be a lot harder to comprehend. But, it turned out that I was just fine. I stopped getting perfect grades, but I realized that I could handle most of the topics and learn things on my own when they peaked my interest, I am not an expert at things, but I am clever enough to understand what I am being taught, at least when classes are not online.
With my hobbies
Other instances where I felt like I wasn’t up to the task was when I got into game development. I started just fine and was proud of my work, but there was a point where I started reusing code for a couple projects and just that made me feel like I could not do this from scratch, and I just felt like I was playing dirty.
But, I mean, why rewrite what already works fine? Something as simple as that kinda threw me off, but after some thought I realized its simply not a big deal. I could actually code a player controller or a state machine from scratch, I just don’t really need to.
There is one hobby where I truly think the “Impostor Syndrome” actually applies, and I have not talked about it too much here. Card Magic, and magic in general, with coins or everyday items, its an art form where you have to be deceiving to people, you have to act confident in order to avoid awkwardness while approaching random people, while at the same time being somewhat clueless as to what’s happening with whatever trick is being done (if you actually claim to have some sort of power or mystical abilities, please stop).
I have a hard time approaching people, and nowadays it kinda became even more difficult because of the pandemic. I have been meaning to try this again, but it can be a bit cringe too, so its difficult to go back to actually performing to something other than the mirror. Regardless, I know that after all I am actually pretty good, I have good technique and I just got to gain some more confidence and overcome the fear.
I actually had never heard of Impostor Syndrome until a couple months after the pandemic started, around two years ago, when one of my favorite Gamedev Youtubers at the time claimed to be suffering from it and started to slow down on his projects and be less active.
I don’t want to comment to much on that, but I can see how its pretty difficult for a lot of people. I don’t think my mental health is perfect in any way, but I think that sometimes we just put too much thought into what we want to believe of ourselves, and its just not realistic to fulfill every single one of our expectations, not to talk of what we think others expect from us.
I don’t even know if this is well structured or worth it. I write this mostly for myself. But its out now, and I hope it helps someone somewhere, who is not sure of what to think of themselves.
Keep it up, you are good enough, its good to want to improve, but don’t rush it.
Me, speaking as if I am some sort of wise old man, I guess I am kinda sus after all…
But no! Youngsters like me can teach lessons too!
Stop thinking less of yourself! You all must resist the temptation!