I remember the first time I heard about imposter syndrome. It was from Chris Lema. At the time I thought “Huh, that makes sense that people would struggle with that”.
Ironically, I don’t think I’ve ever really struggled with imposter syndrome. I’ve always had a pretty good handle on what I’m good at, and what I can do. When I compare myself with others it’s usually either to figure out how to boost myself to their level, or to simply admire the fact that they’re at a level I’ll never reach. I can be content with that.
There’s always been a thought in the back of my head though, “What if it’s NOT imposter syndrome? What if some people really aren’t Good Enough for the task at hand, and have been lucky? Am I there?”
For a long time I wasn’t there. I was Good Enough for the task at hand. I could objectively say “They asked me to do X, I know how to do X, so I’ll go do it”.
But then one day I wasn’t.
I took a job with a big agency that does some big, hard projects. I knew how to do much of what they asked, and I assumed I’d learn how to do what I didn’t know. As it turned out, they hired me expecting me to already know those things. This was a mistake on both our parts.
If we had had lots of time, and money were not an issue, they could have taught me what I needed to know. But the reason they hired me was to get a specific job done. For that job I wasn’t Good Enough.
This wasn’t immediately apparent. Everyone takes a little time to get into the swing of things at a new job. It’s when that swing doesn’t happen that you start to wonder. It was in my third month on the job that I think everyone realized I wasn’t Good Enough for this job. I wasn’t happy with the work I was doing, and I wasn’t happy with how often I had to ask someone else to stop what they were doing to do what I was supposed to do because I didn’t know how.
My supervisor was sympathetic, but had to do his job, which was properly staff his team. He gave me 2 months to figure things out, but also told me early enough that I could look for a job at WCUS.
In the end I was at the company for only 5 months. They gave me a small severance package, which was very kind of them, they didn’t need to.
I’ve thought a lot about this experience over the last few years. Ironically it still didn’t give me imposter syndrome. I still knew what I was good at, and now I knew something I wasn’t good at.
It’s really really important to remember that just because you’re not good enough for a specific task doesn’t mean you’re not Good Enough. Just because you don’t know something doesn’t mean you’re dumb. Take your experience and learn from it.
Mine started me down the road toward not being a professional web developer anymore. I’ll never stop BEING a web developer, just like a plumber doesn’t stop knowing how to fix a pipe when he retires. But day to day he’s doing something else.
Now I’m doing something else. Something I’m actually better at than web development, and it brings me joy and provides for my family.
I want to summarize by saying that if what you’re doing doesn’t feel right you should think hard about it. Some people will tell you “Oh that’s just imposter syndrome”. And they might very well be right. But look deeply anyway. Find your OWN path.
As a person you’re ALWAYS Good Enough. Whether you’re prepared for the task at hand is another thing entirely.