Impostor Syndrome and Saying Yes

I was dealing with a good case of impostor syndrome, the mindset where you feel like an impostor or fraud because you think your accomplishments aren’t nearly as good as those around you (which is usually NOT the case). That thing where you get the job or promotion, then immediately feel like you’ve just fooled everyone. But then at the end of the week, this happened:By Kathryn King, Hackbright engineering fellow (Spring 2013)

When I was a student at Hackbright Academy earlier this year, I was at a party with my boyfriend.

Several people asked what it was I did, and I stumbled all over myself to answer accurately and honestly: “I’m… attending a 10-week training program for women who want to be software engineers” was the thing I came up with the most. Most people kind of nodded, some asked a few questions, a few thought it was awesome.

When we left the party, Graham said, “You should be introducing yourself as a developer!”

A really fun debate ensued. I felt like I wasn’t knowledgeable or experienced enough to call myself a developer or software engineer. As a student in training feels similar to some freshman architecture student calling himself an architect. It felt dishonest, and (perhaps the bigger block for me) I dreaded the ‘so where do you work?!’ or ‘what do you develop?’ questions that could follow.

Would I then have to backtrack, revealing myself as a phony?

I discussed this with many of the women at Hackbright Academy, and everyone was split on the issue. I knew deep down that Graham was right, and that I was dealing with a good case of impostor syndrome, the mindset where you feel like an impostor or fraud because you think your accomplishments aren’t nearly as good as those around you (which is usually NOT the case). That thing where you get the job or promotion, then immediately feel like you’ve just fooled everyone.

But then at the end of the week, this happened:

So, there it was. A business card reading “Kathryn King: Software Engineer”.

Graham was right, I was wrong (wow, in print even!).

The next day, I met up with Graham at his office for a happy hour and met a lot of his co-workers. One man came in and introduced himself to me and, of course, asked what I do.

I swallowed and said, “I’m a software engineer!”

It’s so funny how four words can be so hard to say. I mean, really, what’s the worst thing that could have happened? He digs into what I’m doing and says “THAT DOESN’T COUNT!” and I feel silly? Come on, Kat.

He asked what I was developing, and I explained Hackbright to him.

And then, he said…

“That’s great! I have a script I need written to help me draw winners for our season tickets to the Warriors playoffs. What’s your rate?”

To say I was stunned really downplays it. I held myself together, saying I would have to think about it. He handed me his business card and asked me to email him once I had an estimate. I shook his hand and thanked him, then looked at his business card:

CEO of the company.

And this past weekend? I deployed my first app. Monday, I got paid. He’s happy with the product, and thinks it could be a business.

This post isn’t meant to be self-important or egotistical. The whole experience of getting my first paid development job was mostly varying degrees of terrifying. When I told him I would do it, we still hadn’t begun to learn web frameworks (those beautiful tools that actually connect your code to the internet).

I said “yes” even though I didn’t know with complete certainty that I would be able to handle the task, or that I would be able to build and deploy an app on the side while learning at a breakneck speed 40+ hours a week. I only knew that I work hard, learn fast, and had spent the last month learning more information more quickly than I had thought possible.

And the thing is? I think that everyone must, to some extent, feel like an impostor at times. Even when we have mastered one thing, we dive into the challenge beyond it and are no longer certain of our abilities.

I’m quickly learning that the only way to overcome that fear is to dive in, head-first. Say yes to the job that you aren’t 100% sure you can rock, and decide to rock it.

Introduce yourself as who you want to believe yourself to be. Talk to other people who impress you and hear their stories of dealing with the same thing.

Decide to be who you actually are.

This post originally appeared at Kathryn King’s blog.