Impostor Syndrome and Keeping Up with the Jones

There are two ways I can take Keeping up with the Jones. The first is the way everyone knows about and is always good advise for anyone. You don’t need to measure yourself against your neighbors. The second one is the same thing only different. It is one you will have to deal with if you want to avoid a fast food career in 10 years. If that happens to you it will likely have a healthy dose of Impostor Syndrome, and Impostor Syndrome is a bitch.

Two different meaning, that is poppycock.

No, there really are two meanings.

Let’s take the first one. Don’t try to keep up with your neighbors lifestyle. Traditionally that is buying a bigger boat because they got one last year. It is good advice to prevent neighborhood arms races that makes everyone poor. Remember, if you don’t sail than a boat is literally worthless to you. If not possibly worse than worthless.

If you have not yet figured out that you need to compare yourself to yesterday’s yourself than you need to adapt that measure. I get it. We are social creatures but each of us has different abilities, skills, likes and dislikes. The boat buying, jewelry infused, Tesla driving neighbor maybe sacrificing their children’s education and their own retirement for those joys. They maybe filling in the gap in a failing marriage. They maybe pissing away 5 generations of generational wealth, cursing their descendants with lower standard of living and embarrassing their ancestors in the process.

If you are not planting trees who shade you will never see. You are living life wrong.

Ok, ok, I get the first meaning so what is the second meaning?

This meaning is the most insidious thing in IT. People play a game and it is horribly destructive. They actively do thing to demonstrate how dumb their coworkers and bosses are. They fill the hole in their self esteem and cause impostor syndrome within the team. There is a fundamental difference between expanding your teams skill set and proving them dumb. One will make a team stronger and better. It is filled with good relationship with people who want good things for you. The other is toxic, coding for your job security behavior where you dismiss your team mate as inferior to raise yourself to your bosses or yourself.

Impostor Syndrome?

One of the biggest things about being in IT is impostor syndrome. People joke about it but they never give you the tools to prepare for it. The field is so wide and so deep that you will be incompetent. Let me repeat, you will be incompetent. Someone will talk about a new pattern they they are using or talk about the latest library. A new concept or language and you will feel stupid. What is worse is the more aggressive you are with keeping up with your field, the worse it hits you.

You want to be demoralize spend 20 hours a week reading about the industry and watch it happen to you. If you spent your entire career learning the latest in IT. Doing nothing but 40 hours a week learning. You will still be incompetent at something in IT. You work hard and you are still dumb. It is at time soul crushing if you don’t realize that it is everyone. That is that is why the toxic employee can win this game. Every single IT employee will go through this at least once in their career.

How can we not. It is an industry that if you fall behind, you starve. It plays into the most primitive of fears. The social and functional aspect of being whipped out of town so to speak and deprived of resources is no joke.

So what can be done?

Really the only way out is through. Experience helps. The simple fact is that you are ignorant in that when you hear about that new thing. You are not incompetent. If you try to do it professionally, you will be incompetent at it. Being incompetent at something you are ignorant about is just normal.

The best defense against feeling that way is to become competent in something. Pick a field and dive into the deep end. Once you have that then it becomes merely something you don’t know. Remember every industry is different. There are different patterns that lend themselves better to different languages. Finally, remember this.

The odds of becoming a top 100 expert in C#, Java, or Deep Learning are so low that they are the rounding error of the rounding error of the rounding error. As dismal as that sounds, the fact is that the world does not need you to be a top 100 expert. Your employer does not want you to be because you will be extremely expensive and not creating enough additional value from that expertise.

If you follow the C# link, you can see just how few people are actually considered an expert when someone asks. 

So it is hopeless. I am doomed to Impostor Syndrome because I am an impostor.

No, when you run into that situation, either accept your dumb and ask questions or simile and get out of that situation so you can teach yourself about it. Do not engage on equal footing then you will get a reputation as a fool. Because you are.

Stop comparing yourself to them. They have different experiences, different education, different work histories than you. When you get that feeling use it to improve your own coding and remember that neat new thing may not lend itself to your environment. The key is to only compare yourself to yourself, yesterday. If you don’t then you will suffer horribly from anxiety, depression and stress. A human is exceptional at achieving that they set their mind to. Do not set your mind to anxiety, depression and stress. You will succeed beyond your wildest dreams.

For a young programmer, you need to understand you will never fully leave the student role unless you dive really, really, really deep into a language. However that has massive problems of its own that can bring a whole lot of sadness to you but that is a topic for another day.

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