Lately I've been finding myself saying things like "I don't remember" and "I have to figure out what I did yesterday" and "I can't remember things that happened more than 5 minutes ago" in meetings. But the truth is, I have a decently good memory. It's not what it was when I was younger, and I do sometimes forget things, but in most of these cases, when I say I don't remember, what I actually mean is that I don't know the answer to a question or I'm in over my head, but I'm afraid to admit it. I know this is a bad habit and I want to stop it, but to do that, I have to fully understand what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.
The first thing to look at is why I don't know the answer to a question or feel like I'm in over my head. I've been in this job for a little over 4 months, and I've been in the industry (to some degree) for about 2 years, but there are still a lot of things I don't understand, both about software engineering in general and about what we do in our codebase specifically. To some degree this is expected - there's always more to learn - but I often feel like I'm "behind schedule" on my learning and I should know more than I do, which is why I feel like I don't know the answer to a question (even if sometimes I do) or I'm in over my head. Sometimes I feel like I'm in over my head because I am in fact in over my head - I've taken on a task that is beyond my skill level or something takes far more time or effort than I expected, and not knowing what my next step should be leaves me feeling overwhelmed.
Everyone has situations where they don't know the answer to a question or they feel like their in over their head. It's pretty normal. So why do I have such a hard time admitting when I'm in these situations? Part of it is my difficulty reconciling my age with what I have (or have not) accomplished in my life. I feel like I should know more and I should be more comfortable with what I do, both because I am a little old for my position and because I've always been a fast learner and I'm not used to being behind. Part of why I don't like to admit that I don't know something is that I want my team to think well of me, and I'm afraid that if they knew how little I know, they wouldn't consider me a good asset to the team. I've already had a few situations where I let my personal issues interfere with the progress of a meeting, and I don't want my team to see me as someone who creates more problems than solutions.
As uncomfortable as I feel with the idea of not knowing something, that doesn't mean I should hide that from my teammates. One of the reasons why having a team is important is that it means you don't have to handle anything alone - you may have your set tasks, but the members of your team should be there to help you when you struggle and support you in your work. While my team is not (and should not be) my therapist, and I need to be better about leaving my personal problems at the door when dealing with work, they should be (and are) my support system for work-related problems and situations. So far, every time I've asked for help, one of my teammates has been willing to help me solve a problem or has offered to pair program with me to help me figure out the right solution. Based on my prior experience, I don't think my team will think less of me if I admit that I'm in over my head or that I don't know the answer to a question. And even on the off chance that my team does think I'm stupid ... I'm pretty sure they're stuck with me, so it wouldn't change anything.
It's all well and good to understand why I try to cover my lack of knowledge (and why I don't need to), but none of that helps if I don't take action. I need to take steps to feel comfortable admitting when I don't know something or feel overwhelmed instead of lying to cover it up. At this point, I know that I don't feel comfortable sharing my discomfort in front of my entire team (the few times I have done that, I felt terrible afterward and definitely regretted it), so I think the best place for me to start is to reach out to one person when I'm struggling. I like to think that I have a decently good relationship with my team lead (we've had a productive conversation about my struggles in the past), so when I find myself feeling overwhelmed or with too many questions to which I don't know the answers, I should probably reach out to him to schedule a meeting to discuss my concerns and get his help (or his guidance on who to ask for help) on the tasks with which I'm struggling. I can also make a list of the things that make me uncomfortable and bring them up in meetings with my manager. At this point, I'd prefer not to discuss my discomfort in larger groups, but if discussing it on a more individual level doesn't help, I may need to figure out how to share my discomfort in team meetings without feeling like I'm bothering the team with something that is not relevant to the team as a whole.
The first step in correcting unhealthy behavior is acknowledging the problem. For me, it's been difficult to admit that I'm struggling, but lying to cover my lack of knowledge is not a healthy behavior. Knowing why I do it (and why it's a bad idea), I'm hoping that I can move forward and get better at admitting when I'm struggling and being truthful with my teammates when I don't know the answer to a question.