Impostor syndrome is a hot topic in the tech world. I've written about it in the past, and it was a huge struggle for me when I started my current job. Almost six months later, I know I'm doing better and don't feel quite like an impostor, but I am still struggling at work, and I sometimes find myself (and others) labeling my struggles as "impostor syndrome", when I know that's not the case.
Early in my time at this company, I was worried that my teammates would find out that I'm not quite as capable as they thought I was. I was afraid my boss would discover that I can't really do the things I was hired to do. That feeling has subsided somewhat. At this point, I think my team has a fairly good assessment of what I can and can't do, and I'm not quite as afraid that my team will come across something that I can't do, because I know that they'll accept it and help me figure out where to go from there.
For the past few weeks, I've been feeling extremely frustrated at work. At first, I thought it was a return of my impostor syndrome but then I realized ... the things I think I can do, I can do decently. Maybe my work isn't perfect, but I think it's at an acceptable level for an early-career junior developer. The problem is ... the things I'm comfortable doing are the same things I felt comfortable doing 6 months ago. I came into this role knowing that it would be a great opportunity for me to learn and grow, and I just don't feel like I've learned very much. And that frustrates me, because I know the opportunities are there, and I wish I was taking advantage of them. Maybe if I looked more carefully at the work I've done over the past few months I'd see improvements, but the fact that I don't feel like I've grown at all and that the things I've learned haven't had an impact on me is extremely frustrating.
As much as I hate then fact that I'm so frustrated by my self-perceived lack of learning and growth in my current position, I am glad that I've spent the time figuring out what has caused all (well, most) of my recent frustration. Now that I know what's frustrating me, I can start working on lessening that frustration. I can look back at some of my old work and old PRs and see if there's anything I can do better based on what I know now. I can talk to my manager and get her advice on how to handle my frustration. I can ask my teammates to specifically call out my improvements when they see them (because sometimes they will notice improvements that I don't). I've always had trouble leaning on the people around me for support, and that trouble is magnified when I don't even know what support I need. Now that I know what the problem is, it will be easier for me to understand how my team can support me.
Impostor syndrome can be very detrimental to someone's career. If it is not discovered and discussed, very capable and talented people may hold themselves back in their careers because they don't feel worthy of advancement. But impostor syndrome is not the only thing that can cause frustration and hold people back. When someone is feeling frustrated or unworthy at work, it's important to investigate the true cause. There are ways to help someone deal with impostor syndrome, but those methods may not help if the cause of someone's frustration is in fact not feeling like an impostor or fraud. It's important to understand that impostor syndrome is not the cause of every difficulty.
I have suffered from impostor syndrome in the past, and I'm sure I'll encounter it again in the future. But right now that's not what is causing my frustration at work, and I know that I'd be hurting my chances of feeling more comfortable at work if I mislabeled my frustrations as impostor syndrome. There's a time for everything, and right now it's time for me to figure out why I'm not learning as much as I had hoped at work and how to solve that specific problem.