Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

with Alicia Liu

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What really matters is not what you know but knowing what to look for.

Alicia Liu

Software Engineer, Entrepreneur, Writer

Lessons Learned

The way that we learn has fundamentally changed with the introduction of tech, internet & web.

With new programming languages, everyone gets to reset at 0.

If you have impostor syndrome, people who are very confident can make you feel worse.

A little doubt about what you know can be a good; it gives you room to assess and learn more.


Lesson: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome with Alicia Liu

Step #5 Opening: What really matters is not what you know but knowing what to look for

I think the way that we learn has fundamentally changed with the introduction of technology, internet and the web and so on, because it's no longer about how much you know. The thing is that you can always know it by looking it up. The thing that really matters are do you know what to look for? It doesn't really matter if you have this stuff in your head or not. You can just go reference it. Everyone knows that when you're coding you just have stack overflow and you're just looking things up anyway. But how you know you're good or not is whether you can tell whether a stack overflow answer is actually correct or not, whether it applies to your specific situation or not, and which of the many answers is actually the right one for you.

It's more about selecting and picking the right answer than knowing the right answer, so being able to discover the right answer. I think getting validation from people that you trust and actually believing them. When people tell you you're good, just accept it. Don't make excuses; just be like, "Hey, I'm good."

I think one of the most helpful things, as someone who is more experienced or further along in their career is to show people who are just coming up that you make mistakes too and that you're totally human and that they can probably teach you things that you don't know, especially in tech. At WWDC that's going on right now, they just announced Swift and everyone's making jokes about how all these iOS engineers who have six years of experience, gone. There's a new programming language and everybody gets to reset starting at zero. Of course, all that experience still matters but it just shows you can actually be an expert in this new language because it's completely new.

I think we should definitely limit the negative effects of Impostor Syndrome but we're never going to be able to completely remove the psychological things that we have in our brains. Just to be able to recognize it, talk about it, share our own experiences, and being able to help others or recognize this in others and affirming them or reassuring them.

Often times, especially if you have Impostor Syndrome, people who are very confident can make you feel even worse because they're just so confident in their knowledge and experience, and you're like, "Oh well I don't feel the same way, I'm not sure I'm right," but I think that's actually really good. I think that it's good to have some doubt about your knowledge and what you think you know, because then it gives you room to learn more, to assess whether it's actually true or not or whether you've been wrong before. Whereas if you are overly confident, then you don't give yourself that room. You just go “Okay well I already know, I'm already the best," so then there is not that room. So that's another way in which Impostor Syndrome could actually be helpful.

Definitely not being afraid to show ignorance, I think it feels more scary than it actually ends up being, because we don't want to be seen as being ignorant. But normally when you actually show that you don't know something, then it's an opportunity for learning. Often times, other people don't know either. So, if you are willing to do that, then other people can let their guards down and then can be like, "Actually I didn't know about this or tell me more about that." Then, you can actually learn more versus just everyone already going, "Okay I already know all this stuff, nothing to see here."

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