I was reading another delicious hacker news thread, this time on a psychology question. How do you work with the fear of your own incompetence?
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It’s a great question. I’ve had this suspicion for years, and it was only after stumbling on psychology books that I even knew it was a thing.
So how *do* you manage this fear?
1. Demonstrate that it is a fear
Fear is a funny thing. It can color reality. You may not even realize it’s happening. When it comes to imposter syndrome, prove yourself wrong. Do the work, and then step back and show yourself the evidence.
You’re a logical rational engineer, so you should be able to weigh the evidence, and see that you made a mistake.
Doing good work is not about perfectionism. It is about knowing you can execute, and delivering quality. That doesn’t not mean there are no imperfections. That means good enough. That means equal to or better than the team you’re working in.
That means you’re improving the bottom line for the firm you’re part of. Help them deliver new features, new code, new product. And help other team members do the same. That’s the name of the game.
Read: How can 1% of something equal nothing?
2. Look at your history
Whenever I have this feeling, I look at my own history. Then it makes me sorta chuckle. I have a list of twenty companies that I worked for recently, and they’ve all been really happy with my work.
How do I know I did good work? They paid me handsomely, paid me on time, and then recommended me to other colleagues.
That’s how I know I’m not an imposter. Am I perfect? Nope. Do I know everything? Nope? But I do good work, and I take ownership, admit when I’m wrong, and play well with others.
If you want to stand out, take a look at these two pieces:
Check out: What do the best engineers do better?
And this: How to think like a senior engineer
Those will help you on your way…
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3. Realize your perfectionism
I think a lot of engineers or bright people have this problem. They want everything to be perfect. They want to produce documents without spelling errors, and code without bugs. They want to deliver everything on time perfectly every time. And they want to feel they know everything.
But it doesn’t play to your benefit. People resent this type of thinking, and it’s unhealthy besides. Take a deep breath, realize we’re all working towards the same goal, and keep your eye on the ball. That means have a sense of humor. You’re probably *way* harder on yourself then others will ever be.
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4. Be easier on yourself and easier on others
As you begin to be “easier” on yourself, hopefully you’ll also be a little bit easier on others. Be patient with mistakes. Understand that people have a lot going on in their life. Notice that they are trying.
Sure even after you gain a sense of humor, there will be some people who are not trying, who don’t care or who are really incompetent. But have your default position be patience, and give them and yourself the benefit of the doubt.
Usually if said person is really that bad, others will also complain and the problem will come to management’s attention. It is their job, after all to manage the team as a whole, and keep it productive.
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