My experiences with Imposter Syndrome: T-SQL Tuesday #122

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January 14, 2020 by Kenneth Fisher

T-SQL TuesdayJon Shaulis (blog|twitter) is hosting T-SQL Tuesday this month. Thanks Jon! And the subject is obvious if you read the title of the post and if not it’s Imposter Syndrome! It feels like I’ve dealt with imposter syndrome all of my life. I should point out that I have no solutions here, just my experiences.

In case you aren’t aware, Imposter Syndrome is, according to Wikipedia:

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.

Let me start out by saying I’m smart. I know I’m smart. It’s been proven to me on more than one occasion that I have well above average intelligence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no genius, but do I do pretty well. Logically I know this. Emotionally? Not so much. In fact one of my coping mechanisms is to remind myself of this, over and over again. Want to guess when I developed this particular coping mechanism? Well, I’m not completely sure, but I remember using it as a senior in high school and I doubt it was the first time.

Now, from what I understand imposter syndrome is caused by how we view ourselves and what we know as compared to those around us and what we realize there is to know.

How we view our knowledge compared to what there is to know.

My knowledge of SQL Server goes pretty deep in certain areas. On the other hand I also know that my knowledge is out of date in those areas and that the area I’m good at is a small sliver of what there is. For example, I know very little about SSRS, SSAS, Power BI, etc. So when I think about how much I do know, I don’t see how much I know, I see the percentage of how much I know, to how much I don’t. And it’s a tiny, tiny, percentage of the whole. And the funny part of that? I’m well aware that my ability to see how much more there is to learn is a function of how smart I am and how much I already know.

Comparing ourselves to others

Next, we tend to compare ourselves to others. In the country, or world, as a whole, I’m above average. But does that matter if everyone I work with/deal with on a regular basis is also above average? It’s the big fish in a small pond vs small fish in a big pond thing. A trout in a pond of minnows feels huge. That same trout in an ocean of blue whales? Not so much. A fair number of people I deal with on a regular basis are those blue whales. The people who I am trying to learn from. And honestly? Some of them might be no smarter than I am, they just know different things, which makes them feel smarter from my point of view. Because of all of this, when I look around me, I feel, at best, average.

So what does that mean?

Honestly? I have no idea. When I first read the prompt for this post my initial thought was I don’t have imposter syndrome, I’m honestly just not that good. So I guess my only suggestion here is to look at what you actually know and don’t worry so much about what you don’t. And to look at those around you, and rather than think These people are amazing, I’m not that great. Instead, try These people are amazing, and I’m with them, so I must be amazing too.

3 thoughts on “My experiences with Imposter Syndrome: T-SQL Tuesday #122

  1. jonshaulis says:

    The big fish in a small pond vs small fish in a big pond resonates with me. It’s all about context, everyone has something to offer and everyone can learn something from everyone. Thank you for sharing!

  2. NSP says:

    This is a great post. Its good to see that others that I would look up to at work would feel like this too. I’ve spent most of my technical career feeling like this, yet every job I have ever done,people have liked me and been really happy with the job that I have done for them. I should feel about me the way that they do 🙂 This part “For example, I know very little about SSRS, SSAS, Power BI, etc” struck a chord too. I think part of Impostor Syndrome in tech is the wide variety of technologies we are not expected just to know a little bit about, but also become masters of the universe on! Some job adverts read like shopping lists, expecting a person that rarely exists.. I became a DBA 2 years ago and I still feel very much like the new kid on the block. For the first 3 months of the job my I.S. went through the roof! Even though I was completely honest at interview and on my CV, I was convinced everyone would see through me and I was “not good enough” to be a DBA despite having 20 years in IT in general. I know I have a long way to go to become a fully fledged DBA, but I have self taught myself a lot and I find that being honest and saying I have to work on particular areas of knowledge to provide an answer, goes along way in helping my I.S. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I feel a bit better about mine 🙂 Also to end on a positive, I feel like a little bit of I.S. can be beneficial to a career, it can push us to deliver above and beyond what is asked of us..

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