Lists and actions: Learning how to hack my way around the impostor syndrome

Since even highly successful women can struggle with the impostor syndrome (research), it’s worth figuring out how to hack your way around this limitation.

I’m finding my own way around the insecurities. The two I’m dealing with at the moment are thinking I’m not good enough at drawing to do this professionally, and that I’m not immersed enough in Emacs to give a presentation. Here’s what’s been working for me:

When I catch myself wasting energy on anxiety, I make a list of what it would take for me to be more confident in doing something. For drawing, it means:

  • developing my visual vocabulary
  • getting comfortable with paper and large-scale drawing
  • drawing with more colour
  • drawing with more creative layouts

For Emacs, it means:

  • preparing for the talk by researching what I want to share
  • hanging out in the #emacs channel and answering questions
  • reading Emacs-related blog posts and mailing list messages
  • talking to other people in the community

Then I can turn that list into specific steps, such as reviewing sketchnotes and re-drawing concepts onto index cards. It takes much less effort to sit down and take those steps. I can do those steps without getting lost in worry.

Turning that feeling into concrete actions helps a lot. It doesn’t banish that self-judging, but it keeps me moving forward. I trust that if I do, I can give things my best shot. Sometimes a little forward motion is enough to unblock my confidence or excitement, and then it’s easier to make even more progress.

And then I write a blog post about it, because that’s another way to make anxiety useful: wring an insight out of it and share what I’ve been learning. =) This is a breadcrumb trail for my future self, and for other people going through life.

Next time you find yourself wondering if you’re really up to a challenge, make a list of what would need to be true in order for you to feel more confident. See if you can break it down into simple things you can work on, even if it’s just the first step in a long journey. Take that step, and another, and another.