As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in the software part of my blog, I have started a job with a new company. With that came the necessary interviews that were needed to get the job. And in that endeavor, I was not shy about talking about my professional competencies with confidence. In addition, I told each set of interviewers that I have Autism, and that I am open, honest, and straightforward. After all, I felt that if I could not be myself with prospective employers, what was the use?

Why? Roughly, most people spend one third of their life asleep, one third of their life at work, and one third of their life doing their own thing. Since we are not doing anything active during the sleep third of that equation, I believe that a clearer picture is best obtained by taking that third out of the equation. With sleep removed, people spend one half of their waking moments at work and one half of their waking moments doing non-work-related activities. Those numbers may change, but I believe that they are a good baseline.

Given that baseline, when interviewing, you need to decide if you want to be honest or dishonest with the people that you spend half your life with. Personally, I would rather put all relevant information on the table, both about my professional competencies and who I am, and let things fall where they may. I would rather go to work each day being able to focus on what I am supposed to focus on, and not trying to remember what kind of mask I need to wear for which people. I would rather just be my genuine self, all the time.

But that decision, living the core values that I genuinely believe in, also has consequences. For me, I feel that one of the major consequences that derives from that decision is my belief that I have Imposter Syndrome. According to Psychology Today:

People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them.

As soon as I read that definition to myself, right on cue, I instantly found myself agreeing with both sentences. Even though I have worked professionally for thirty years and continued to hone my craft in each of those years, I often do not believe that I am anything special. Along with that belief is a recurring feeling that I will let down people that I work with because I feel there is a disconnect between what they see and what I really am.

The interesting part of those feelings is that to get my new job, I went through a round of interviews in which I had to explain myself and why I thought I was a great fit for the job. And for any of those interviewers who may be reading my blog, I did not lie in the least. Imposter Syndrome for me is something that I fight against on an almost daily basis. As such, some days are better than others. But regardless of how I felt on any given day during the interview cycles, I needed to push those feelings out of the way to promote myself in a truthful and confident manner.

Therefore, interviewing was exhausting. I finished each interview and wondered how it went almost at once. Then my Autism kicked in, and I would start to analyze the interview and how I thought it went. Was the interviewer engaged with me? Was I engaged with them? When I said, “I have Autism”, did they flinch? And if so, how much? What was their reaction to me starting that I am “open, honest, and straightforward”? Did I answer enough of the technical question? Did I explain my thinking as I was working through the question? And do not get me started on the soft-skill questions. There are so many ways to answer those questions that the analysis patterns are more in-depth and complicated.

For me, it was during the late stages of that analysis phase when my Imposter Syndrome kicked into high gear. I went from being confident during the interview to questioning every word that came out of my mouth. It was not fun. I went from confident, to questioning, to doubt. Since I have battled this daemon for many years, I was able to expect that this pattern would happen. But even then, it still took most of my will to fight back against it.

The good news is that I have taken time to try and push through the various aspects of these feelings of negativity to lessen their hold on me. In fact, writing this blog was one of those things that I tried. Looking back at the almost weekly entries that I created, I can see a progression in myself and how my writing style has developed. In the beginning, I was just struggling to find something to say, and I was petrified of saying anything. After all, who wants to hear the prattling of a fifty-something developer guy? I kept on thinking “What makes me different enough to be interesting?” and coming up with empty responses.

It was only after about a year of writing that I made a transition from writing for people to read my articles to writing for my own sake. I found a voice in writing about the personal projects I was working on and about the challenges I face in my life. It was then that I found at least part of my answer. I am different enough because I am truthful to myself and not afraid to share that truth with others. Even two years ago, I do not think that I had the guts or the trust in myself to author this article. Because of well-placed feedback honestly given by people I care about; I have faith I can do this article justice. But even then, the ugly head of doubt shows up in my mind as I am writing articles. I am just more experienced at pushing it away.

The majority of the negativity associated my Imposter Syndrome is in battling what I call “echoes”. As my Autism was not diagnosed until later in life, I went for a long time not knowing why I was the way I was. Frankly, I was almost always the person that did not quite fit in. If I was with the right group of people, I was just someone who was a little bit different, but acceptably so. However, most of the time I was with people that were not afraid to call me things like weird and kooky. And that was when they were being nice. When they were not being nice, they said things that were probably correct, but only from a very fearful and very unforgiving point of view.

After years of trying to work though those echoes, I do not blame those people as much as I used to. Life is hard. I looked up various statistics and talked with people about how various things affected their lives. Just from my college years alone, I suspect that at least five to ten percent of the people that I hung around with had abuse in their lives. And that is just one of the many statistics that I looked up. For most of those people, I suspect that they were fearful of anything that they could not understand. Enter one freaky looking guy who does not seem to understand social situations “like he should”, and their fear quotient increases.

But whether they had a good reason for saying what they did or acting the way that they did, things were said and done. Things that might have seemed small to them, formed emotional craters in my life. I am not saying that to create sympathy or to attach blame, just to convey the impact. At the time, I did not know why I was different, just that I was different. And without thinking about it, I suppressed most of those comments and placed them in my head in little boxes to deal with later.

Well, later was not when I had planned for them to be brought of their boxes. They just came out on their own at moments of stress. If I was lucky, then they came out one at a time. The various situations triggered related echoes. My lack of understanding social cues due to my Autism made many situations worse.

On top of that, there were the earlier parts of my career where my Autism caused former companies to see me as being less than human. While there were some solid companies in there, more than half of them were upset with me for not “getting with the program”. In fact, one company offered my counselling to help, and expected everything to be all taken care of in six months. When they were not, I was politely asked to quietly leave within the next year. According to them, professionally my skills were fine, but personally I was not enough.

Still, I am not one to give up, so I just continued to work on myself and kept on improving myself. It was not always easy, but it was always worth it. It just meant opening myself up to continuous learning and being honest with myself.

At this point in my life, it has been twelve years since I met my current wife, I have made more progress on getting those “imposter” voices to quiet down. While I still believe she is biased when she says I am awesome, the rapport we have helps me to work through stuff. It probably helps that we are both introverts, but the most important thing is that I trust in her ability to see through my bullshit and ask me the questions that matter to get me thinking. I have faith that those questions are never asked from a hurtful position, which helps them get through the echoes. As partners, one thing we focus on is helping each other become better versions of ourselves with honest candor. That has tended to cut through a lot on its own, and I am grateful for that.

The continuous learning habit that I picked up helped as well. Instead of making little applications that I was afraid to share with everyone, I decided that I wanted to build what would become my PyMarkdown project. I challenged myself to learn more Python, and to take the time to do things in a way that I would be proud of them. It was a concrete project that others can see that forced me to admit I can do things like that. I mean, I cannot really hide something once people are starting to use it, can I? And since I was learning new things, it was harder for me to say that I cannot do things, since I was aware that I was capable of learning what I needed to for that project. Basically, part of the benefit was the project itself, and part of the benefit was the journey to build the project.

And with each little thing that I learned; I believe that small pieces of my feelings of being an imposter started to fade. It is still around, and I do feel it more when I am really stressed, but I believe it is at a more manageable level than it was twelve years ago. But I feel that my real learning came from starting to talk about Imposter Syndrome and how I battle it in the latest round of interviews. Perhaps it was my openness that triggered their discussions, but I clearly remember a handful of great discussions with my interviewers and I talking openly about how we battle Imposter Syndrome. It was refreshing.

If you have read this article down to this point, I think it is fair to say that either you feel that you have Imposter Syndrome or know somebody that believes that they do. My various pieces of advice are all simple. Honesty with oneself is important. That can only be done with a lot of hard work. That work will be easier if you have someone in your corner that you trust, but you really need to trust them and engage with them.

And my best advice: you are not alone. If nothing else, you know one other person that has Imposter Syndrome. Me.

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So what do you think? Did I miss something? Is any part unclear? Leave your comments below.

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