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Ask HN: What ways have worked for you to overcome 'imposter syndrome'?
323 points by good_vibes on July 2, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 147 comments
I'm doing the best I can by improving each day, still feel like I have so much to learn every time I see the front page of HN.

I found reading The Gifts of Imperfection (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N4KQI11), by Brene Brown, really helped reframe "imposter syndrome" for me.

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”

You feel less like an imposter when you realise that nobody is perfect. You can embrace your imperfections and be satisfied with who you are today.

As a side note, this "Ask HN" question is one of the many reason I enjoy reading HN. It's a vulnerable question that has provoked several honest and thoughtful answers. It's not a "Top 10 way to overcome imposter syndrome" blog post...there's no link baiting or profit to be made. I suspect that asking the question will go along way to making the OP feel a lot better...it's tough to feel like an imposter when the response from the community is so positive.

That quote is fantastic. Definitely gonna check out the whole book.

Another book that sounds similar is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019MMUA8S). I don't know exactly how it compares to The Gifts of Imperfection as I haven't read the latter. The former talks about how you aren't as special as you have been told and how that's not only perfectly okay, but really freeing.

You learn to forgive yourself once you get over yourself. Stop acting like you can be some perfect being and have a happy life if you just: earn lots of money, get that fancy car, get married, etc. They won't make you happy in and of themselves.

The same goes for your career, too. Some things are going to suck and that's okay. You can't fix everything and "you only have so many fucks to give". You have to constantly decide what to give a fuck about and stop giving a fuck about things you don't. That last part sounds redundant, but can be hard to actually do.

Thanks for the recommendation! ....+1 for the generous use of fuck

Haha you'll enjoy the book, then.

> You feel less like an imposter when you realise that nobody is perfect

That reminds me of this: https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/11/the-cook-and-the-chef-musks-s... Especially this diagram: https://28oa9i1t08037ue3m1l0i861-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-...

I'll add to my Amazon cart. Currently reading: "Reinventing Your Life" and rereading "Think and Grow Rich" for the dozenth time.

I like to be the dumbest person in the room, I force myself into situations where my ego is starved so I can grow from the inside and learn at a deeper level. I'm currently learning Framer and React hoping to reapply to YC in the fall, I got rejected for Summer 2017.

Thanks a lot, this thread is something I'll refer to a lot. I want to respond to every reply but I just can't because of 'you're commenting too fast. slow down!' You're right about HN being the most helpful place for me. It's amazing how supportive this community is to anyone who is sincere.

A good quote to add to this was said by the great Sir Jackie Stewart - "It's not always possible to be the best, but it's always possible to improve your own performance"

For me, dealing with imposter syndrome is about empathetic perspective; YMMV. It's 1:30am and I'm 'pulling a shift' with my 1 month old while my wife and 4 year old sleep. I'm slowly learning to really prioritize what's most valuable towards my goals. And those slight, and constant, mistakes cost me dearly.

Nobody is perfect. Online social lives are skewed; if that's your metric.

I like to embrace the fact that I "have so much to learn".

I believe impostor syndrome comes from wanting to feel something that it's impossible to feel.

When you look at someone successful, you think "wow, that person is amazing, look how great they are!" But do you think they feel that way about themselves? Idolisation is something you can do to someone else, but, unless you have very severe narcissism, not to yourself.

So, much the same way you can't write a book that gives you the feeling of reading a book, or create a product that gives you the feeling of using a product, you won't ever feel about yourself the way you feel about the people you look up to. You're getting the process confused with the output.

There is one exception, which is that if you surround yourself with people who idolise you, you can see it a bit reflected in their eyes. Most of the people who do this don't seem very happy, though. Probably best to just give up on ever feeling like you've made it and instead learn to enjoy the endless process of getting there.

I've heard this referred to as "comparing your insides to someone else's outsides". As a journeyman software engineer, I still catch myself doing it and have to remind myself that it's unproductive.

That's a really interesting way to think about that, I haven't heard that before.

This is very true. Makes me think of Instagram models, who have all kinds of admirers but if you look at their faces, many seem like they are hiding some kind of sadness from the world. I learned this first hand after dating a girl who wanted to be one of those girls, we didn't last because there was nothing I could do to make her feel good in her own skin.

This thread is full of so much applicable wisdom.

My personal opinion, like some of the others, is diversify out of tech. You can still work in tech, of course, and I suggest to stop putting all your hopes/desires/fears into the "tech" basket. Try investing in a non-tech project/venture like: woodworking, dancing, public speaking, rock climbing, organizing, run for office, volunteer, teach, coach sports, throw dinner parties, learn a spoken language, learn to draw, design an album cover, do street art, unicycle, juggle, start a band, foster animals, etc... Investing in tech has diminishing returns, pun intended. If you choose to go this way, try to detach yourself from deadlines and monetary compensation. If something has deadlines or monetary compensation attached, it is not a hobby, it is a part-time job (or worse). Accept that competition, even if you succeed in getting better, becomes asymptotic as you approach the right side of the curve - you will likely never be a Jeff Dean or Shel Kaplan or Bill Joy or Dave Cutler, eat some Jimmy Dean for breakfast... Celebrate your unique abilities. And share your life with others: some of my poor (usually liberal arts major friends) have a rich network of diverse friends and acquaintances that makes their life interesting.

Good luck!

"A Cup of Tea"

> Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

I second this. Trying to be the best at X will have serious diminishing returns. A lot of people stress out because they've put all their energy into one thing and yet they aren't the best at that one thing. Diversification is an easy way to add uniqueness to your skillset (and more importantly, enrich your life/gain perspective).

It helps to get used to being terrible at something at first. Every few years I pick up a different sport and there is that period where I am the worst person in the gym/on the team, etc. With practice, you simply get good at being bad at something, if that makes any sense.

This really hits home because if you look at my post history, a little over a 100 days ago I was wanting to create something to compete with Facebook because I saw it as Big Brother. Since getting rejected by YC, I've been forced to reexamine myself and let a lot of delusions and habits go. I quit drinking, smoking, meat, sugar. I have $0 debt (credit card or student loan or car or home or medical). I've gotten rid of as many of my possessions as possible. I've cleaned out much of my social media feeds and the amount of news I read as well.

I'm really passionate about exploring the outdoors, photography (landscape and wildlife), writing about self-actualization, learning about history (reading '1491' right now).

I've been helping two people I know with building a business online, one is a dog clothing company and the other is a film composer from NYU. I hope to scale this into an agency where I can work remotely while helping interesting people becoming financially independent doing what they love. It adds fulfillment to my life knowing I have skills to help them.

This thread has helped me so much, I don't even know how to thank the community. :)

Don't live in extremes man... Just relax. If you want a beer drink one. If you want chocolate eat some. Just don't overdo it.

I'd like to second this, as its under appreciated by the public at large. So many failed New Years resolutions for improving oneself can be pinned to this point.


I've been trying to lose some weight, and one of the first things I moved to do was drop drinking (as most resources on weight loss will tell you to do). It was very tough to do because I love my beer. I found the process was making me miserable.

Sure if I leave the beer out of the equation my calorie deficit would grow, but including some beer still keeps me at a deficit regardless so that I still am losing 2-3 lbs a week, and very much happier all the while then if I was losing more and more quickly.

edit: except for the smoking. That's a slippery slope.

It's all a personal choice. I'm clearing my life of things that distract, delude, lead to disease, premature death. I'm very much into Buddhism and wildlife conservation, this is the right way of life for me.

Every now and then, I indulge in some ice cream or some sushi. Slow progress is better than no progress. I know I am better off without alcohol, weed, or tobacco though.

This has the added benefit that when you talk to normal people you will realize you really know a lot about tech compared to everyone else.

Thinking like this and, potentially because people with that mindset can't keep it to themselves, talking like this is the best way to become a loner who is hated by absolutely any sincere or loving person.


Umm, what?

You can know vastly more about something than average people without developing and projecting a sense of superiority over them. That's actually something pretty much every professional ought to do with regards to whatever their profession is.

When you overfill a cup, you do replace the old with the new, it's just harder to notice.

Depends how caked on and congealed the former contents are, how well the new and old mix, and with how much force you're pouring...

Also, if the cup was filled with rat urine before, how much tea would be wasted before you considered it replaced enough to drink?

Analogies only go so far.

I would say it never goes away. I have built companies, angel invested, ran M&A. Still, I always think I am clueless.

I am starting to view it more as a power. "You cannot learn what you already think you know". Having imposter's syndrome means I always will fight harder to get better.

This makes me feel a lot better. I have a fear of being 'called out' one day by people who are 'experts'.

I like to always remind myself 'in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few'.

What is the difference between a novice and an expert?

The novice thinks twice before doing something stupid

I quit my job once when I realized I was no longer afraid of being called out :D

Sometimes the "experts" know, or think they know, so well what needs to be done that they are not open to other possibilities which may even be better.

You might not realise it, but there are great benefits to being new in your field. When you are not steeped in the conventional wisdom of a given profession, you can ask questions that haven't been asked before or approach problems in ways others haven't thought of. It's no surprise, for example, that some of the best research ideas I get as a professor come from undergraduate students with little previous experience. Read more at https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2016/07/embrace-the-advantage-...

Nobody starts out as an expert. Or put another way, everyone is a beginner at some point.

What's really scary is when you realize that almost nobody, no matter how successful, knows what they are doing. We're all just making it up as we go.

I would like to add to this, i got asked the question recently in context of the workplace 'When did you realise that in fact, outside of governmental, there are no rules?'

outside of your own moral and ethical values and the rules of Law we are free to do as we please, largely without consequence. By realising this you allow yourself to question the norm and start to understand how to change it

I had an older, wiser worker relate to me this exactly. He was a line worker in a GM production facility and a while after working there realized his foreman just absolutely couldn't have a clue about what their job. He made some suggestions and soon enough was promoted to line foreman.

A while after that he started to realize that his supervisor just absolutely didn't have a clue with how to supervise the shifts, the lines, etc. And on up the mgmt chain, he slowly realized nobody really knew what they were doing.

I think this is especially true of management at all levels and most professional workers, aka knowledge workers. There really isn't a "book" or a how-to for this type of work. If you have some skills and knowledge of how to acquire more skills, you are good. Just don't be afraid to admit, at least to yourself, that you don't know something but then seek to learn whatever it is that you don't know.

This is also known as the Peter principle.

Could imposter syndrome be a blessing in disguise? I am re-inventing myself building a professional services firm for individuals in Shanghai, China (resumes, interview coaching, LI Profiles, academic docs). The sheer spread of skills needed to grow the company keeps me energized and "hungry" every day. That and the tsunami of tools available to biz dev all aspects of the venture suggests imposter syndrome won't go away anytime soon.

This is excellent. There's definitely an element of being called out on something you don't know in detail acting as a forcing function of curiosity/learning.

IMHO imposter syndrome isn't a "thing" or if it is, it's a few things:

1) You just got your first job and you are right out of school. They call you a "programmer" or "analyst" etc, but you don't know the profession or business and don't know what you're capable of. You'll outgrow it by hard work and learning.

2) The feeling many experts have after a long career that "any smart person could do this if they had the time and inclination". It's usually not true (because they overestimate capabilities of others, assuming they are like them), but I think it feeds into the humility you often see among the truly capable.

3) People who have remunerative yet non-productive jobs where you can get paid lots of money but your production is very abstract or secondary or even tertiary (or worse) to your direct output. This is the kind of person who talks about imposter syndrome at TED talks.

I have to think that what we call "imposter syndrome" is, in at least 25% of cases, and extremely useful internal guide that you need to step up your output. The solution is to do work where the direct output is something useful.

While I respect your opinion, I think that there are a large number of people who struggle with the feeling of not having accomplished anything / not being "good enough" even in be face of what most would consider career success.

Psychology has some terminology for this: cognitive distortions, and in particular, minimization and magnification. Whether it's due to upbringing, environment, what have you, some large number of people tend to discount their successes and zero in on whatever they see as their flaws or failures.

The field of CBT is one way to work with this. I particularly like the book "Learned Optimism" by Martin Seligman, which talks about how the stories we tell ourselves about success and failure lead to happiness / optimism or depression / pessimism. He also talks about some of the research that's been done to help change peoples' explanatory style.

This + meditation has been helpful to me, as well as trying to take other peoples' positive feedback to heart more, rather than discounting it as politeness.

Also, although I think it can be helpful to produce things, I feel like your advice can feed into the story of "not doing enough," even if they are. There probably are some people who feel this way because they're actually not doing much, but I feel like a lot of the people on this site are more likely to be the types with unrealistically high standards whose problems are not their output, but their perception of their output.

On that note, spending less time on HN and more time with friends / family / doing other things you enjoy can also be helpful, as it helps to diversify your identity.

This is rather good advice. To add to that I would recommend reading Feeling good by David burns. It has a lot of exercises, especially the Vertical Arrow technique that can really help OP.

Will read it after I finish 'Reinventing Your Life', another book that was recommended to me.

> I have to think that what we call "imposter syndrome" is, in at least 25% of cases, and extremely useful internal guide that you need to step up your output. The solution is to do work where the direct output is something useful.

I think you're onto something here. Some cases, at least, are less a feeling that you don't belong there, and more a feeling that you're not performing as well as you know you can.

Having been a unix admin, dev and now devops for 25+ years I'd say, Be calm and carry on. Always admit what you don't know, RTFM when in doubt, and never stop learning.

Everyone understands the vast amount of information we must learn and known one expects you to know it all. Don't interview for a job looking for an expert at something you know the basics about.

I think imposter syndrome comes feeling insecure about not fully understanding things. The only way you can be an imposter is to act like one. People will respect you for saying, I'm not sure, let me go look into that.

Our job isn't to know everything. It is to a be a badass at quickly figuring things out. Focus on learning how to quickly find answers and solve problems and not being a master at everything.

It has taking me decades of mastering everything to realize how much time I wasted. I hire people half my age now who can do as good of a job as I can. Some of them are afraid and can't seem to get things done. They feel in over their head and shut down.

Other people come in and they know a few things but, don't understand others. The are confident they can learn everything and don't freak out. They quickly become ninjas in many areas simply because they aren't afraid and not trying to fake it.

After interviewing well over 100 Devops recruits I can tell what type of person they are 90% of the time in interviews. I don't look for an expert at one thing. I look for people with some experience with some tech we use. People who can stay at a job more than 2 years and, people who have shown they can master a few complex systems.

Thanks, this perspective will help a lot as I continue learning React and UX, and start applying to jobs again.

The biggest things I'm seeing in this thread is I should make meditation a stronger habit, it will help me focus on the task at hand and not let my mind take me out of 'beginner's mind', the state of mind where learning/building are most effective.

Get older.

Also- understand that there is a big difference between competency and imposter syndrome. A lot of young people confuse the concepts.

Competency means you knows the limits of your knowledge. Expertise means you know one thing exceptionally well. It is easy to stumble into competency- and people around you will mistake it for expertise. When this happens, you will feel like you are impostering. This is because you know the subject well enough to recognize the inaccuracy of your celebratory peers.

Be calm and be patient.

Eventually you will realize that you know absolutely nothing, and it's liberating.

Even if you're considered a relative expert on a particular topic or subject, there is usually no end to learning more about it. That's the humbling beauty of learning. Just stay curious and stay interested. Losing your ego in regards to your knowledge (rather, your lack of knowledge) feels pretty good and reduces that pressure you may feel now.

Very true. Reminds me of Socrates. After reading this thread, I feel a lot better knowing that this is something any self-aware person struggles with.

I'm getting more into Zen Buddhism at the moment and 'beginner's mind' is the closest state of mind to enlightenment. Experts often struggle the most because of the weight of their ego.

Conducting interviews really helps put things in perspective. Or, once someone is hired, attempting to delegate some of your work to them.

Alternatively, try picturing what you would do to train people for the work you do. Think about people you know (even marginally) that are in the same field as you, and then try to figure out who could do as good of a job as you, or identify what they would have to learn. It's in scenarios like this, you realize just how much you know - not just about your particular job, but about your field in general.

On the flip side, you really don't want to be irreplaceable, and if you find yourself doing a lot of work because you think it will take longer to explain the task than to do it yourself, then you've got other problems to work on.

Go somewhere filled with incompetence. That'll fix it. In all seriousness though it is a bad feeling, but like fear it keeps you on your toes.

I like to publicly discuss my shortcomings. I try not to do it too much because I don't want everybody I work with to think I'm an idiot. Sometimes I use self deprecating humor. Sometimes I just act brave enough to ask stupid questions in a public forum. And sometimes I try to discuss the difficulties I'm having with technical issues also in a public forum. Generally people are really nice and want to help.

Also, I refuse to believe the hype about almost anyone that people believe to be great programmers. There's usually a facade and glaring holes in their knowledge.

When stuff is difficult to do technically for me, I like to complain about it. It makes me feel better and forms comraderie with my colleagues. If it's hard for me, it's probably hard for everybody. And if not then there's some sort of trick that they know and I don't. An example of this is when the c++ compiler gives pages of indecipherable output for using the wrong type in a template argument.

What really helped me was 360 anonymous peer reviews. In our case, you picked a sample of folks across teams and functions that you've worked with and ask for a review. They put down strengths and areas of opportunity for growth. Seeing grouped text for my strengths and weaknesses was really enlightening. I could agree with points of needed growth in many cases and the positive section showed that folks who work with me appreciate me and value my knowledge. Humbling all around.

These were a very important step for overcoming a large part of my imposter syndrome. Critical. Later, mentoring junior devs, representing my team in meetings, conducting interviews, doing deeper research into my domains and spreading that knowledge have all helped to reduce my feeling of being an imposter. Knowing that it is ok to not know everything, to ask questions and for help, and to strive to close those gaps. But all this, for me, paled in comparison to the 360 reviews.

One thing I loved about the PyBee project is they have a whole page on this:


It's not overtly detailed but helps a bit. Basically surround yourself with a community of people who try to accomplish what you do, IRC is really good for this, so is Reddit and even HN. Try to help those new to whatever field you're in and you'll find yourself being useful to others and more capable than you thought. If you cannot teach someone else, you cannot learn. Another thing and I guess it depends where you work / study is don't be shy about asking for help. Communication is your most powerful asset, use it.

I've experienced imposter syndrome. For me it was the result of being too dependant on being good at tech to give me self esteem.

A more robust way to get self esteem is to get it from multiple sources. E.g. Volunteering has helped me a lot. Coaching others some coding skills reminds me that I actually do know a lot.

Also I think the thing that will help the most is to be less tech focused. Meet up with family and friends more. Exercise with others.

Ship things. And remember that a huge percentage of the people in this world couldn't or wouldn't do what you just did. Feel good. Repeat.

Socratic questioning [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_questioning) helps me still to this day. I've also found that finding confidence in the value that I do by measuring metrics (feedback, output, whatever works) helps as well, but ultimately a lot of discussions with my peers.

[edit] It's important to realise, understand, and then accept that you will never be the one who knows everything the best. But accepting that you can move on, relax, find joy in doing what you do. And funnily in doing that you actually may be again one that knows better.

Sadly, it was realizing the relative intelligence of people higher in the food chain that convinced me I am not the dumbest man alive.

If you are happy with yourself after having achieved something good, you will soon stop trying. If you are not happy with yourself even after having achieved something great, you will try again and again.

Is it surprising, then, that many of the most accomplished individuals still have the imposter syndrome ? It is a cognitive tradeoff: the price you pay for the ability to never stop improving is feeling a little weird about yourself.

You do have a lot to learn. So do I. So do we all. The universe of things that get posted to HN are too large for one person to master - it's why I still visit.

Lots of good suggestions here, but one I don't see is to simply narrow your scope. Choose one thing, make it your own. Keep it small, and soon you will find you can converse with that niche's recognized experts. Iterate on that theme and you will constantly expand your scope - in a few years you'll look back and realize you know a lot of things.

Tech could stand to take a cue from other disciplines. To his peers, a physicist is not just a physicist - she's nuclear physicist with a focus in particles, or a biophysicist with a focus in computational molecular modeling. Tech has the same de facto specialization, we're just changing too fast for the taxonomy to stabilize and become vernacular.

Keep in mind that if you are comparing yourself to the front page of HN, you aren't comparing yourself to one person, you're comparing yourself to thousands.

Comparing oneself to the impossibly achievable is sometimes how you end up achieving the impossible. Or at least falling short and ending up with something impressive all the same.

Better to think of imposter syndrome as an engine of improvement. You are signalling yourself that you want to be more like (insert current inspirational figure here)

If you were as good as you'll ever be how would you improve? How would you stay interested in your life?

It's a long journey of small steps...

Being able to deliver with what you know and getting better is fun. If you really feel deficiency in a particular field that you want to improve, crack the books, ask for help, get peer feedback and set simple goals you can achieve.

Build on that and keep going.

It's not intelligence, per se, it's also tenacity, diligence, and practice that combine into satisfying feelings of improvement.

Not sure I ever want to overcome that feeling, just channel it into motivation instead. Don't see all those smart people as your competition, see them as potential hires or colleagues, people to learn from. And when everyone realises all the other high performers feel the same way, then everyone gets a little kinder to one another. That's been a pillar of all the high-functioning teams I've been lucky enough to be part of.

Litmus test: if you ever think you might be the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.

this is something to definitely keep in mind. i've noticed that people I admire are usually pretty nice about helping out someone just starting out or struggling on a project.

this is exactly why I spend more time on HN than reddit, I feel like the dumbest person in this room :)

Mentoring and contributing to open-source are, by far, two of the best techniques I've encountered for overcoming impostor syndrome.

The old saying that "the best way to learn is to teach" has proven true for me time and again. It forces me to verbalize my knowledge, and if I'm unable to do that, it means I don't really understand it as well as I thought and have to return to Google or Stack Overflow until I can verbalize it.

Contributing to open source has been a great way for me to apprentice under those who know more than me. It forces me to read code until I understand it and can make improvements to it. And it forces me to justify the changes I'm making through thoughtful, well-documented pull requests.

Finally, remember that Hacker News will always make you feel like you have a ways to go on your journey. There will always be people out there who know more than you do, just as there will always be people out there who are richer / better-looking / etc. HN attracts lots of technically-minded people, including those who are in the top 0.1% of their field, and the posts those folks make naturally attract a disproportionate share of attention, comments, and upvotes. That creates a survivorship bias, since especially when you consider that most people like you and me (i.e. people who are still earning their stripes) tend to do more lurking than posting.

I'd like to echo this. Not only is mentoring a fantastic way to increase your confidence, but the skills that come with practiced mentoring are highly sought after in a lot of fields. Being sought after helps you feel like less of an imposter as well :)

Pick one important nitty gritty subest of your skill and really grok it.

When Walter Chrysler brought his son into the company, rather than starting him off in an executive position, Chrysler gave him a menial job in the basement of the Chrysler building (some say cleaning). Then he had to work his way up. As a result his son was a much better leader than some of the other auto industry heirs.

I've done this personally: you have to sacrifice a few months in a lower position than you deserve in order to master the nuts and bolts.

The best explanation I’ve heard comes from Dan Sullivan. He doesn’t specifically use the name impostor syndrome but is talking about the gap talented and intelligent people feel when other people are praising them and they don’t see themselves that way. It’s caused by people having two stages, front and backstage. Social and traditional media portrays only the frontstage and you never get to see the backstage. So because of this you are constantly compairing your backstage with all the shortcomings and failures to people’s frontstage where there’s only success and perfection. The thing that has helped me is to understand that there was a huge amount of work that got those people at that point and I can do the same, it will just take time. Also believe other people. If they say you are awesome at X and you have spend A LOT of time to learn it, there’s a good chance you actually are awesome at it by the common standards. It’s just that like I said, you see all the things you don’t still know and they don’t. Unless you are in competitive sports, don’t bother being the best, it’s usually not worth it because the gain ratio against the effort don’t make sense. Instead focus on getting really, really good and then expand to related fields so you can start doing stuff nobody else can by combining those fields.

Get a degree in clinical psychology. You'll learn that everyone basically shares the same thoughts of inadequacy, the same kinds of guilt and shame. And that these feelings don't really go away with "success," but they might lessen with conscious attention (therapy, coaching, etc.)

But even better: share your feelings with a group of your peers. You'll find that they can all relate, and that you're not alone. The antidote to shame is (healthy) vulnerability.

> You'll learn that everyone basically shares the same thoughts of inadequacy, the same kinds of guilt and shame.

Can you provide a reference? I believe that I have met the best-of-the-best, and find I stack up as a very sad number two behind him. But, number two ain't bad, right? I'd like to understand the structure of this experience better - especially when it comes to providing guidance to my kids...

Here is what has worked for me:

I changed my role models and my goals. 5 years ago I used to aspire to be a well respected member of a software community - speaking at conferences, writing think pieces on Medium, being widely retweeted. Now the people I admire are entrepreneurs, creators and builders. Doers not talkers and tech pundits.

If you make that change you might find yourself spending so much time thinking about your goals that imposter syndrome won't even cross your mind.

Work with other startup founders, mentor students, assist at an accelerator, teach a course at your local university.

In my experience, sharing the (limited) knowledge I have gained has helped me realise I actually know more than I give myself credit for. Even if you're only six month ahead of another founder, you've got six months of knowledge to share. Share it, and you'll realise how much you've actually learned.

I actually specifically wrote about this after receiving an email calling imposter syndrome out as the reason the person wanted to stop the interview process. Some thoughts on how to overcome it are in the article.


100% radical honesty, with yourself first, and then others.

Prereq- Have significant money saved, so that you'll have breathing room and confidence if it doesn't work out. For me, not being beholden to a given job/client has given me the confidence to just do my best and not fret too much about how I'm perceived.

1. As an hourly consultant, imposter syndrome has been tough. When clients pay large bill rates for an expert in a certain area, they are looking for an expert. Whereas an employer might mentor you and help you learn, that's not what clients do. I'm not sure if I'm an expert or not, but being ~100% honest during the proposal and delivery phase gives myself mental acceptance. I just need to have the skills and experiences that I told them I have (which of course I do have)! If I recognize that those skills and experiences turn out not to be enough, I'll be 100% honest with myself and the client at that point as well.

2. Today, you are as good as you'll be today. Just do your best. If that's not good enough for your coworkers/clients/boss, then the opportunity is probably not right for you either.

3. Always be close to 100% honest with what you know and what you don't know. Most people overstate their skills, but it's usually pretty apparent. Being truthful makes you special.

4. For social, project management, communication decisions, etc I often think "What would a true professional do?" (maybe even substitute with someone amazing you've worked with). If you just do what the best person would do, others perceive you as that type of person.

There will always be smarter people. You probably overestimate how much most people actually know. I still very much feel imposter syndrome, but it hopefully doesn't affect too much in actuality.*

*I actually feel imposter syndrome writing this. WTF do I know about this topic?

Once source of Imposter syndrome is "not enough." Trying to use tools that help you have more gratitude and see abundance can help. You are enough just as you are, but when you compare you with others or even with the idea of the you you'd like to be or think you were you go Coocoo. Journaling can be a big help, especially if you write without a filter (I.e. Write down all the stuff that comes up, even the stuff you are scared to admit). Writing a list of things you are grateful for is another good exercise - 10 things every morning. It sets your mind to a positive place to start the day. Another good practice is something called intenSati. It is exercise mixed with positive affirmations. None of these things work overnight and some are a bit uncomfortable -- just fake it till you make it. Something good will come of it.

What is the purpose of positive affirmation? It sounds like a tool to desensitize yourself to your failure to succeed. But you make it sound like a good thing - so I'm missing something: what is the purpose?

Focus on learning a little bit more everyday. Spend more time in your specific developer community, those are the peers you should judge your progress against. Articles on the front page of HN often go deep into a topic, you can't be expected to understand everything on that level.

I overcame it by trying to visualise what it is that I know and what I don't know.

I wrote about it here recently :


Ship product. Ship as much as you can as often as you can. Finish a project by yourself, finish one with a team. And then do another.

Any feeling of inadequacy can disappear if you sit back and think about stuff you've finished. Because it's finished. All the HN comments and soap boxing in the world can't match a finished work.

This so hard. Smart is good. Work product is better.

HN is a great place to daydream about the future. But most ideas here are months away from production in any meaningful sense, if they ever really see the light of day. Enjoy HN for what it is.

Take what you know, build the smallest possible functional thing you can and then improve on it quickly. Teach someone else. Then have them teach someone. Get away from being "the guy" as fast as you can. Being "the guy" is a good way to get stuck in a rut. Continuing to deliver on stuff in general is where you want to be.

Each project will be better than the one before. You will always remember everything that is wrong with all of them, and that's OK. Keep looking at new things and fold them into your projects when they make sense. Don't be afraid to goof around and not finish things in your free time. That's the equivalent of working out for your brain.

There are plenty of smart people who can critique all day or play around with clever ideas or tell you how to do what you're doing in some cooler or more pure way. Everything we love could have been done better, but we remember the folks who did them.

Man, I wish it was that easy for me.

After 20 years, I've shipped over a dozen different products, probably over a hundred different versions - products that probably have affected 100s of millions of people (some of these products were libraries used in other big products). And, I've worked for four successful startups through three acquisitions. And, I still feel like an imposter. It sucks.

Everyone is different. I wasn't granted the confidence gene, unfortunately. So, I've just had to fake it. I still fake it.

This is a great answer. I still think I am clueless, but if I look back at the list of things I have done I am happy enough with myself.

I may be clueless, but at least I have tried many things. Some even worked!

> if I look back at the list of things I have done I am happy enough with myself.

This is so true, and can be extrapolated on a micro-level, by tracking what you learn and accomplish on a daily (or whatever) basis.

I've found training your attention this way a great hack for building confidence and momentum. It's kind of like watching a plant grow. You normally don't notice all the little things, until it adds up to magic.

Shameless plug, but one thing I'm proud of building was a micro-notes app for tracking these micro-accomplishments. https://www.bicycl.com

To add onto this: narrow scope if you're still struggling to ship product. I know I've been guilty of biting off more than I can chew, then feeling inadequate when I fail to deliver (or deliver much less than hoped).

You're right. My biggest issue with shipping is perfectionism.

I guess I should lower my standards a little and just allow myself to look a little foolish just to keep progressing. I'm not Mark Zuckerberg, there is nothing wrong with that.

One thing to keep in mind is you should not compare yourself to what Mark Zuckerberg is right now. You're at the beginning of a path and he is much further along. When you boil down Facebook to what it was originally when he shipped it was a rather good idea, written as a crud app in php, and looked like this:


Ship, learn, iterate.

Yeah, you're right. Happiness = Reality - Expectations.

I should put a LOT less pressure on myself and just focus on the process. Reading through this thread tells me I need to adjust some of my underlying beliefs about intrinsic/extrinsic motivation.

nothing banishes doubt faster than success. successfully shipping a product, successfully getting paid, successfully building a team. just like everything else, the only way to prove you can do something is to actually do it.

Take one day at a time. Do your best and trust that it's good enough. Every month that you continue to get a paycheck will prove that you are good enough to be where you are. (Or maybe your really are an imposter, and your superiors, being even greater imposters, are unable to spot this. But in the end it doesn't matter since you still get a nice and steady paycheck).

Don't put the weight of the world on your shoulders. Usually, when working on a team, your personal successes or failures don't make or break the project. Also keep in mind that your teammates also have their personal successes and failures. You'll carry each other.

I realised I will never know all there is to know therefore imposter syndrome is not a useful vehicle. Like you I try and grow a little each day. What I don't know that I need to know I either learn, or if that is impractical, I delegate (and learn through proxy). HN and all the posturing, such as the "I reverse engineered Google/Facebook in 15 seconds during my lunch break" posts, are not the real world. While I am a proponent of small highly productive teams I know that the best work always happens through collaboration and diversity. Imposter syndrome is bound in hyper-reality so I decided to ignore it.

I look at two things. First, my customers seem to be in general pretty happy with the work I'm doing for them. Second, I read the threads on here about people trying to hire and interview and the problems that they run into or provide to prospective employees that cause problems. Since most of what I'm reading seems either obvious or at least has an obvious starting point and approach I feel like I must be doing something right.

I also freely admit that I don't know everything or even most things, so I don't worry about that. If I need to learn about something I know that that's something I can do.

I don't think I have a solution if the setting is as broad as "technology" or even the narrower "careerist technology".

I do have a solution if one is experiencing "imposter syndrome" in a particular domain: have a mentor. The mentor will help you measure the extent of your knowledge. If the mentor says, "That looks/sounds good to me," then you cast the research into the big scary world and sit with those "imposter" feelings knowing they are false positives.

Eventually you learn to measure your knowledge without reliance on the mentor, and the "imposter" feelings lessen.

Also: Be a mentor to somebody else. Nothing gets rid of impostor syndrome like, "Hey -- I can help you with that!"

I'd only suggest doing that if the person has explicitly requested mentorship.

:-) Of course. As a buddy of mine used to say, "How will you know they need help? They'll ask for it"

One thing is working for me (I am a work in progress).I accept myself fully; that I cannot be like anyone else or live like anyone else. Its also the acceptance that others feel inadequate as well.

Change your mindset?

If not you, then who? If there were someone better positioned for the role in which you feel an imposter, then you wouldn't be there. There probably are people who are smarter than you are who _could_ take the role. But they're doing something else. Why? Probably because they are actually better suited for some other challenge. And why bother with a role which isn't a challenge? It's better to vacate and allow someone who will actually learn something rather than tread the same tired ground. If we don't move, we die.

How do you know that you aren't well suited? If you feel you aren't suited for the role then your sense of value is probably out of whack. That's probably because you aren't seeing the game for how it really is. And that's fine because we all start out there.

Org charts don't tell you who the actual influencers are within the org. An org chart might tell you that Bob is the person to go to for making decisions. But people who work there know that Bill is the person you go to for really getting things done (maybe Bob is a lame duck, incompetent or just doesn't care).

Written rules create structures which have solid walls but also holes, leaks, cracks and open spaces. We tend to focus on the physical structure. But just as important is the unintended uses of that structure. The rules are important for what they say, but also important is what they _don't_ say.

Just the same, we're probably not understanding our value. We are looking at the wrong targets. By the time we do figure out the game, we'll likely move on and let some other imposter take our place.

That's good. Better to keep us on our toes. I would rather be on a plane flown by a tense inexperienced crew than a lethargic overconfident crew. While we're on the subject, there has been a history of plane crashes which could have been avoided if the inexperienced crew members were more vocal in pointing out problems to their superiors. They kept quiet because they suffered from imposter syndrome.

Just be helpful. You wouldn't be there if someone didn't think you could help. If there are smarter people working with you, then it's probably the people who hired you. Trust their decision to hire you.

- To build confidence: work on personal projects. Set achievable milestones and meet them. There are a lot of new posts on hacker news, but most of them won't apply to your projects and you'll be able to ignore them.

- Concentrate on problems and how to solve them. Ask questions. Do research.

- Think of yourself as a professional providing a professional service to the best of your knowledge and abilities. Sometimes you don't have all the answers.

Remember: your job as a professional is to not worry about yourself or what others think of you.

I do not have the imposter syndrome. On the contrary, I often feel overly confident and ready to jump straight in, while in reality, I am probably just an average lazy engineer with pretense.

Wait oh shi

Talking about overcoming "impostor syndrome" is a great way to humble-brag, because it makes the assumption that the person is already competent enough to feel inadequate. If you ask software developers to assess themselves, most will think they are above average. This leads to an echo chamber where only "competent" people reply, and the way that the question is phrased suggests this as well.

I follow a simple principle: keep a seriously great work ethic, and don't sweat what you don't know.

Trust me when I say most "innovation" -- aka the stuff you might not understand right away -- is really just a re-hashing or re-packaging of something that's been done before.

Getting "up to speed and being current" doesn't require first-mover advantage. Use your work ethic to learn something when you need.

Blogging somehow it works for me I don't know if I have imposter syndrome but to prepare for the future as I'm. Still in college each time I learn something I blog about it or just push it to Github and ask for feedback on the long run you'll see your posts stacking and you'll come to understand that it's not a start to finish kind of deal but a journey a long and tiring journey.

Easy. Realize that the front page of HN is a view of the world that is filtered heavilly (nothing wrong with that just to let you realize it) and the real world is out there. What you need to do is get a job at a real company, look at their code, and everything else, and you will see a lot of red flags. Those people, that took those decisions do not have "imposter syndrome" so why should you?

Offer to give talks at local meet ups on challenging subjects that only an expert would be able to talk about... and then not mess it up.

Confidence will follow :)

i stopped hanging with sycophants and big bullshitters and became my own person.

Everyone starts their journey with limited skills and learns subsequently. Early imposter syndrome is not extraordinary.

However in a healthy team you get pats on your back from boss / colleagues and soon outgrow the syndrome. Persistent syndrome means there's something very wrong in team dynamic / boss. Change jobs until you find accepted and the syndrome will disappear.

> have so much to learn every time I see the front page of HN.

Don't look at it like that. Everyone will have a something to learn every single day, even based on the HN front-page. It's not that you're an impostor if you have something to learn from HN. If you don't think you've got something to learn, that's just delusion.

Indeed, feeling like that when looking at HN is just like feeling bad when looking at friends' bragging/vacation posts on Facebook. It's just people showing the best side of themselves and rarely the bad side.

I remind myself where the extrema are, both low and high, for my current situation, not for the collective internet. So long as I'm not close to the lower boundary and improving at least as fast as it's rising, everything is fine. Lots of people don't even bother trying to improve.

Give a little talk about something you're really passionate about and interested in. Make it so that it generates a lot of questions. Once you get people talking about your area of expertise you'll start to feel better about what you know. That's what worked for me anyways.

At least 3 options:

1. You're not an imposter and you're just over estimating the competition.

2. The competition is better than you and you are in imposter.

3. This is all a proxy for something else.

It's hardly a partition of all possibilities but it may help you to work by exclusion, and at least under stand what it's not.

You'll never finish learning. That's the best part of what being a human is. Embrace it.

I don't overcome it. I recognize that it is there and pay it no mind.

Maybe I am a fraud, maybe I'm not. I've been at this for almost 25 years now and nobody has outed me; Either I'm not a fraud or I'm very good at being one. In either case, yay me!

If you start as a teenager, you'll get a healthy dose of Dunning–Kruger, and if you keep at it, your skills should eventually catch up to your self perceptions - thus avoiding the imposter syndrome all together (prevention is the best cure) ;)

It has helped me to remember that Dunning-Kruger has 2 sides. Beginners tend to fall in the "don't know what they don't know" category, which can lead to over-confidence. But the other side is under-confidence on the part of mid-to-senior level folks. Those with experience start to see that there's a lot they don't know (i.e. they "know what they don't know"), and there's a natural overlap between this state and the state of impostor syndrome.

This doesn't always mean that you're an expert if you feel under-confident (I wish that were the case haha). But it might mean you're moving out of the true beginner quadrant and into journeyman status.

it always excites me to work with people who are better than me, in my selfish mind, I get so pre-occupied by thinking how I can absorb more knowledge from my peers that I wouldn't have the chance to feel I'm an impostor.

Aging has been a major factor for me. More because I understand more about the world then before, and have seen that no one ACTUALLY has a "perfect idea" of what they are doing, although they may speak as if otherwise.

Imposter syndrome is a problem that did not exist before media said it did. You feel like there is always more to learn because there always is.. get used to it.

Give your imposter syndrome an identity. I named the source of those negative thoughts DAve and anytime they show up I think to myself shut up, Dave.

Pure indefatigable arrogance usually serves me very well.

You shouldn't, use it as a motivating tool. That "carrot" is always one step away from you so you need to keep moving.

I remind myself that people I consider far more talented than me suffer from the same thing and that it's therefore nonsense.

Lifelong sufferer of impostor syndrome here (after having failed university), now Cofounder & CTO of a pretty successful Series B startup:

1. Work together with awesome people who can reflect you. Now that I'm working together with world class founders that I fully trust and we're doing regular feedback sessions with each other, I can take confirmation of my abilities much more serious from them than from anyone else.

2. Practice self-love and compassion. No, really. I'm serious, there's a ton of studies about this. Get a therapist. Best thing I've ever done for myself.

3. If you compare yourself all the time with others, that's okay - but do so fairly. People like us love choosing the best ones worldwide for comparison and that does nothing but inflict useless pain. Instead, take the next 10 of [insert your job title here] that you can think of and compare yourself with them. If you compare favorably with at least half, you're average already (which means you're not an impostor).

4. Keep this diagram in mind: https://twitter.com/rundavidrun/status/587671657193455616 Big part of impostor syndrome is devaluing the stuff you already know (but others don't) since it's "common knowledge". If someone else appears to know more than you, they're probably just as smart as you are. If they know as much as you do, they're certainly less able.

5. Fake it 'till you make it. Citing http://www.defmacro.org/2014/10/03/engman.html here: "Believe in yourself. You can’t lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse."

6. Ask yourself better questions. Tony Robbins once quipped: "Your brain is a computer and it will try to answer any question you give it. You may not like the answer though." So instead of asking yourself

7. Success definitely helps, but it doesn't cure. It's also the hardest to come by as there's some luck, good timing and great people involved along the way, so work mostly on the other things instead.

8. If you still think you're an impostor, rest assured you're in good company. We impostors are pretty smart people. Frank Abignale passed his bar exam without cheating and Ferdinand Waldo Demara successfully operated on people as an untrained surgeon. :)

I think by now I'm 50% done with that topic, and as `hajak` wonderfully put it - don't worry too much about it, it's not just a curse, there's good sides about it too.

EDIT: Slightly amended the list and copyediting

I'd change it to "You can't lead a calvary charge if you're afraid of bullets". I've found, somewhat disappointingly, that to get your self-confidence where you want it to be you have to lie to yourself at certain points. Often times the positive outcome you want in your life can be rationalized against at which point you have to beat that thought out with a reality-defying baseball bat. Much as those old calvary generals had to do. There's a little insanity involved.

Also college drop-out, former CTO of what was a successful start-up.

Overcome it? It's the secret to my success!

Becoming a "Catfish Developer".

Nothing says 'well, I am shit hot' when you can fix everybody else's shit.

Someone who's experienced and whom you trust to tell you "everybody is cooking with water".

"Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner."

- Lao Tzu | Tao Te Ching

Make your Goals measurable. Be grateful for the things you have learned/accomplished.

Writing a compiler, or a similar project where you know that doing it takes some skill.

Religiously keeping my LinkedIn profile up to date, writing, and public speaking.

I specialized on one narrow technology that's new and in high demand.

So here's an interesting thought:

A lot of people on HN grew up in wealthier families, and perhaps never had to work a manual labor job. If the average worker lifts 100 boxes per day, you just have to lift 100 boxes and you know you are doing the work correctly. You deserve to be there.

In manual labor, you never have imposter syndrome if you are doing the work right. Why? It's extremely easy to mentally calculate your benefit to the company and compare it to your fellow workers.

After a day of doing manual work, you always feel refreshed and come home satisfied.

Software on the other hand is much more conceptual, and it is much harder to determine if your input is up to par.

To fix this, you need to figure out goals and milestones with your manager that you can work to reach and exceed - ask your manager what you can do to be in the top 25% of employees, and get a concrete list of features/bugs/etc. on a timeline from your manager for you to complete.

That depends. In the Netherlands, it's very common to work as a teenager regardless of your parent's wealth.

Read up on the Dunning–Kruger effect.


Learn Haskell.

The long version of this is "acquire any non-mainstream skill to a degree most will never match." Once you know something well that most people think is impossible, incomprehensible, or just too much work, your viewpoint changes.

"I picked up this skill people say is hard, but it's really not. It's just another thing to learn," is an amazing antidote to imposter syndrome. It shows you that you can learn anything, and that includes whatever you still need to learn for the job at hand.

This is often a signal for bullshit though.

If people can't comprehend what you're doing, it's often because that's not their job. It doesn't have to be hard to be incomprehensible. A large code-base built in the most simple language is incomprehensible to the person who hasn't put in the time to crack open some files.

The value in code is in getting customers to pay for the product and for you to be a good person on the team. That means you are engaging (meaningful connections) with your team and with the customer. You don't do that by working in a silo in a world in which nobody can communicate with you. Better to concentrate on delivering value.

Learning to write incomprehensible code is not the answer to impostor syndrome. You are immersing yourself in one rabbit hole when you should be putting time into better understanding your impostor syndrome (your emotions). That rabbit hole is a fear response and an attempt to gain a sense of control over your environment. Instead, you should be doing the opposite, embracing uncertainty and the impostor syndrome.

And love your team. Code so that everyone can join in. Even if you feel the tools which allow this are inferior.

Assembler would be more valuable I would think. You get a better understanding of how the machine works.

What about brainfuck?

accept that. what can you do otherwise?

The secret is there is no secret.

Minimize ego and whining, do more.

Everyone puts pants on one leg at a time.

Set a good example and don't be a d1ck.

Read other people's code. Soon you will realize that even the people who you look up to the most will have their fair share of mistakes and ugly hacks. Nobody's perfect.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14685423 and marked it off-topic.

Whoa, what? I don't think this comment meant anything negative to people from blue-collar backgrounds, and I think when it reads "deserve to be there" that--you might be reading that as "don't deserve anything better than that", but I think the context implied that what was meant was "shouldn't feel like you're a fraud at box-lifting and thus don't deserve to be doing the work you're doing". My family's blue-collar AF, but I don't think there's anything offensive about noting that a field that widely requires college degrees (these days) is going to be populated largely by the classes of people who get college degrees (for whatever reasons such class divisions exist). "Wealthier" doesn't even necessarily mean anything above middle class, in context.

The question was about “impostor syndrome”. The implication that the OP feels like he doesn’t really “deserve” to be where he is is right there in the name.

Nobody said that he was justified in such a belief. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition: “Impostor syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.”

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