Impostor Syndrome

The company I work for, Automattic, brings all of its employees together once a year from around the world for a “Grand Meetup.” We don’t have offices – we all work remotely from spare bedrooms and coffeehouses – so it is a special treat to meet face-to-face and it helps enrich the personal connections in a way that online interactions simply cannot.

This year’s Grand Meetup was split between a few days in San Francisco and a few more in Santa Clara. We split up into teams for coding projects and learn-ups, delivered short talks, and ate and drank and had a lot of fun.

We also had a couple guest speakers, including one who helped me get better understanding of something that had been bothering me since day one of this dream job. The speaker was Denise Jacobs and part of her talk focused on “the Impostor Syndrome.”

The Impostor Syndrome is basically the fear that you don’t really belong in a group, that you were hired or invited by accident, that you’re fundamentally unqualified, and that at any moment someone will stand up, point you out, call you out, and kick your impostor butt out. It’s apparently very common among very talented and bright people and Automattic only hires very talented and bright people.

Since my first day at Automattic to the day of that talk, I was sure that at any moment I was going to be called out and kicked out. In hindsight this didn’t make any sense – yes my JavaScript was not as strong as my C++, but rounding out that skill was no big deal and my grasp of software patterns reflects decades of honing my software development craft.

I still have plenty to learn, but I’m no dummy. And thanks to a few years of custom WordPress sites for clients, my WordPress fu wasn’t too shabby either.

But months after starting, I still feared that any day might be the day I finally “got caught” and that I “didn’t belong.”

And there I was, listening to Denise describe what I had been feeling to a T. I had a name for my “condition.”. And with a name, Google searches yielded page after page about the fear and supplemented the insights Denise shared. But I wondered if I was the only one struggling with this at Automattic?

After the talk was over, I went up and thanked Denise for the talk, especially for the epiphany about Impostor Syndrome. What she said next astonished me – that someone had mentioned that many, many people were struggling with this at Automattic.

I wasn’t the only one to feel this way.

It felt like a massive weight was removed then and there – and it still feels that way. The combination of knowing that this condition existed was one thing, but knowing that so many of my brilliant coworkers were struggling with it too was liberating.

Yes, sometimes the inner critical you-don’t-belong-here voice comes back, but it’s not for long and it doesn’t feel as damning.

A few other talks at the Grand Meetup touched on Impostor Syndrome, talks delivered by my coworkers, and that solidified and validated what Denise had said.

I am feeling so much better about fitting-in, and I am forever grateful for what I learned – in this age of cynicism it is rare for words to ring so true and touch so deeply, but in this instance they really did – and made all the difference.

2 thoughts on “Impostor Syndrome”

  1. Thanks so much for posting!

    Not only is this timely for me (Struggling with the idea of branching out of my stale career path), but something that has plagued me for years in many other categories.

    Yet another reason you will be forever be included on my list of favorite managers… 🙂


    1. Thank you Eric! I am amazed at how many people struggle with this and so glad to know there is a name for it (which makes it easier to learn about and overcome)


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