Impostor syndrome tips and resources

10 tips and resources for combating impostor syndrome

Penguins walking on the beach
Image credits : 

Original photo by Rikki Endsley. CC BY-SA 4.0


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When I saw the April preview call for articles about Impostor Syndrome my first reaction was: "Oh wow, I'd love to write a post for that. Too bad I don't have anything worth saying." I wouldn't say I struggle with Impostor Syndrome, but at least I'm self-aware enough to immediately recognize the irony.

Now my online persona is—to be charitable—very self-confident, but as it turns out I deal with my private fears just like many of you do. To some degree, I've grown used to the feeling. With practice, I've learned that I can feel like an impostor but still be aware that what I'm feeling doesn't reflect how others see me. This list of resources will hopefully help you, too.

5 tips to combat impostor syndrome

Trust your peers

Perhaps the most helpful way of managing this is having peers whom I trust to let me know when I really do screw up. Because they tell me when I've done wrong, I can trust that when they tell me I've done well, they mean it. Of course, these kinds of relationships take time to develop and may not be easy in environments when you don't interact with the same people every day.

Remember it means you care

That's right: feeling inadequate about yourself is a sign you take your work seriously. If you didn't want to be good at what you do (and get better at it), you wouldn't feel like an impostor. I always like to say it's better to have Impostor Syndrome than be subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Celebrate your successes

Success doesn't have to be huge and groundbreaking. Even if it's something that's been done thousands of times before, embrace it if it's a success for you.

The first time I compiled my own kernel, I didn't really know what I was doing. I didn't do anything special to it, I just removed a few modules that weren't relevant to my hardware and followed the step-by-step instructions. But it still felt good. It's okay to toot your own horn. Heck, I'll probably feel pretty special when this article gets published.

Celebrate others' successes

While I enjoy having accolades piled on me, I take pride in the accomplishments of my friends and colleagues. Sometimes it's because I did something behind the scenes to help them. Maybe I reviewed some code or edited an article. Or maybe I didn't do anything except tell them how awesome I think their accomplishments are. In any case, I celebrate when my friends get a win and they do the same for me.

Know it will happen

Despite the tips above, there are some days when I feel like I'm just too dumb to be allowed near a computer. It's okay to have bad days, especially when you're working in public and your mistakes are immediately visible. But that also means your successes are immediately visible, too. Just get through to the next day.

5 helpful resources

Not sure if you suffer from Impostor Syndrome? Take this handy quiz!

Hoagie's Gifted has a great collection of books and articles about Impostor Syndrome.

Leigh Honeywell put together a writing exercise for overcoming Impostor Syndrome.

Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora wrote a post on the USENIX blog about Impostor Syndrome-proofing self and community.

If you want to hear a funny talk about dealing with Impostor Syndrome, look no further than Karen McGrane's I suck! And so do you!, presented at Dare Conference 2013.

Share your story wants to publish more stories about Impostor Syndrome. What has your experience been? What ideas or thoughts would you share? You can submit your story idea to their webform for review.


About the author

Ben Cotton - Ben Cotton is a meteorologist by training, but weather makes a great hobby. Ben works as the Fedora Program Manager at Red Hat. He co-founded a local open source meetup group, and is a member of the Open Source Initiative and a supporter of Software Freedom Conservancy. Find him on Twitter (@FunnelFiasco) or at