Building Confidence

Related to the post from last week is the topic of confidence. This is something I have dealt with all of my life as I’m sure many people have. It can totally kill motivation and make you feel generally just bad about yourself and what you’re doing. While I don’t think I’ll ever feel fully confident in all aspects of my life, I definitely feel like I’m getting to a place where I can think about it more as well as single in on moments when I felt especially confident.

Apart from most of my school years, I don’t think I have had as much as a challenge to my self-confidence as I have in the past couple of years learning to program. It was and still is like entering a completely different world with a whole new set of things to goals to accomplish, milestones to reach, and ideas to question. It can be a bit overwhelming and frightening at times. The strongest factor in all of this is imposter syndrome and constantly feeling like I don’t know enough or that I am not good enough at something compared to every single person who has ever done it. It messes with me and makes me feel like I don’t know enough or that I’m somehow pretending at what I’m doing but will never fully be that which I hope to accomplish.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it is irrational and completely ignores all of my accomplishments up to this point. It seems very obvious but in practice it is something that doesn’t even occur to me to think about when I’m feeling at my lowest. The problem with comparing oneself to everyone is that those people are all at different levels of understanding and most likely are suffering from imposter syndrome themselves. I find myself wondering if my solution to a problem is anywhere near what some unknown veteran hacker would use. This automatically undervalues my code and undermines my efforts to keep going and to learn more. Even if I know it isn’t true, it is something that is stuck in the back of my head.

So what to do? How do I mitigate these feelings and attacks on my confidence? I don’t think there is an exact answer and from my own experience and conversations with others, it is something that never quite goes away. For me, the most effective way so far is to acknowledge it but also realize that it is not a rational idea. There is still something driving me to keep working and to keep learning. That to me indicates that imposter syndrome doesn’t have as strong of a hold over me as I’d like to assume. I think it is because ultimately I know I can solve a problem or get feedback on a solution that reaffirms that I’m doing the right things.

I’ve had many great conversations related to this and a reoccurring theme is that of doing the work anyway and getting feedback. Being able to say “I did it” has been infinitely important to me as I learn to be more confident more of the time. Without knowing if my answer is the most elegant, I can say I accomplished something, and this is even better if I can get someone to review and give some constructive feedback. This feedback reaffirms the accomplishment, but also makes me feel less like an imposter and more like someone discussing code with other programmers.

I think a huge part of these feelings stem from the fact that I’m learning at home. I am constantly comparing myself to programmers of all levels and skills, even if they have been on the job for 20 years or come from a coding bootcamp. Sometimes I am concerned that I have not been hacking away since I was 12 or lack the time and resources to study at a bootcamp full time. The great part is that I’m now learning that being self-taught is an asset. It is something that makes me unique, and I take pride in knowing how much I’ve done for myself along this journey.

While I’ll probably always feel like an imposter, I also feel like that is part of the journey. However, as I take on more, accomplish more goals, and continue having discussions and getting feedback that my confidence will continue to grow.

Written on September 8, 2015