Feeling Insecure When You First Start Something Does Not Mean You Have Imposter Syndrome by@onteri

Feeling Insecure When You First Start Something Does Not Mean You Have Imposter Syndrome

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Paul Onteri

https://paulonteri.com/thoughts

During my time as a Google Developer Student Clubs (GDSC) Lead, a lot of my fellow students who were just starting out with various tech-related concepts often approached me with various problems.

A lot of them were in the form of "I just got started with technology x. How do I get started working on / completing projects or applying for jobs? I feel like I still suck at it, and have imposter syndrome."

How can an absolute beginner be a fake / an imposter?

Imposter syndrome had become a very common term, especially on Twitter, that everyone thought the difficulties they encountered when starting out were signs of imposter syndrome. It's very likely people starting out might have beginner syndrome instead.

A few clarifications:

  • My intended definition of a beginner - someone just getting started with tech (or any other similar concept), most likely still in the tutorial phase, most likely just before or just after getting their first tech role.

  • The intended goal of this article - help beginners separate (or be aware of) the normal beginners' fears & difficulties from imposter syndrome.

Why you might not have imposter syndrome as a beginner. Let’s talk about it.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is the overwhelming feeling that you don't deserve your success and accomplishments. You become convinced that you're not as intelligent, creative, or talented as you may seem or people may see you to be.

You suspect that your achievements are down to luck, good timing, or just being "in the right place at the right time." One of your biggest fears is that one day you'll be exposed as a fraud.

You may feel that you need to work harder because of your perceived inadequacies, to avoid being "unmasked." This may even lead to further success and recognition – and feeling like an even bigger fraud.

Beginner Syndrome

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Learning to do anything worthwhile when you’re just starting out is hard. Freaking out about not knowing anything is totally normal, and every budding beginner feels overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of all that they don’t know.

These signals are actually just hints that we're just not yet that good at what we are trying to do.

This is not Imposter Syndrome, this is the reality for almost anyone starting out.

Those feelings of inadequacy are just “beginner’s fear.”

Trying something new can induce so much anxiety that it causes many to quit something they may have dreamed of starting for years. Not knowing how/where to start, how to catch up to the experts, things feeling very difficult, e.t.c - All this is normal for a beginner.

Impossible for Beginners to Have Imposter Syndrome

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An actual imposter’s sole goal is to be what they’re not. They hide behind a mask, and they base their strategy on deceit and dishonesty. In addition, experiencing imposter syndrome means you have accomplished something in the specific area you are experiencing it in.

Most of us feel like we’re imposters, but we’re just beginners, we’re just starting out.

Imposter syndrome is more of “somebody who doesn’t feel like they know what they are expected to know” and beginner syndrome is “not knowing much and not being expected by others to know much”, technically impossible to be an imposter.

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Imposter syndrome usually shows up in the middle, and beginner syndrome in the complete beginning of The Dunning-Kruger effect chart.

The chart explains how the less someone knows about the topic, the more confident (and sometimes arrogant) they are about their understanding of it (this comes right after beginner’s syndrome). Imposter syndrome describes the opposite: it manifests when people who are experts on a topic do not feel confident in their understanding and show modesty.

While it is common for us to experience such feelings, they’re signs that we are often unable to accurately assess our own competence. Note that in the beginning, both confidence and competence are very low. This is what encompasses beginner’s syndrome.

To Beginners

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.

But there is this gap.

For the first couple [of] years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.

And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.

And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” ~ Ira Glass

Conclusion

All beginners should realize that there is a tonne of stuff they don't know, their confidence is low and this is not a sign of imposter syndrome. However, they are also not expected to know that much and will typically not be punished for not knowing.

The easiest way to deal with the above problems is to be self-aware, practice, be dedicated and work hard enough to overcome the obstacles (that almost all beginners do encounter).

More reading:

Thank you for your time.

Enjoyed the article? Find similar content on my personal blog at: https://paulonteri.com/thoughts

Editor’s Note: Although Imposter Syndrome is acknowledged by the American Psychological Association, neither condition seems to appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5).

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