Daniela Petruzalek

@danielapetruzalek

How to Overcome the Imposter Syndrome

Note: this is the transcription of the talk I've done at the Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco earlier this year. If you want to know more about my speaking experience see this article.

Hi everyone! For those who don't know me, I'm a senior software engineer at a big media company in Brazil (globo.com), Google Developer Expert in Google Cloud Platform, leader of several tech communities (Google Developer Group, Women Techmakers and Women Who Go), TEDx speaker, blogger, runner and a few other things… by looking just at this resume you may think I’m a pretty confident person, but I am not.

One in thing in common among all those things I've done is that for every single one of them I felt incapable of doing them.

I’ve discovered I had the Imposter Syndrome after reading last year’s infamous Google Manifesto (aka Manifestbro) from ex-Googler James Damore. I was so pissed off by his claims that women are biologically incapable of leading or performing technical roles that I needed to write a response.

While digging for evidence to counter-argument his claims I’ve actually found out that I was doing a lot of things that I didn’t know or didn’t feel capable of doing. I realized I was feeling the synthoms of Imposter Syndrome.

The response I’ve written to his claims you can find here.

The tools I’ve been using to deal with the Imposter Syndrome since them are the following ones:

Tip #1: Take Small Steps to Build Confidence

If you go right for the biggest challenge you may not be prepared to deal with it and fail, which may give you the false impression that you aren’t capable of solving that problem, impairing your confidence.

On the other hand, if you start small and incrementaly increase the complexity no step will look too big to take. I give you an example of contributing to open source code.

My first contribution to the Go programming language was changing for spaces… yes, 4 whitespace characters:

An awesome contribution to the Go language! :)

And it was merged!

I didn’t make any new contributions to Go language after that (shame on me), but that small step was enough to help me building confidence to contribute to other projects.

If your objective is public speaking, for instance, start with a small audience. One person is enough, then make it two, three, four… you get the idea.

When facing larger problems remember that there is no problem that is unbreakable. Try to break big tasks into small steps. Even the atom (from Greek, atomon: indivisible) is divisible. Think about it. :)

Tip #2: Embrace new opportunities

We women tend to reject new opportunities while we are not 100% prepared for it.

Next time someone offer you a thing, like a talking spot, a new role, anything that you don’t feel completely prepared for it, please do yourself a favor and accept it. The reasoning behind this is that other people would offer you a thing if they didn’t feel you could take it.

And since we are talking about Impostor Syndrome here, they have a greater chance to be right than you. Accept it and move on :)

Tip #3: Acquire knowledge on the go

I’ve seen this picture at the IWD summit this weekend that I wish I had back in my talk:

This comes pretty close with the last tip. Even if you are not capable of doing something, there is no better way to learn it than having a clear purpose ahead of you. A target, a deadline, an objective. Those are powerful things.

The thing is that if you are too comfortable somewhere you are not learning anything. And if you aren’t learning you are also not evolving. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. That should be your new baseline.

If you are using talking to an audience of 50 people, why not trying 100 people next time? Too big of a step? No problem, back to tip #1… maybe 60 instead?

Of course there are sometimes you need to fall back to your safe zone to recharge, but don’t let this rest be too long.

Tip #4: Learn how to FAIL

Failure is an important part of life. We will expend most of our days on Earth failing at something. So you must learn to accept it so you can recover fast and try again.

I like to thing about or lives in the ways business people think about startups. The earlier you fail the better, so you won’t expend so much time in something that didn’t worth the trouble. Also learn from your mistakes so you don’t need to repeat them again.

Failing is fine, really!

It is important to note that once you start following tips number 2 and 3 you probably will fail more, because you are taking more risks, but you will also learn more and succeed more. In the end, still a win-win situation.

Tip #5: Be data-driven

Also inspired in the business world, gather data from your achievements, so the next time you are in a difficult situation you may have a look at how far did you get from where you started.

Using data to track my weight loss and running skills.

Like I said before, it’s not everyday that you will succeed. But looking at the long term trend will give you insughts whether you are going to the right direction or not.

I used a graph to track my weight loss objective. It’s not every day that you will lose weight, but looking at the trend I knew I was on the right path. The same logic I applied to assessing my running skills.

Looking at the data will help you keep motivated and will also tell you when something is not working and you need to change your methods.

Tip #6: Be your true self

Nobody can achieve their best if you are expending too much energy hiding an important part of theirselves.

I did this for over 30 years of my life. Now that I’m being myself I’m achieving things that I’ve never imagined I could.

I’m the same person, the only difference is that now I have all my energy focused on the things that are really important.

Me: before (2009) and after (2018). I’m always impressed by how younger me looks older than old me. lol

Bonus: Have a personal mission

I’ve put this as a bonus because I don’t know if everyone has the possibility of having a personal mission. I wish you could, but I may only speak for myself on that one.

When starting my transition I have had a hard time to find role models to follow and inspire me. There are only a few openly transgender people in tech out there, so I decided I would come out and be a role model for the generation to come.

Gophercon Brazil Diversity Scholarship. One of the things I’ve done I’m most proud of.

Also, it’s not only about trans people. As a woman, I also feel the need to show the world that women are very powerful. That we are capable of doing anything that a man can do. After all, we are all human beings.

So, every time I feel bad or in doubt about doing something, I try to remember that mission. If the thing I’m supposed to do is aligned with the mission, then I must do it, not matter what! That’s how I find energy to overcome the most impossible times.

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