Recovering from Impostor Syndrome: A Look Back on 2014

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I debated on whether or not I should write this post. Since this blog is still in it’s infancy, I still haven’t quite narrowed down what I want this to be. Whether I should keep this as a resource of tutorials or if it’s fine to pepper a bit of my personal life into it. At what point is my personal life appropriate for this blog and at what point is it completely off topic?

I obviously settled on writing this, not just for myself, but to share my experience thus far as a web developer and someone who really ( maybe unhealthily ) loves WordPress. 🙂

This post is about being a developer who doesn’t know everything. This post is about learning to be human. This post is about exploring what it is I love so that I can continue coding versus doing it because it’s my job.

Let me introduce myself again for those who don’t know me ( which is likely most of you haha ). Hi. My name is Rachel. I run this blog and I have what Chris Lema calls Impostor Syndrome

Just a general warning, but there are no useful code snippets or enlightening WordPress tips ahead.

The Beginning of 2014…

To be very honest, this past year has been such a blur, that I hardly remember what the hell was going on in January except that it was too damn cold.

What I can tell you about me career-wise at that time, was that I had a “steady” job that I was extremely grateful for. Long story short here, the company had grabbed me fresh out of college. I had no real world experience, they needed people, my hard work paid off, and fast forward 3 years, I was still there and coding in languages I’d never imagined. I didn’t have any grand aspirations or visions of fame – just a boat floating along this river to wherever it took me.

Just keep swimming

Where we going? Dunno. Just keep swimming.

I had also started my real understanding of PHP Fundamentals as well as checking out the WordPress Settings API on TutsPlus. Having a co-worker introduce me to TutsPlus as well as awesome instructors like Jeffrey Way and Tom McFarlin might’ve been the start of a fire being lit that I was unaware of just yet.

Anyway, my personal life outside of a 40+ hour work week consisted of late night dinners and sacrificing those famed 8 hours of sleep everyone harps about so I could have some “me” time. Weekends were busy with chores I didn’t have time for during the week and most of my fun happened within those two days – well you know, between chores.

Life wasn’t bad. I was employed. I was able to pay the bills. Sure, I didn’t have much time for things outside of work, but I had accepted this was all part of being a true adult. Not to mention, I was still hanging onto this lie that I was working at my company by pure chance. That I should be grateful that these intelligent and awesome people were giving me the time of day. That all the years I had been with the company were because they were humoring me until one day they’d realize they could find someone more efficient – someone smarter than I could ever be.

Sure, getting hired might’ve been luck. I was inexperienced, but I remember saying these words with conviction after admitting that I didn’t know a lot of things during the interview.

“I don’t know it, but I can learn. I’ll do my best to learn.”

The work I was putting in was real. I got to where I was because I lived up to those words. Kept pushing, kept learning, and even when my co-workers began dubbing me “The Wonder WordPress Woman” or the “WordPress Sage”, it was never good enough.

I never knew enough. Sure, I might know that one thing, but this other guy? This other guy is a genius. Me? No, I’m a total noob compared to this guy.

If you’ve taken a look at Chris Lema’s posts about Impostor Syndrome, including his talk at WordCamp Phoenix 2014, you may recognize these symptoms. Here’s a description right from Chris Lema’s article, Embracing the Impostor Syndrome:

One definition of the impostor syndrome is that we’re unable to embrace or accept our success. Instead, we attribute it to timing, chance, luck, or something unrelated to our skill and effort…

But just because someone is ahead of you, and may know more than you about something, doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people behind you that could use your help…

At that time, I was so absorbed in the daily events of my life, I hadn’t realized what this was yet. I just lived my life under the impression that I should be grateful to even walk amongst the “genius” guys I worked with, and that on my own, I wouldn’t amount to much. It took a particular event however, to trigger what’s now becoming an evolution of sorts.

Shit Hits the Fan.

In March of 2014, stage 4 cancer invaded my immediate family. I won’t go into too many details, but I will say that March was a life-altering month for me. I took most of my paid days off that month and for a while, things appeared to be falling apart before they worked themselves out.

During that month, odd changes were happening.

I went from the person who was always on time, dependable with tasks and obsessively checking emails during my off-hours, to suddenly feeling like work was the least important thing in the world. The way I like to explain it to people is that I felt like I woke up and realized I was in the Matrix. That everything around me was this system that I unknowingly got sucked into and was now lucky enough to wake up from.

Neo from The Matrix

What is real life?

I’ve been waking up every morning since March, and asking myself the same question every time.

Why?

Seriously. Why? Why am I going to work? Why do I have to wash dishes? Why do I have to cook? Why do we work 8 hours a day? Who made up that stupid rule? Why, why, why?

My life had been completely flipped over and seemingly lost all purpose. There was no going back to the same day in and day out. No more hoping that naturally, I would just climb up the career ladder or find the happiness I wanted in my personal life just by continuing this hamster wheel I was running.

No. Now there was this frightening notion that there just wasn’t enough time to achieve all I’ve wanted to achieve. Now I sat there, and said to myself:

“What the hell have I been doing with my life? And what am I gonna do now?”

Naturally, I was tired, stressed, and because I have real life responsibilities, I couldn’t just curl up in a ball and hide in my apartment. One major aspect of myself that changed as a result of the tragic events affecting my family, was that I was impatient and extremely honest, perhaps to the point of having no social filters whatsoever.

Now what did that do to me as someone who ( I thought ) humbly never took credit for things, who never pushed too hard to succeed or hadn’t really explored what I was actually doing on a daily basis?

Embracing Impostor Syndrome.

Surprisingly, it didn’t result in complete disaster. I began putting myself first. I stopped running for the train in the mornings, took email off my phone, and if I had something on my mind, whether you were my family, my co-worker, or my manager, you were going to hear it.

Communication gone awry, internal systems not running as smoothly as they should, co-workers half assing things – I was brutally ( and professionally ) honest at work. If someone or something was making my job difficult, then it was something that needed resolving. I set out to be the person that pushed the resolutions. As the saying goes, “If you want something done right, then do it yourself.” I stepped up to the plate.

Now in my mind, there was this worry nagging that my co-workers would hate me.

“Who the hell does this girl think she is? She used to just sit there and loyally do her work and now she’s throwing her weight around and telling us how things should be done? Who does this noob think she is?”

But I didn’t stop. With everything so out of control in my life during that time, I needed a firm handle on the things I could control. How much work I took on or how I approached said work both mentally and physically were examples of things I sought to control. I had enough on my plate, and as emotionally delicate as I was at the time, I couldn’t have any other sources of anxiety pop up aside from what I was dealing with family-wise.

By the time my yearly review took place only two months after March, I was in for the surprise of my life.

Superman

New Rachel is born!

Word around the office was that I was like a “new Rachel” and everyone was taking notice. Apparently what I thought was “Rachel being a bitch” was “Rachel taking charge.” I remember the words spoken to me across the table during the review were something like, “I don’t know what’s happened to you lately, but whatever it is, it’s like you’ve become a new person.”

My yearly review promised only good things for my future. It should’ve been enough to erase any doubts and insecurities I had as a web developer. It definitely helped, though the funny thing is that I was back then, and still am doubting myself. The only difference before March and afterwards is that I’m forcing myself through those doubts.

Why?

Because of that very question. At some point in my career, I realized that not only did I have less time for myself, but I went from loving code to regarding the word “code” as blasphemy during my off hours. Any side projects I was interested in, any of my old hobbies that I stopped doing, were just pipe dreams.

Why did I stop loving the things I used to love? Why aren’t I doing more of things I love versus things I feel like I’m supposed to do?

Cancer puts perspective in your life. And I decided that I was done with pipe dreams.

Being the “new” Rachel, it was inevitable that the direction I was going and the person I was becoming no longer aligned with the company I was with. That doesn’t mean that they were a bad company, it just meant that their goals were no longer mine. I always turned down other career opportunities because I never felt ready. I felt like I wasn’t what anyone else was looking for, and that I wasn’t the “expert” my LinkedIn profile portrayed me to be. I also felt so indebted to that company, that I felt guilty for entertaining the mere thought of leaving.

Things were different now, however, and my sole goal was to find myself again.

So in the two months that followed, even more drastic changes happened with some inspiration from Kathy Caprino, Human WorkPlace, Geek Mental Health Week, and other encouraging thought leaders and resources.

  1. Diving into WordPress: I went to my first WordCamp. WordCamp NYC 2014 encouraged me to keep pursuing my knowledge of WordPress not because it was my job, but because it was fun.
  2. Taking New Opportunities: I left my previous company ( With lots of hugs and good vibes! ) and joined a smaller agency.
  3. Tending to What I Love: I started this blog because it combined two things that I loved – writing and WordPress.
  4. Networking With Others That Love What They Do: I revived my Twitter account, and became more active on LinkedIn. Also got on ManageWP and have been hanging out at the WordPress Stack Exchange. I want to know people who love WordPress as much as I do, and look forward to learning from one another.
  5. Taking Nothing For Granted: I began prioritizing myself and those I love over work. When to Turn Your Back on Your Career is one of the most life altering pieces of writing I have ever read. It’s not easy for some to choose between their personal and professional lives, until you wake up some day and realize if you lose a job, you can go find a new one. Someone you love however, is not something to ever take for granted. That includes yourself.

I’d also like to state for the record that I didn’t just have this epiphany and with confidence, instantly made these huge changes to my life like it was all a walk in the park. Easy peasy. Piece of cake.

Nope. I was absolutely terrified with every choice I made and even ’til this day, I’m still not sure if I’m crazy or doing the right thing. Sometimes it feels like I’m bulldozing blindly, and I don’t know if I’m destroying my life or building a new one. But I’ve chosen to keep moving in the only way I know how – forward.

Where I am now…

Although I still have my bad days, and I still doubt myself, Chris Lema gives this piece of advice:

Fear and insecurities are emotions, not decisions. You can decide to let your insecurities fuel or freeze you.

I just recently discovered Chris Lema, and what impostor syndrome is. I also discovered that I’m really passionate about accessibility thanks to a WordCamp talk from Joe Dolson and Svetlana Kouznetsova, who, as someone who is hard of hearing, really connected to her talk.

WordPress hooks have finally clicked for me, and I’m just getting started in learning WooCommerce which is hella fun. I still don’t run for the train, I still don’t have email on my phone, and my breakfasts are never rushed. I’ve been playing video games again and hell, I’ve even been writing a short story and taking a crack at a novel while I’m at it! As you can see, I’m also still actively keeping up my blog which has tripled in page views within the 4 months of it’s existence:

RachieVee page views

It’s not a lot – but it makes me happy. 🙂

I’ve been spending more time with my family and I went from being terrified of speaking up to taking chances that my fears originally stopped me from taking before.

I’m finally using my insecurities to fuel me, to learn more, and see what I’m capable of. I’m hoping that I’ll surprise myself in the best way possible. 🙂

What’s coming in 2015?

If you’ve read this far, I’d like to say thanks – for reading this long novelette that has nothing to offer code-wise, and only a few words from my personal experience.  And thanks for visiting my blog in the first place.

I don’t know what my future holds, except maybe some day I’d like to try freelance or maybe aim to write for TutsPlus ( darn fears are interfering again haha ). Some day I’d like more leeway over my schedule so I can have even more time for myself and family. But for now, I’m learning skills and writing on this blog to share that learning with everyone else.

I thank you for reading and I leave you with the following as we go into the new year.

Never take anything for granted, including yourself.

My name is Rachel and I’m recovering from Impostor Syndrome. Have a wonderful holiday and an awesome new year!

And for my readers, this will be my last post this year and I will return some time in mid-January with more WordPress goodies! Keep WordPressing!

Frosty the snowman

Happy Holidays!

2 thoughts on “Recovering from Impostor Syndrome: A Look Back on 2014

  1. Awesome post!

    Everyone deals with imposter syndrome. Even Jeffrey Way (great guy, by the way) will tell you he sometimes (often?) wonders how people love his tutorials so much, because he doesn’t always feel they’re “good enough,” or they seem like it’s something so basic, how could he possibly be the first/best/only person to have a tutorial about it.

    I’ve personally found that mine has *amplified* sometimes, as the stakes get higher when jumping from the “just developer” to “senior developer” roles. I’ve found, though, that I have the most success by just “doing my thing” and being myself — both at my job, and at my wider “career” stuff (and hobbies and life in general) — and I make the decision each day that I’ll just be myself, and if people don’t like that, then that’s their problem and not mine, but if they do like it, then great! It’s worked out pretty well for me so far. 🙂

    • Thanks! It’s a long one, but I still don’t regret writing it. XD And I love Jeffrey Way! He’s one of my main inspirations when I write tutorials, I really like how he explains things in a way that’s easy for anyone to understand, it’s a real skill whether he believes it or not. I always direct people to his fundamental courses on TutsPlus. I’m discovering that seems to be the common issue, I think we get so absorbed in our work, what is “basic” to us, we forget is like magic to others. And others would love to know about those basic things. As Chris Lema says, looking behind us versus the people in front of us.

      Yeah the titles sound like increased pressure. I’ve felt that way whenever I’m dubbed the “WordPress expert” at a place I work and then I’m saying to myself, “OMG I’m not even close!” Still getting used to the “just do my thing” part – it’s definitely an effort. 🙂

      I also agree with being yourself which in my experience so far is also putting yourself first. I’ve felt like at times we try to fit in this mold that these careers force on us, and these molds just don’t fit. We’re all individuals – not cookie cutters. Anyway, thanks for your comment and for stopping by. Your blog is a real inspiration and human which I think some people tend to forget when they think about developers. *thumbs up*

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