Have you ever suffered from impostor syndrome? Most of us can relate to it. And it’s more prone during certain times of your life, like new jobs.
Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Notably, impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women. – From Wikipedia
Having recently started a new job, I thought I’d make a list of the signs that you are suffering from impostor syndrome:
Not accepting praise. Usually when someone says you did a great job, you should say “thank you” not “but I goofed here and I could have done better here.” My performance in my OSCON talk was not as good as my CiviCRM keynote, but I should still accept the nice comments people say. And my OSCON talk was better in many ways – like working with someone else.
Announcing your mistakes or shortcomings. Telling everyone what you don’t know. There’s a lot of technologies in Cloud Foundry! I’m learning them. Just please don’t ask me any detailed questions about exactly how scheduling works.
Being afraid of making mistakes. Everyone is afraid of making mistakes but you find yourself going out of your way to avoid situations that might put you on the spot. You hesitate just a moment before stepping up – a moment you don’t normally hesitate in.
Feeling stupid. Not asking questions you have for fear of looking stupid. I’ve got lots of questions. I’ve asked about 90% of them. I’ve also asked some of them twice – the key is just to ask the same question of different people in hopes that somebody will answer it in a way you understand. That’s a trick I learned in karate. We would take turns pairing up with everyone in class. Eventually someone would explain the move to me in a way that just clicked with me.
Writing lots, publishing nothing. Because nothing is good enough to you. I’ve got a book’s worth of blog posts at this point. Should make life easier later.
Feeling uncertain in other parts of your life where you know you are competent but suddenly you are doubting yourself. Seriously, we’ve had a boat for over 10 years and I suddenly couldn’t get it started last weekend. Luckily for me and my 8yo, I did know how to use the trolling motor (or rather together we figured it out) so we weren’t stuck in the middle of the lake.
Researching and writing about the impostor syndrome.
How do you know when you are suffering from impostor syndrome?
When you hear that a 13 year old, black girl is giving a keynote at OSCON, what do you think?
Wow, she must be a child prodigy, what did she do?
Who are her parents?
She got that keynote because she’s a 13 year old, black, girl.
I’ve heard all three options and a few in between.
The truth is that Keila Banks is pretty awesome. She’s an accomplished blogger/technologist and her 10 minute keynote (to a 4,000 person audience!), “The Undefinable Me”, is well worth watching.
And Keila’s parents are pretty awesome too. They have given Keila lots of support and encouragement as she explores the opportunities around her. They are as inspirational to me as a parent as Keila is.
I was standing on stage last week when I realized that the words out of my mouth were in direct contradiction to advice I normally give. Nothing like having a couple hundred people and a video camera staring at you as you try to figure out what you really mean.
Just do it
In the past, I’ve pointed out that it’s really hard for people to make their first contribution. Think back to that very first time you posted to a mailing list or newsgroup. It was a bit intimidating. You don’t know how many people will read it. You don’t know how people will respond. And it will be public forever. That’s pretty intimidating.
So I urge that you just have to do it. And community managers and mentors need to help people to Just Do It.
Make it Count
And then last week, I said first impressions count. So make sure your first point is one you want people to remember you by. And in the context of my talk, I said you should especially pay attention to first impressions if you are in the minority. Do you want to be remembered for that crazy red shirt? Or for the great question you asked about the target audience that started an awesome debate?
When I first started at GNOME, they added me to Planet GNOME and my very first post was about traveling alone. I wish I could take that back. It’s not a bad post. It just has nothing to do with GNOME and it’s not what I wanted the whole community to know first about me.
You can recover from less than stellar first impressions. All the GNOME posts I’ve written since then about the GNOME Foundation and projects have surely made up for that first off topic post.
The balance between Just do it and Make it Count is even harder in some circumstances.
Representing multiple groups. If you feel like you are representing others, especially as a lone representative of a minority group (the only woman, the only American, the only Asian), you will feel like your actions have to be even better, and that your first impression has to be good.
More experience. I also think that more experience makes it harder to “just do it”. Once you are seen as an expert, posting to a mailing list is probably no longer scary. However, you might feel like your work is held to a higher standard and that more people are watching you. (And I think this ties directly to the Impostor Syndrome.)
Other disadvantages. I also think it’s hard to just do it if you have another disadvantage. For example, if you first language is not English, it’s much harder to make that first post.
What’s your balance?
How do you find balance between “Making it count” and “Just doing it”?
In March I read a bunch of science fiction and fantasy along with a few nonfiction books. I also discovered Kindle Unlimited. I had bought it for one of my kids, but I discovered this month that not only are there a lot of books that I like there but many of them come with Audible editions too.
I had a few long plane rides this month which led to lots of reading. I think I read 2.5 books on my way to Berlin after my laptop battery ran out. Multiple delays also added to my reading time.
Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance Chronicles). I remember enjoying books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman way back when. I used to really crave the next one and wait anxiously for it to come out. I enjoyed the book but didn’t love it in the same way I remember. I didn’t rush out to get the next one. But maybe that’s because I had Patricia Brigg’s book waiting …
Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega Book 4) by Patricia Briggs. I’ll read anything by Patricia Briggs so I had pre-ordered this one. It was as good as I hoped and I spent a good part of a weekend reading it.
A Shade of Vampire. This was a Kindle Unlimited book (so free for me) with 4.5 stars with 4,000+ reviews and I was looking for some light reading. It was an easy, quick read but not what I was looking for. It’s well written but I had a hard time with how they portrayed the male and female stereotypes – whether or not they were human or vampires.
Quantum Lens. Another Kindle Unlimited book. Pretty good science fiction. Lots of explanation but some action and character development too. Basically about what might happen if a few people had almost super-hero powers.
The Curse Keepers. It wasn’t a book I necessarily would have continued reading, but I really enjoyed the free Audible book that came with it. Supposedly Amazon keeps the audio and text versions synced – the sync worked for me the first time, but not after that.
Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security. This book is most useful to people getting close to retirement. It’s written by a couple of people who also have software that will help you calculate the best way to collect your social security. By the time you finish reading the book, you will think their software is well worth the $40 it costs. I came away with the impression that social security is super complicated unless you are single and never married.
The End of Power. I made it through this book but it was a struggle. The author’s premise is that power is becoming more distributed (I agree) and that because of that nobody will be able to get anything done (I disagree). He thinks that if we don’t have a few powerful countries, the world will continue to see more and more terrorism. I think we need a new way to work that takes into account the distributed nature of power – both at the governmental and the corporate level. The author gives lots of data and examples and defines power in interesting ways. However, if he allowed distributed works, I think I could rewrite the book with 80% fewer words. I don’t think I’m the only one that had trouble with this book. After Mark Zuckerberg picked it as his first book of the year, it sold out. Now, 2 months later, it only has 102 reviews on Amazon, so most of those people must not have finished the book …
Book Group: General Fiction Books
My first book and last book in February were for my book group.
The Girl on the Train was an entertaining thriller. I’m not sure what to tell you about it without giving it away, but it does make you question whether you know the whole true story about anyone you meet. The book might also make you stop drinking. It wasn’t the kind of book to drink while reading a glass of wine as the main character loses large parts of her memory due to alcoholism.
I really enjoyed The Rosie Project. I don’t know how realistic it was (I’m curious to see what my friends who have more experience with Asperger’s think) but it was an entertaining read about a man who starts a Wife Project, a survey to find the perfect wife. Then he decides to help a woman with the Father Project, a project to find her biological father. During the process they form a friendship and share many misunderstandings and hilarious moments.
Science Fiction and Fantasy, a bit of every type
Inescapable. I almost quit reading on page 2 when I read “using my mirror to refresh my lip-gloss”. There was a lot of description of clothing and looks. And the way one of the main character’s accents was done was kind of annoying. And the way the mystery is revealed is pretty artificial. On the plus side, I think, the author took all those awkward high school relationships and bundled them all up and shoved them into this book. While not my kind of book, I did read the whole thing.
Third Shift – Pact (Part 8 of the Silo Series) by Hugh Howey. If it’s been a while since you read the previous books, I recommend a refresher. The author just continues the story right where it left off with no reminder of who the characters are or what’s going on. If you haven’t read the Wool Silo series, I highly recommend the books. I think they’d be good for people who haven’t read much science fiction too.
Soul Identity. I thought this would be science fiction but it wasn’t really. It’s about an organization that believes everyone has a unique soul that can be identified by their eyes. And after a person’s death souls comes back in a new person – without any memories. People can leave wealth and belongs to their future soul hosts. The story was good – a bit of a mystery – and I think it’d make a good movie. I found the dialogue to be rather awkward and it was 95% dialogue. I prefer a bit more narrative mixed in.
The Shattergrave Knights proved to be the fantasy book I was looking for. I’d have preferred more character development but I was in the mood for an easy read placed in some fantasy world that resembles the middle ages only very slightly with swords and magic and this book fit the bill. (It’s also only 99 cents on Amazon.)
Tried but didn’t make it …
The Briar King. It seemed like one of those epics where the author has the story they want to to tell and then makes up the people to tell it. The characters were well done but the book was about the epic tale. (And according to Amazon I bought this in 2009. Maybe it’s time to give up?)
The world lost a great math teacher this week. Mimi Geier not only loved math, she loved teaching math and delighted in watching kids discover solutions. If I had a picture to share here, it would be of Ms. Geier with a grin on her face, holding out a piece of chalk so that a student could teach.
My first day at BFIS, Ms. Geier asked me if I was in first or seventh period math. I wanted to ask which one was the advanced math class, but I didn’t. Instead I said I didn’t know. She told me to come to both and we’d figure it out.
I got worried during the first math class. I could solve any quadratic equation in the world with the quadratic formula but Ms. Geier didn’t think too much of that method. She wanted us to factor, to pull the problem apart and understand the pieces that solved it.
Walking up the stairs after lunch, a girl who later became my friend told me, “You don’t want to be in the seventh period math class.” So it was with trepidation that I entered seventh period. Is this where they sent the kids that had never learned to factor? To my surprise I found a much different class. It was a small classroom of relaxed students and a very different Ms. Geier. This was not the homeroom teacher Ms. Geier. This was not the Ms. Geier who could take forever to make a simple point. This was not the Ms. Geier who was always misplacing that paper that she’d just had. This Ms. Geier grinned a lot. She loved it when we came up with a hard problem. She delighted in solving problems with us. She was thrilled when we figured it out. Ecstatic when we could teach each other. This was Ms. Geier the math teacher. I got to stay in seventh period, advanced math.
One day, we were all having trouble with some calculus. We could solve all the problems but we were struggling with the why. We got the formulas but not how they worked. The next day, a kid in my class whose dad was an engineer at IBM came in and said, “I got it! My dad explained it to me.” Ms. Geier, who had probably spent hours figuring out how to teach it to us, just grinned, held out the chalk and said “Show us!”
Several years after that first day of school, Ms. Geier was out of town for a few weeks. Her substitute pulled me aside during break. Sitting at Ms. Geier’s desk, he asked me for help with a math problem and said Ms. Geier had told him that if he had any problems with the math, he should ask me. Me, the kid who was afraid to ask which class was advanced, now trusted to help the math teacher!
Unknown to me, Ms. Geier also intervened on our behalf in other areas. We were having trouble with our science teacher. Several of us were banned from asking questions. One of my classmates was banned from asking questions because her questions were too stupid (she’s now a food scientist) and I was banned because my questions were too ridiculous (too much science fiction?). In all fairness, she did explore my ridiculous questions outside of class, even consulting her college professor. Things eventually got better. Several years later she told me that Ms. Geier had helped her figure out how to cope with us.
Ms. Geier taught me many things. Among them were that it’s ok to love math just because it’s math, that it’s ok to be the expert and let somebody else teach you – not just ok but exciting, that it’s ok to be the expert and not know all the answers, that sometimes people learn best from peers, that solving problems together is fun, and much more. I owe a lot of who I’ve become in my career to Mimi.
I, and many generations of math students, will miss Mimi Geier.
I was writing a post about why you must work in the open to get more volunteers and I ended up writing this post about why I don’t work in the open.
So I think there are some very valid reasons for not working in the open:
Personal. Not all projects are open source projects, especially personal ones. Where I’m going for Valentine’s Day or how to get my son to do better in school are not “open” projects. They could be, but they’re not.
Not mine to share. There’s a lot of things I think should be shared with the world but they aren’t my stories or plans to share. I’d be violating someone else’s sense of privacy in order to share. I think your 2015 project goals are good enough to share with the world – and more people would join if you did – but you may not feel the same way.
It’s not an open source project. Lots of projects in this world are not run in an open source way. If you are not looking to build a community, and you are not an open source software project nor a nonprofit nor a public entity, I think this is a totally valid way of working.
And then I think there are some reasonable reasons (maybe right, maybe not) for not working in the open:
Partners. At Mozilla, we often cite partners as a reason why we can’t share plans. I think partners just make it much harder. You either have to figure out how to do it in a way that doesn’t expose their identity or you have to convince them. It’s a valid reason but one that could often be different if you worked on it.
Buy in. It takes time to figure out how to accurately describe an idea, what you mean and why you want to do it. It helps to get feedback from a few people to help make your initial communication clearer. Simon Phipps opines that if there’s a strong majority in a project, discussing an idea first with a few is a way to get something enough backing to push it forward.
Getting clear. Sometimes you have to float your idea by a few people to get clear about what you really need to do.
Not enough time. Some times we don’t do things in the open when we are out of time. For me, this is especially true when it’s not my project but I really think it could benefit from being open. Like a fundraising project at school. If they created a web page and a mini social media campaign, I’m sure they could be tons more successful. But I don’t always have time to help them figure out how to do this. I think this crosses into “The Ugly” when it is your own project. If it should be in the open, and you want a community to help you out, you have to take the time to grow that project. You’ll recoup your time later.
And then I think there are some not so great reasons for not working in the open:
Not enough time. I hear this one a lot. We have to get this out next week or next month. There’s not enough time to articulate it clearly enough to open it, to answer everyone’s questions, to mentor, to accept contributions. This might be ok once in a while but I hear it more and more.
Not distracting people. I feel this one a lot at Mozilla. Mozilla is a huge community now and we all want to keep up with everything. So every time you float a new idea and a million people weigh in, you feel like you are distracting them from everything else. But I think it’s ultimately their decision whether or not to be distracted.
Not announcing other people’s plans. I put this in the ugly category because I often feel like my hands are tied in sharing until someone else shares their plans. Especially in technical documentation and evangelism, you are supposed to talk about other people’s work but not until they are ready. And you want to plan projects, outreach or events around their news.
Not committing to something. Especially for your organization. It takes great skill to “float an idea” in the open. To not commit to it while still considering it. To be able to say, we are considering this and then to be clear if you decide not to go forward. The fear is that it makes you look indecisive. It makes people waste their time. It causes inappropriate press cycles. But if you can’t float ideas in the open, if you only talk about things that are already committed to and planned, you miss a huge opportunity to include people in the creative cycles and to make them feel like it really is their project.
Not having company commitment. Especially when you are getting paid to work on an open source software project, it’s hard to float random ideas before you have your company’s or your boss’ commitment.
Not making inappropriate news waves. There’s a lot of stuff I’d really love to talk about in the open and I don’t because I don’t want to read about them in the press. Right after I started at Mozilla we had a couple of these incidents. People’s personal blog posts turning into major news cycles. It wasn’t fun for them. I don’t want it to happen to me. (Unless it’s something I want in the news!)
When you choose not to work in the open, what are your reasons? Are they Good, Bad or Ugly? What are your suggestions for how those of us who want to work more in the open can all do better?
During my FOSDEM talk, I spoke about how your phone company, hardware and operating system control what apps you have access to. Some phones bring internet access to those with no access but without the choice and freedom we expect on the web.
anyone in Zambia can get free access via the Internet.org website or its Android app to a limited number of websites and apps. While this is of course great for those who otherwise would have no Internet access at all, the arbitrary limits put on what they are allowed to do online arguably cedes way too much gatekeeper power to the companies behind the offering.
Kudos to Facebook and their partners for bringing internet access to people that didn’t have it. Hopefully they will also give them freedom and choice as well.
Grace Hopper is the largest gathering of women technologists and it’s a super energizing conference. They are expecting 11,000 people this year – which I find kind of scary. But my experience at Grace Hopper has always been very welcoming – a place to see old friends and a great place to meet new people. I always see quite a few women from the industry that I know and I always meet a couple of more – usually a couple each time that I still remain in contact over the years. It’s how I met the HFOSS folks and where I met Corey Latislaw who is now a Kids on Computers volunteer. I also always see at least one speaker who makes a huge impact on me. One year a keynote speaker made me cry and laugh several times all in one talk. Another year, the President of Harvey Mudd College was on the imposter panel. She talked about how she felt like an imposter asking for a $25 million donation when the people all around her were much more successful and wealthy. GNOME owes part of its financial success that year to her. Because of her stories, I had no problem going and asking all of the advisory board member companies if they could double their contributions.
Heidi Ellis and I are co-chairing the Open Source track and we’re both excited to bring the new things happening in the open source world to a larger audience. We want to get more of the women at Grace Hopper involved in free and open source software. Or at least aware of the opportunity. Please consider submitting a proposal to the track. Formats include presentations, lightning talks, panels, workshops, and birds of a feather.
Men and women are welcome at Grace Hopper although I warn you (both men and women!), if you’ve never been, it feels very strange at first to be at a technical conference that is almost all women! There are also a lot of students at Grace Hopper and that too adds to the energy and the unique feel of Grace Hopper.