Coping with Self Doubt

TSQL Tuesday

Behold, the second Tuesday of January 2020 and that means it is time for another group blog party called TSQLTuesday. This party that was started by Adam Machanic has now been going for long enough that changes have happened (such as Steve Jones (b | t) managing it now). For a nice long read, you can find a nice roundup of all TSQLTuesdays over here.

This month, the blog party is almost like a masquerade ball. John Shaulis (b | t) has implored us to take hold of our inner impostor. Okay okay, he hasn’t asked us to be impostors, but rather he has requested we talk about Impostor Syndrome.

At first glance, and seeing the word “impostor”, my thoughts turned outward. I thought John wanted us to out all of those Sr. DBA candidates out there who are soooo confident but don’t know the difference between a PK and FK or even the difference between a delete and truncate (as examples).

In reality, John is asking about something entirely different. Looking up “Impostor Syndrome” I see several definitions similar to the one that John posted. Here are a couple of examples.

Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Impostors’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. – Harvard Business Review

And…

Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. – Wikipedia

These definitions reveal something very pertinent to the topic. The syndrome consists of the presence of persistent, nagging, chronic self-doubt. Even in the face of success, the feelings of inadequacy can’t be escaped. Well, this certainly adds light to the topic and made me ponder even further. You see, I think the disease is a much larger problem than having the occasional feeling of being inadequate. Persistent chronic feelings of inadequacy and Impostor Syndrome (as defined) would make me concerned about the presence of depression as well. This can be a very serious issue and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Seek help!

Well, What if…

What about the fact that so many of us do have feelings of inadequacy? The occasional feeling of not being good enough is not entirely a bad thing. (Again, the trick is figuring out where that line between chronic/persistent/nagging feelings ends and the occasional feelings is ok.)

There have been many times when I have personally had the feeling of inadequacy as a Data Professional. These thoughts often creep up whenever doing something new or different or even something uncommon (but practiced). I have even had these thoughts occasionally right before speaking. I have a close friend who has these thoughts just about every time before he speaks.

When these thoughts occasionally crop up, what is done next is the important thing. How does one cope? Does the coping mechanism work? Do you practice your speaking in front of a mirror for hundreds of hours? Maybe you have a few people proof read an article you are writing. Maybe, you build a proof of concept and then ask a couple friends to test it and try to break it to make sure it works.

Coping mechanisms are great methods to assist in the removal of self-doubt. Another good coping mechanism is to get some physical activity. Physical activity can help with the chronic self doubt and is also something therapists may recommend for depression (important because the symptoms for both Impostor Syndrome and Depression are so close).

Another component of Impostor Syndrome is the fear of being discovered as a fraud. Living in fear isn’t healthy. If there is the persistent unshakable feeling of fear about being discovered as a fraud, then it is time to find help and also start troubleshooting your personal health. Here is a good starting point to help troubleshoot your health in regards to this syndrome.

One of the best coping mechanisms for Impostor Syndrome is the use of learned behaviors. Some of the learned behaviors that are great for everybody are as follows:

  1. Learn to take your mistakes in stride. Mistakes are natural. Own the mistake. Mistakes can make us better at we do. The sooner we own a mistake, the sooner we can learn how to not make that same mistake again.
  2. Learn to accept internal validation. Not everybody needs a participation trophy. Internal validation is just as good as external validation. Also be accepting of constructive criticism.
  3. Set smaller attainable goals directed at specific skills or behaviors you wish to improve upon or learn.
  4. Learn to rely on others. Be able to reach out and ask for help.
  5. Instead of being an information hoarder, learn to disseminate knowledge. In addition, it is perfectly acceptable to admit you don’t know something and trust that you can learn it quickly or find somebody that already knows it.

Wrapping it Up

It is not abnormal to have the occasional feelings of inadequacy. In IT, and particularly among those who are successful, thoughts of being a fraud can occur. The important thing to do is recognize the thoughts and frequency. When the thoughts start to creep in, learn to replace it with a coping mechanism or an alternate behavior. This article provided some coping mechanisms, and some behaviors to try and learn.

In the case of experiencing chronic inescapable self-doubt and living in constant fear of being found out as a fraud, that is an entirely serious issue and professional help may be required.

Feel free to explore some of the other TSQL Tuesday posts I have written.

If you are in need of a little tune-up for your XE skills, I recommend reading a bit on Extended Events to get up to date. For some “back to basics” related articles, feel free to read here.

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