T-SQL Tuesday: Imposter Syndrome
This month's T-SQL Tuesday is back as usual. Jon Shaulis has sent this invitation in order to talk about an interesting topic that I want to address from a very non-SQL server (not even technical) angle. The challenge this time goes more or less like this:
I want to read your stories about when you’ve experienced, seen, or overcome imposter syndrome!
The invitation contains a brief definition about what this “Imposter Syndrome”. I never heard about it.
Imposter Syndrome: The persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.
As usual, I let the invitation simmer for a day or two in order to connect with the challenge in a personal way. In order to look back in my own professional life for experiences or even small moments throughout my career where something like this was felt. This time I decided to bring back a feeling that are still lingering with me. Stay with me for a minute, I hope at the end all this makes sense.
The YouTube syndrome
Not so long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend talking about something that, as a father of 2 worries me dearly. I see the world kids are going into today and I can’t help but wonder how do you shush this inner voices saying “you are not as good as you could” when all the stimuli around does nothing but bombarding you with YouTube videos of a 5 year old kid who plays guitar like Steve Vai, this other guy who paints the Sixteen Chapel while eating breakfast. Honestly, you watch people who are nothing but outliers in the world of achievement and you feel that NOTHNG but perfection is good enough.
The recipe (that I call the YouTube syndrome) is simple: be exposed to this for long enough many hours a day (if you are a teen or pre-teen there is no shortage of videos out there to make you feel you don’t have what it takes), multiply that for 500 hours of freshly uploaded videos per minute and let it simmer, the result: sheer despair.
This happens to us as well?
As SQL Server professionals, we are also exposed to certain level of overachievement. You know what people we are talking about right? (Paul, Brent, Pedro, Aaron… I’m looking at you guys). These guys who we profoundly admire in the industry and set the bar extremely high, sometimes not only exceed in strict terms of their professional careers but, since their high IQ travels in all directions, they are just plain freaking awesome in MANY things they do.
I read some bloggers/authors/consultants and just want to understand if their days have 96 hours or they somehow have a time machine they turn on every day at 11:59pm that takes them back to 8am. Is it just that my time-management is not as good? my stamina is not as resilient and I can’t work 20 hours a day? is it I have kids and other priorities? is it I have other interests other than my job and I want to spend some time with those? is it a combination of all that and more?
The only thing I can say Is…
I think the answer is two-fold: for once there is a combination of all that I have mentioned above. but there is another element as well.
Guys like Paul Randal (sorry to pick on Paul, he is just a too good example to let it pass) seems like does have a family, looks like a guy with many other levels than just being a SQL professional, reviews non-technical books for fun, dives, travels and still seems like and endless well of all most need to know about SQL Server. The second answer is just plain simple: I have to accept (we all have, with few rare exceptions) the fact that maybe, we are not as smart as everyone else out there in planet Earth, and we have to learn to swallow that pill, be humble, and be happy with that fact because is NOT going to change. We can be good at what we do, we can be experts on certain topics, but no matter how much how we try, if we set the bar THAT high and we accept everything else as defeat, a sense of worthlessness is waiting every night at the end of our day.
All this musings brings me to my final words that I hope someday I can share with my daughters if they feel the burden of excellence (and the constant exposure to people who excel at every field) is a load too heavy to carry (assuming they want to hear what I have to say 😊) and goes something like this…
We have to feel grateful we are living in a time where excellence in every field is just a click away, we can read the best pieces of literature, listen to the finest music, be moved by the most powerful paintings. That doesn’t have to mean we should feel empty (or even worst, quit) if we are not as good as Hemingway, Chopin or Botticelli. Drink from that fountain, get soaked with it, learn to be moved by excellence because is very rewarding, but don’t set yourself a trap where you feel you have to measure yourself up against those standards. Getting into a field expecting to be NOTHING but as good as the best ones is not only a recipe for frustration and depression, but an enormous exercise in arrogance and serves no purpose. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to work hard. Trying to reach your potential and be able to use it in anything you do must be what should guide you in this journey.
A few days ago, I read this from Ira Glass about learning, that I think is a very fitting end to this post
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 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 its 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 awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Enjoy your achievements and don’t be too hard on yourself!