What if I told you that you are brilliant? How would that make you feel?
About four or five years ago I told a guy on my team that he was a truly great software developer. And I wasn't lying. To this day he's one of the best developers I've had the pleasure of working with. As a matter of fact, my entire team had skills that impressed me on a daily basis.
His response though, was lukewarm to say the least. In his own words, I was "blowing smoke up his ass"! That means to appeal to flattery, if you're not familiar with the phrase.
Why is that?
Why would a guy with more than a decade of experience find it so hard to believe that I appreciated how good he was at his job? How his work made enough of an impact on me for me to want to tell him so.
Why do we put so much more emphasis on our shortcomings than our abilities?
You are not good enough
Most of us at some point in our lives have felt like we don't deserve to be where we are. Like we don't really belong or like we are out of our depths. It's surprisingly common.
In the software world, the term 'imposter syndrome' has become a part of the common lexicon. It's so prevalent in our industry that even the mighty Jon Skeet wrote about it ... twice! Now if somebody as talented as the 'Chuck Norris of programming' has a hard time accepting praise, how are we supposed to?
The trick is not comparing how you feel about yourself to what you see in others. The chances are they're suffering with the same insecurities as you.
But finding a cure isn't the subject of this post.
This kind of imposter syndrome is about the feeling that our skills are somehow lacking. Skills matter, don't get me wrong. But what's more important, is intent!
How many times have you heard someone ask questions like these?
- Should all user stories be completed in a single sprint?
- Should I estimate bugs?
- Should I always have 100% test coverage?
- Should I be able to deploy in one step?
- Should all of our infrastructure be code?
The list could go on forever.
Now there's nothing implicitly wrong with questions like that. In some cases people are simply seeking out the experience of others to help guide them down the right path. Kudos if that's you.
What I see more often though, is people doubting their own judgement and trying to shake the feeling that they're 'Doing It Wrong'. There are plenty of people who will tell you as much if you go looking.
You are good enough!
Look at that list of questions again. They all start with the words, 'Should I'. There is no 'Should'!
Anyone that tells you otherwise, is 'Doing it Wrong'.
Do yourself a favour and start replacing that with 'Could I'. And then after that gets comfortable, try using 'What if I'.
You'll feel much better about yourself ... Here's the deal.
Should you be able to deploy in one step? Yeah, maybe. Should all those stories be completed? Probably be a good thing. It's not the point though...
Do you feel like you're making progress? Do you feel like you're changing for the better? They're much more important questions to ask yourself.
If you're asking yourself those kinds of questions, more often than not it's because you're trying to do the right thing. As long as you're not pretending to have all the answers and you are looking out for the interests of those you work with, you're on the right track.
That's positive intent. And that my friends, is what will set you apart. That's what will drive you to be successful. That's what will help you gain the respect of your peers.
Strive for progress, not perfection.
So go ahead, be wrong. Ask the advice of those around you but don't doubt yourself. You're better than that!
It is far better to know you're wrong than to think you're right.
Give yourself a break.
If you're reading this right now, I'm telling you, you are good enough. And I should know, I'm a badass remember ;-)
You know what? ... So are you.