I’ve been getting a bit of impostor syndrome lately, something which I feel is holding me back a fair bit. Not sure what it is, but it seems like every time I try to move on a moment of inspiration, I start to second-guess. Is what I’m doing a useful endeavor? Maybe someone else has already done this? Am I good enough to write this yet?

Of course, its terribly annoying – I’ve been left with a bunch of half-finished projects for a broader initiative, which seems to create a nasty feedback loop confirming the sense of unworthiness.

Perhaps this is the wrong place to ask this – but does anybody have a good idea on how to make these thoughts go away? I’d much rather be presenting cool things in this space than saying that I’ve talked myself out of yet another idea.


11 thoughts on “Impostor

  1. I think that we all look at ourselves to some extent and think we aren’t the pros.

    I’ve built a few small, useless C/C++ programs for learning/practice. Past that I’ve built a custom (actually useful, and now “essential” tool for my job) python app with a GUI, and have a “almost finished except for a few touches” GTK interface that I added to the CLI-only zsync program. But I always consider myself “not a programmer” because “I haven’t been to school” and often think “wouldn’t it be neat to add a GUI to or add block pointer re-write to ZFS? Too bad I’m not a programmer and wouldn’t be able to figure that out”. But in reality, I just need to sit down and try, and then I’ll learn what I don’t know, so that in the end it does, in fact, get done, even though I didn’t know everything I needed to know at the start.

    So, I think the important part is to not worry too much about the outcome, and just sit down and try it and see what you can do. Most of the time, you’ll learn something in the process, and then you’ll actually be able to do what you set out to do. I know for a lot of my projects (which is often modifying open source stuff), I’ve thought that I can’t figure something out, thinking things like “If I just knew how to program…”, or “If I just had a degree in software engineering…”, “I would know how to do this stuff”, when it reality, any good programmer would actually just have to sit down and read the source and start trying stuff.

  2. I think you need to know the reason behind these thoughts in order to dispel them. Can what you do be useful in more than only one aspect? Can repeating someones work have a positive effect aswell?

    You demonstrates insight when you see the negative spiral of unworthiness and a will to break it, have you explored the posibilitied to tackle this specific issue with the support of a professional?

    Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you want to weather your thoughts more. It’s the least I can do to contribute back to your FOSS work 🙂

  3. How about making a new irc channel or something similar where you can discuss these ideas with others and maybe get motivated that way. I know I would join and talk about things while offering help however I could.

    In this “talking fashion” you might be more inclined to actually do something because…
    1. It has been talked about
    2. Pros and cons have been assessed
    3. Others will probably help in some way or another

    All in all it’s just about doing *something*. Whether that something is good or bad doesn’t matter as long as it is done and you can say you tried.

  4. My personal take on what you so rightly call the Imposter Syndrome is that I occasionally tell myself “I had great respect for the PhD degree until I got one.” It’s a form of modesty gone wild.

    To consider one’s projects and achievements always of high merit takes a degree of arrogance that most genuine achievers lack.

    You do great stuff – keep it up!!

  5. one thing i keep reminding myself is that i am not alone with this feeling, and when i am looking at a specific task that i am not sure i can handle then i usually ask myself: if i don’t work on this, is anyone else going to do it instead? most of the time i find that even if i know there are people better at doing this, they are busy working on something else or not interested in this problem. so no matter how i feel about my capability, i have to work on this because no-one else will.

    to your specific questions:

    is this useful? i’d seriously research that one from all angles. (useful can mean many things, and especially for example for the 3d effects, useful can mean entertaining too. it is enough if it is useful to at least one person, and that could be you too. it can also mean that you can learn something from it.
    however, if you don’t come up with a positive answer, drop it and look for other tasks. not everything that can be done needs to be done.

    maybe someone else has already done this?
    so what? as long as you don’t know, and you can’t find it, it might just not exist. sometimes it is a case of more work to find an existing solution than to write your own. in most cases, unless you are getting into a new field, if someone has already done it, you’d know about it. and if they are not talking about it, it is unlikely that they ever will. it may be that someone is working on this, but they are not ready yet. but you know, progress is not made by waiting. i am working on a solution for a specific problem for years. and i’d happily drop my work and switch to someone else’s solution if i find it and it turns out better. the time i invested i’d consider worth learning about the domain, making me better at judging that other solution once i find it.

    am I good enough to write this yet?
    no, you aren’t! and neither am i, or anyone else. no-one is good enough to write something for the first time. and they’ll never be good enough until they actually write it and find out what they still needed to learn. go back to the first question: if the answer was, yes, it needs to be written, and no-one else is going to do it, then it doesn’t matter if you are good enough. if you are the only one willing to solve this problem, then by definition you are the best person to do it. willingness is the only thing you need to have to start, everything else can be learned.

    if you still feel uncomfortable, then i’d ask: do i really want to work on this? is there something else i’d rather work on instead?
    one problem i ran into was that i had to many projects i was interested in working on and while working on one i was worried that i’d loose track of the others. i solved that by
    making a list of all projects.
    i used to put them on a large whiteboard, color coded. (i can show you a photo if you want to get an idea) so whenever i felt lost, i looked at that board and asked myself, which of those projects is most important right now, and then i’d go work on that.

    remind yourself of your original goal: “PolySquare is about the many squares pegs for the round holes that nobody else has filled yet.” now look at the questions: do you think anyone else is going to fill those holes? unlikely.

    go back to the start of compiz: not many people thought that fancy 3d effects were worth it. it was in itself a square peg to a round hole. (or maybe a round (3d) peg to a square (flat, 2d) hole). and the very first version was quite a hack too. but once people realized that this hole was worth filling, they started to contribute and come up with better solutions.

    so please go and fill those holes. i’ll be waiting.

    greetings, eMBee.

  6. Anyway, Compiz …for the most of us, was the supreme argument showing that Open Source model can generate better answers, versus the old limited proprietary lock-in model. This candle generated sufficient light – right on time – to bring another wave of interest over the Linux as a home desktop. Now Compiz is part of the Linux OS history …and that’s not little.

  7. Could: this web space, your time writing this shit, my time looking it over, the waste to the environment producing the electricity, the carbon footprint to build whatever system you use, fuck man, get a life…all of you.

    1. Ah, finally an optimist with us …

      I was thinking it will pass another millenium until a good people will come here with some real / fresh / pozitive remarks.

      Well, I can live happy from now on …the miracle is a living bean (potato / lemmon / or… you name the animal ).

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