“I felt self-conscious, like I wasn’t pulling my weight” .

“I felt like an imposter”.

These were the first words out of the mouth of my coaching client during a recent session.

She is a software engineer. Part of her job is responding to help desk tickets. Technically,  it should have been an easy ticket to resolve. Normally, before working on a ticket, someone on the team will “groom” it. Grooming is an agile process when, before a ticket is assigned to be resolved, a member of the team will look at the problem at a high level. They are looking for possible “gotchas”, the knowns and unknowns and what to look out for. The groomer then brings their notes to the team, and someone is assigned the ticket to resolve.

In this situation, the ticket was queued up to be resolved but had never been groomed.  The assumption was it had not been groomed because the issue appeared to be a quick fix.

You know what they say about assuming…

There ended up being lots of gotchas and things unanticipated that needed to be addressed during the process. My coaching client was feeling like she hadn’t done a good job in resolving the problem. Which led her down the rabbit hole of imposter syndrome.

Luckily,  I’m in the process of reading the book Think Again by Adam Grant. He talks the benefits of impostor syndrome which are:

  1. If you feel like you’re an impostor, you’ll work harder
  2. Impostors often work smarter- they’re more creative.
  3. Impostors are open to learning- they’ll hire coaches. They ask more questions.

All of these things are benefits of what you might think of as low confidence or self-doubt but in fact these feelings can actually motivate you too work harder, work smarter and be open to alternatives.

How had she benefited?

I suggested we spend some time looking at it from the perspective of how her feelings of being an imposter might actually have benefitted her.

It did not take her long. Very quickly she rattled off what she had learned and how she had grown.

  • Process Matters-the team will never again work on a ticket that has not been groomed
  • Opportunity Knocked-She is working on getting promoted to senior engineer. One of the core competencies she needs to advance is Effectiveness. This means she needs to work across multiple codebases.  On this particular ticket, she was required to work across the backend, the CMS and with the website code. She just shortened her path to promotion.
  • Confidence Builder-When faced with unexpected gotchas she was able to figure things out. She grew her confidence.

The bottom line: when she unpacked her imposter syndrome beliefs, she realized that even with all the unknown unknowns, she has become a better software engineer.

When you’re up against a challenge and your mind starts to tell you that you don’t have what it takes remember that there are benefits to that mindset.  You ARE creative, a hard worker and open to learning.