Beginner Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a popular term to sling around the web these days. So much so, that when I was starting my career, I remember saying, “hmm. I do feel pretty inadequate. Not sure I’d be comfortable making big decisions or giving a talk about most topics. I guess I have imposter syndrome.”

In retrospect, I didn’t have imposter syndrome, I had beginner syndrome.

If imposter syndrome was “feeling like an imposter… somebody who doesn’t feel like they know what they are expected to know”, then beginner syndrome is “not knowing much and not being expected by others to know much” (aka. “actually being a beginner”).

Being a beginner isn’t comfortable. I remember hearing others talk about impostor syndrome and thinking to myself, “Man, I wish that others thought so highly of my knowledge and skill that I felt inadequate when compared to those expectations.” It’s a different kind of hard when your work is crap and expectations of you are low.

Ira Glass talked about these problems, and I really like what he said:

(you can read the transcript here)

The truth is, I still have beginner syndrome. I still look at my code and know it’s not good enough. It’s the same with the designs I make or interactions that I build. I look at them and I’m disappointed.

Maybe one day I’ll be an imposter. I’ll “arrive” and public opinion of me will become so great that I can’t possibly live up to it, ha ha.

In the mean time, I’ll do as he recommends and focus on the miles.