Last night, my roommate and I were talking a bit about what people call impostor syndrome. I think what we were actually talking about might be a little different, the apprentice’s plight, learning. Here’s the difference:
- People with impostor syndrome think they have much less ability than they do despite external evidence of competence
- People who are learning, really don’t know much and accurately feel their lack of current ability compared to more experienced peers
The distinction matters, as Alicia Liu puts it in her blog post about this topic
My concern with this misrepresentation of Impostor Syndrome is that it pathologizes the very process of learning itself.
Learning is normal, and it’s also supposed to be challenging. Challenging, but not to the point of burnout. With the vast and ever-changing body of technical knowledge that lies before novices like myself and my roommate (and everyone else, novice or not), I think we easily entrap ourselves with the the fear that every moment not spent hacking away at this ever increasing mass, puts us irreparably behind, especially at a time when we are apprentices and our entire job is to increase both the breadth and depth of our knowledge. We’re all angry Sisyphus(es) furiously rolling our boulders up the mountain of our own mental and physical capacities, until invariably they come crashing down and us with them.
Bleak bleak bleak. Learning is fun. It’s an opportunity to get better, not a reminder of how far behind you are. Maybe I’ll write more about this soon, but I’m pretty spent form this bug I’m dealing with. So I’ll have it here. Don’t want to get burned out you know.