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The fear behind the scenes

Clarice Bouwer

Software Engineering Team Lead and Director of Cloudsure

Saturday, 11 February 2017 · Estimated 4 minute read

"The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else's highlight reel," Steven Furtick

Think of someone successful in the industry who you admire. This person doesn't have to be well known, but to you this person is doing amazing things. Things you probably don't think you can do or achieve. Then consider the following questions.

  • How often do you compare yourself to this person?
  • Do you feel inferior to this person?
  • Do you want to be more like this person?
  • Do you think this person just naturally succeeds?
  • Do you think that you can be as successful as this person?
  • Why do you consider this person to be successful?
  • How often do you consider the struggles and challenges this person faces?

Subjective perspective

Your point of view is influenced by your personal feelings and opinions which accumulate and adapt throughout your life based on the circumstances, environment and experiences that you have been exposed to.

We all see the world through our own eyes so we experience things differently. Have you ever been in a meeting where two people had polar opposite experiences? One thought the meeting to be extremely valuable while the other a complete waste of time?

The way you see yourself could be completely different to the way others see you. You know yourself inside out. Your thoughts, feelings, fears, struggles. The people around you are exposed to what you project.

Keep in mind that when you look at people you deem successful, then you only see what they are projecting.

With that said, how often do you

  • consider yourself to be successful?
  • recognize when you have succeeded at something?
  • appreciate the effort you put in and celebrate the win?

Imposter Syndrome

Wikipedia says that Imposter Syndrome doesn't have a standard definition,​ but explains that it as a 'concept describing​ high-achieving individuals ​ who are marked by an​ inability to internalize their accomplishments ​and have a​ persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud."'

It can be debilitating when the experiences are intense. Unfortunately many people suffer from it and don't even realize it. The more we talk about it, the more we can create awareness and help each other out.

I wrote about it, shared it on Reddit on /r/programming, then someone else shared it /r/programmingcirclejerk/, I was interviewed on a podcast and then I spoke about it at the Rubyfuza 2017 Conference in Cape Town.

The post I wrote was successful. It gained a lot of traction through the Reddit post which I didn't expect. Honestly, it freaked me out. I got flamed and complimented and it sparked a series of events that I didn't anticipate.

It took me a week to write the post. I was scared to publish it because I was exposing a vulnerable side of myself. I had doubts but I shared it on Reddit because I wanted to create awareness regardless of how I felt.

Then Dave contacted me to do the podcast and that scared me. I procrastinated. When I finally did have the interview I had mixed emotions although he thought it was fantastic. When it was published I really struggled to listen to it.

I have a terrible fear of public speaking but I submitted the talk to Rubyfuza because it's a fear I want to address and again I want to keep raising awareness on this topic.

I struggled from the day the talk was accepted. I had panic attacks and didn't believe that I would be able to deliver the speech at all.

After the talk, I received numerous compliments. I was told that I didn't appear nervous, I delivered it quite well and people resonated with the topic.

The reality was that I wanted to hurl. I was shaking. I wanted to run away. I doubted my content, my abilities and thought that my voice sounded like Batman at times.

Now, if I was someone else looking at what I have achieved in the last year I'd probably think "Wow! How brave and successful. I wish I could be more like her."

But I am me. I know all the pain, suffering, anxiety, fears, worries, concerns, doubts, doom and gloom I went through on this journey. This tends to negate the ability for me to identify and internalize my accomplishments. At least that seems to be the trend that I see in myself.

Since I have identified that I have Imposter Syndrome, named it and unpacked it, I have become more aware of my thoughts and behavior. I try to be less harsh on myself and celebrate my wins. I don't always get it right but at least it's a step in the right direction.

Compared to others

I used to put people I deem successful on pedestals. I didn't believe I would be able to achieve what they could yet I would compare myself to them which made me feel bad about myself.

I've since learned that I can compare myself to other people to see how I can improve certain areas and skills in my life. As long as I remember that I am merely comparing outcomes on an outer level.

I am not always exposed to the effort and pain involved in the process prior to the outcome.

The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else's highlight reel. ― Steven Furtick

So, now I know that when I look at successful people, I am only seeing half the picture. I didn't consider that these people are ordinary human beings who struggle - just like I do.

The moment this clicked, it broke down a barrier of self-limiting beliefs.

We can cautiously compare ourselves to others as a means of healthy competition and measurement. We can avoid it if it invokes negative effects like self-doubt, low self-esteem and depression.

Expose the fear

Scott Hansleman spoke at the DeveloperUG meetup on Thursday 9 February. For 25 years he has been struggling with Type 1 Diabetes and he is trying to tackle the problem with software. He also hinted at the fears he has of talking in front of an audience. I really appreciated him openly sharing his struggles.

The behind the scenes of any successful individual can be quite messy. It's entangled with doubt, fear and struggles.

Fear can hold us back from doing amazing things and experiencing what life has to offer us. We all have fears and we should talk about it.

My final thoughts

If we succeed in something, talking about the fears and struggles that happened prior to the outcome can expose others to a completely different perspective which could be quite empowering.

If we have these conversations and understand that it is not just us who feel scared and vulnerable, then we can cultivate a culture of bravery within our industry and encourage people to get out of their shells.

This can lead to more valuable perspectives and experiences shared in our community.