Imposter syndrome is common in the software industry and it’s not unique to developers. It’s exciting to be in an industry that is evolving and changing so quickly. It’s hard though when you do plug-in and feel the sheer volume of blogs, books, webinars, training, open source projects, the list is never ending. I have this habit of opening blogs I plan to read in new tabs, it’s beyond causing periodic crashes to the point where I have a separate browser instance that I can hide behind other windows so I don’t feel guilt when seeing it. I know the really good testers would have read these already…
Somehow I also think blogging heightens those feelings. Am I a writing about the right things? Is this any good? If it is good, what happens if the next post isn’t so good? This is supposed to help my career but what if it has the opposite effect?
Going to CAST this year was a BIG deal for me on a personal level.
Watching the live stream of the 2015 conference really had an impact on me. I’m not even so sure that it was the content being shared, that’s no slight to the speakers but what really resonated was there seemed to be a real community of testers.
In addition to the pressure of staying current on the software and testing industry, I wasn’t super happy with my work situation at the time, I had just committed to blogging every week and I didn’t exactly know what I was going to have to say week after week, and my son wasn’t sleeping through the night yet. It sounds silly but Grand Rapids, Michigan looked like a fairy tale. Like the fellowship arriving at Lothlórien
Fast forward about a year and 52 posts in 52 weeks later and I was preparing to hop on a plane to Vancouver for the conference. Mission accomplished right?
I love software and I love testing and I have been eating, sleeping, writing and tweeting testing pretty much non stop for the year. On top of that and some personal life changes, I had been building up this conference trip in my mind for months, after-all this was going to be some saving middle earth fellowship type stuff.
I was excited but completely mentally exhausted and I knew I was going to need even more energy for the kick to finish the race. I wasn’t sure where that energy was going to come from.
Not Burnt Out. Pressurized
The conference was great, but all the mental lead-up to it definitely made things interesting. I went in thinking I was burnt out, maybe not crispy burnt but certainly singed.
A couple nice things happened that helped with processing the built up stress. A few people recognized me from this blog, I probably owe them an apology for acting like a weirdo. Obviously I hope people read these posts otherwise why bother, so it’s exciting being recognized, but at the same time I felt really exposed. Regardless, positive feedback from strangers is validating which makes the effort feel worthwhile. Plus I got to talk out some of the stress and get advice from some people whose content I read regularly and have been very impressed with.
It wasn’t tearful or super emotional but clarity came from vocalizing the stress. I wasn’t burnt out, I was just pressurized. Pressure can be good like airplane cabins are pressurized for our comfort. Too much and it things go boom, like an over-shaken soda can.
Reframing & Rebalancing
I needed to hear that I could take a week off and feel ok (it’s actually ended up being a few weeks). It’s provided some perspective. Writing on a regular cadence with or without predetermined inspiration has become an outlet, another tool that helps me be better.
I think everyone theoretically knows that writing about something forces you to clarify your ideas but it’s different to really feel it in action. There have been a couple posts lately where it wasn’t until I wrote about the subject that I had any real insight. It’s cliché sounding, but the moments have been profound.
Those moments don’t come for free, nor is the insight there before the writing. Inspiration is a luxury but not a necessarily a precursor to sitting down to write. It’s a bit of a paradox, do something whether you feel like it or not, and at the same time don’t let the pressure of having to do it weigh you down.
What’s working for me is the mindset shift. I don’t have to do this, I should, I see it’s benefits but the world doesn’t come crashing down if I don’t. It’s like I want to do it even when I don’t want to do it, and somehow that contradiction feels completely ok.
It’s easy to get swept up in this idea that to be faithful to a career in software you need be fully engaged and enraptured in it 24/7.
Sometimes we need someone that has been through the same trenches we are fighting in to say that it’s ok to take a break.