How I Deal With Impostor Syndrome
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
If you’ve not heard of ‘impostor syndrome’, you’ve probably experienced it at some point in your life. If you read Gamasutra regularly, then you'll have perhaps seen a number of articles on the topic earlier in the year. Here's my (belated) offering on the subject.
Impostor syndrome is a tendency to feel that you’re not very good at your job, despite the fact that you may well be excelling at it. It’s something I’ve known all my working life, first as a mathematician, then a journalist, and now an analyst covering the video games market. It’s no coincidence that all three of these vocations are open-ended in nature – this is exactly why I’ve found such appeal in them, but is also what makes it difficult to keep a firm grip on the idea that I’m capable of doing a good job.
As analysts, we can always keep finding new ways to look ever more deeply or broadly at the various markets that we cover. Markets that, especially within the technology & media worlds, are elaborating and colliding at an incredible rate. Our work is iterative and exploratory by nature. So, even if we successfully create output that people feel is worth paying for, we may also remain overly sensitive to any shortfalls or rough edges therein.
Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the presence of imperfections, provided clients are aware of any limitations or assumptions driving our views. Yet this rationale doesn’t offset the sense of inadequacy that can lurk alongside it all. Tackling this impostor syndrome isn’t about seeking external praise – which is obviously nice to receive! – but instead about settling an internal appetite for satisfaction regarding your work. Similarly, while it’s rewarding to receive recognition from colleagues and managers, these plaudits can’t ultimately mute the irrational nagging of self-doubt that stalks you from within.
(artwork from Warner's Gotham City Impostors. Bit tricky to illustrate this kind of topic)
So what do I do to tackle impostor syndrome? Rather simply, I play games! Lots of them. As I have always done since I was young. I’ve been an avid gamer for nearly 30 years now, and my enjoyment of the form is as greedy as it’s ever been. And so, in my most unreasonable moments of doubt, I remind myself: How can I be a fraud, when I’ve spent so much of my life experiencing games - not just consuming them, but thinking, talking and writing about them, on an intense and daily basis? My career, friendships and even relationships have often stemmed from my involvement with the medium. So when that daft, irascible voice tries to tell me that I know nothing about the topic that I cover for a living, I have a way to shrug it off, insofar as preventing it getting in the way of my work.
This doesn't mean that I'm super-awesome at being an analyst, of course! It just means that there's less torsion involved in getting work done, which leads to a better overall quality of life.
There are two things to bear in mind, however. The first is that some measure of doubt is healthy, manifesting as what we'd typically refer to as dilligence or rigour. A healthy dose of doubt cultivates vigilance, and pushes you to better define what it is that you enjoy about your work, or other aspects of your life. The aim shouldn't be to utterly excise all doubt from your mind, which seems to be as unproductive a path as becoming waylaid by artificial guilt.
Second is that my coping strategy for dealing with impostor syndrome is a very specific solution, one that’s particular to my circumstances. How would I cope, if not for the fact that my professional insecurities can draw so heavily upon my personal life? Well, I don’t know, but I do know that forging a clearer idea of what’s happening is a large part of any battle, when it comes to managing your mental health. Simply being aware of impostor syndrome is a crucial step towards dealing with it – which hopefully includes discussing it more often one another! By which I mean, hey, feel free to share your own experiences in the comments below.
Or not, if your coping mechanism sounds way cooler than mine.