On owning your expertise and fighting imposter syndrome

What is an expert, anyway? – Medium – Great essay by @pamelafox on something I’ve been thinking about lately. I’m coming to the end of my first year officially leading a team, and I’m pushing myself to take on new challenges (like speaking at conferences and nominating for awards). It still feels weird though. I struggle to think of myself as an expert in any particular field. I especially identified with this bit:

“I decided a long time ago that I am generally happier pursuing a variety of skills and figuring out how to combine them, versus pursuing a very particular skill and focusing on that for years.”

I like being a generalist, but I can’t shake the feeling that the tech industry values Subject Matter Experts more highly. Who’d be a generalist when you can be a “Node ninja” or “UX specialist,” right? There’s no pithy way to sum up being an integrator, someone who likes bringing a team together to solve a problem or deliver something cool.

And of course, there’s always the lurking spectre of imposter syndrome. Pamela doesn’t mention it, but I reckon it’s a big part of why a lot of people are hesitant to apply the “expert” label. My brain just falls so easily into the trap of devaluing the things that I’m good at. I can recognise this in other people and tell them why it’s not true, but it’s so hard to counteract the doubts in your own mind. The only strategy I’ve got is to continually push myself to get out there, to apply for new opportunities and challenges and to seek feedback from people I respect. Today I asked someone if they’d be willing to give me a reference for an award, and he replied, “Honestly I’d be delighted and honoured to.” That made my day. I might not consider myself an expert yet, but I’m doing all right.


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  1. Good for you, Kris. 🙂

    And oy vey, impostor syndrome. That one is huge with me. 😛

  2. Interesting, v much like that (valuing specialists over generalists) in medicine too. However, the problem is that this leaves no-one good at looking holistically – we refer people to see eg a kidney doctor for their pain and illness, and they get discharged ‘not a kidney problem’ but we’re no further on.
    Not at all surprised there are colleagues keen to put you forward for awards, Kris.

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