The other week I got an automated email notification congratulating me on my five year anniversary at Atlassian. Five years, that’s the longest I’ve been at any company! And yet it felt like no time had passed. I still like I was just a fresh new employee, like despite having worked here five years there was still so much I didn’t know, and no way I knew as much as my colleagues… they all seem far smarter and more accomplished than me. There’s a name for this particular feeling, it’s called “Impostor Syndrome” and if this is the first you’re hearing of it, I guarantee you it won’t be the last.
It’s a pervasive feeling especially in technology careers. It doesn’t even seem to matter how far you’ve come, even successful founders of multi-million-dollar companies report feeling like their accomplishments are somehow phony. I think this may have something to do with the fact that the pace of development is so fast in tech. Tech frameworks go in and out of fashion on a regular basis. While you might have spent a year becoming a master at AngularJS, you may find the next you’re a total newb once again when everyone starts to embrace React. It can be overwhelming, and it can feel like you’re always running as hard as you can only to wind up in the same place.
Impostor Syndrome is at its core a problem with perspective. It happens when you look at yourself and only see your problems, while looking at others and only seeing their wins. What you need to remember is that you also have your own wins. There’s plenty of good advice there about how to break yourself out of this loop of self-doubt, but today I’m presenting just one simple tool to help keep this in check – keeping a journal.
The humble journal seems like such a corny thing, it’s so easy to dismiss its effectiveness. Truth be told, journaling my progress was one of the very first pieces of career advice I got from a more seasoned coworker. I ignored that advice for several years… whoops! But despite its simplicity, it is a very useful tool.
The journal doesn’t have to be complicated or comprehensive. Don’t worry, we’re not going for a Pulitzer Prize here! Personally, what I have is a short, bulleted list with three headings, looking a week at a time:
- Wins – what am I proud of having accomplished? What am I relieved for? What were my teammates thankful for?
- Areas of Improvement – what lessons did I learn this week? What did I do too little or too much of this week?
- Up next – what are my goals next week? What am I looking forward to?
Not only does a journal give you some much needed perspective about how far you’ve come, it can also help you evaluate whether you’re still on the right track or not. Am I still growing? Is this still what I want to be doing? Does what’s coming up next still excite me? All essential questions for a healthy career which I ask myself whenever I take a few minutes to write in my journal. A journal will help you grow your career more intentionally.
Make this a habit and it can become a regular reminder to take a break. If like me you truly enjoy what you do, you might find that as soon as you solve one problem you eagerly pounce on the next. It’s easy to get fixated on the current distraction of the day. It’s like finishing a marathon, only to jump right on to the next; you get sucked into the next challenge and forget to take yourself out of the race for a breather. Look back at your wins this week; give yourself a pat on the back and allow yourself some time to feel proud of your wins no matter how small.
Whether it’s spurred by some journal-induced reflection or not, it’s always important to celebrate your wins. Even if you feel like you took one step forward and two steps back, the fact that you’re still stepping forward is a thing to celebrate. Don’t forget to give yourself credit where credit is due. Now what will I be doing to celebrate my five years? I’d planned to treat myself with some travel somewhere, but it looks like I’ll have to find some other way to celebrate now. Either way, I’m definitely carving out some time to reflect on how far I’ve come, what I can do better, and the fun challenges that await.