liz writes stuff down
15Jul/150

Save your old bio: it stores confidence as well as content

I cringe at having to describe myself or write my own bios. No matter how casually an email, site, or form says "introduce yourself, no pressure", I shrink back. How do I convince myself that other people find who I am or what I do interesting?

I found myself asking this question a lot this past year, probably because I've written myself quite a few bios in the last year. Conference applications ask me who I am, social websites want me to fill out my profile, and social and professional networking has me introducing myself over email. I'm often uneasy about what to write, so I draft my bios in emacs and copy them over when I'm ready. As a result, I've ended up with a copy of every bio I've written in the last year. This turned out to be a happy accident - having copies of previous bios makes writing a new one a lot easier for me.

When I can look back at old bios, I benefit from having words at my fingertips to reuse when appropriate. When I see that I included something about me in a previous bio, I feel more confident that it's something worth including instead of something that isn't good enough. When I reread old bios, I remember what people told me worked well and what could have been better. (Keeping feedback nearby would be handy, too.) But mostly, when I see that I've written successful bios before, I feel confident that I can write a good one again.

And once I've written a new bio, I ask a friend to read it.

27Jun/141

Building confidence in the face of impostor syndrome

When I'm plowing away at a project, I almost always feel confident in my abilities. Sometimes, I question if I am a good enough engineer, designer, or statistician, but once I get started, my excitement transforms those doubts into motivation.

But all bets are off as soon as I want someone else to be excited about me and my work - I feel like an impostor. I often feel like I can't be a real software engineer or a data scientist because I do this work within a finance company. I frequently don't feel like a singer or designer because no matter how deep I dive, I have no plans to pursue either professionally. I love the life I live because I span a lot of fields instead of fitting neatly inside a box, but I have trouble feeling like that's something other people will appreciate.

I know I am wrong.

I'm working on fighting it. I haven't figured it all out yet, but here are some things that have been helpful for me:

  • I maintain a list of things I'm proud of. Some are tangible things like code I've written to solve a problem; others, like someone I respect thinking I'm talented, aren't. Looking over this list makes it harder for me to dismiss myself as having done nothing worth discussing.
  • I write down small, even very small, projects that I'd like to see happen. When I'm feeling as though I don't bring enough to the table, I find a bit of time to knock out one of these projects. I get to add another small accomplishment to my list and benefit from something that makes my life a little better, too.
  • Instead of shying away from seeking an opportunity I want but don't think I deserve, I ask a friend to read over my application or talking points and hold me accountable for following through. I find it easier to feel proud of things I've done when my audience is a friend - it's less intimidating when I already know they believe I'm qualified. I'm betting that enough practice with writing first to a friend will translate into being comfortable writing about myself without this step.
  • I remember to pat myself on the back for trying. It's all too easy to decide that not finishing a project or getting a conference talk means you didn't do anything, but that's wrong. You tried, and by trying, you get to think about what didn't work and how to do better when you try again. Or at least feel a little bit more comfortable putting your neck on the line. I can't say thinking this way about failure is easy - it's not. I've been upset on more than one occasion over not getting what I wanted, but after a bit of distance, I make it a point to think of my attempts as accomplishments.

I'd be lying if I said doing these things have eliminated my impostor syndrome, but they've helped me make progress. And I'm going to keep on fighting it.