Categories
Humility Vulnerability

We’re All Impostors

Thanks go to my brother Rich for sending this article to me, allowing me to share a final thought for this very long year:

Some pretty smart women claim to be racked by impostor syndrome. Do men just not get it?

The headline asks an interesting question, and I have an educated, but admittedly unscientific, answer: yes, men “get” impostor syndrome. All the time.

What Catherine Bennett describes as “the association of authority with traditionally male exhibitions of extreme assurance” is, from my perspective, the defining mark of a deeply-buried case of male impostor syndrome.

What does true self-confidence look like?

Is it the way that Donald Trump or Boris Johnson or David Cameron or Vladimir Putin behave?

Conversely, what about when Ronald Reagan admitted his mistakes in the Iran-Contra scandal? Or when George H. W. Bush apologized for raising taxes? Or when John F. Kennedy took responsibility for the Bay of Pigs invasion?

Are those illustrations of weakness, or of strength?

Friends, true self-confidence is marked by the ability to openly admit mistakes or lack of knowledge…true self-confidence is all about vulnerability and humility.

Why might you not want to admit mistakes? Do you feel that it might amplify a certain lack of ability, and that others might think less of you? Both of these are strong indicators of personal insecurity. If you are afraid to admit mistakes, you are, by definition, afraid of people knowing your weaknesses. All signs point to some amount of impostor syndrome at this point.

The difference between female and male instances of impostor syndrome, I think, is that women seem to feel more comfortable exploring their weaknesses at a liminal level than men do. Men instead tend to pelt their insecurities down into subliminal territory, creating strong compensating facades of synthesized self-confidence, perhaps powered through the unique delusion of testosterone.

What man (or woman) who cannot admit mistakes and take corrective actions does so for any reason other than fear?

And what could that man or woman be afraid of, other than people beginning to see chinks in their armor?

As I have gotten older, I have developed a belief that most people lack self-confidence for some portion — maybe even a large portion — of their lives. Most people (including yours truly!) become aware of their relative lack of significance in the universe through some lonely moments of self-reflection, and they build up ugly behaviors in order to compensate for this. Ironically, it is the very ability for so many people around us to successfully fake self-confidence through “brio,” to borrow Boris Johnson’s term, that we find the seedlings of self-doubt so deeply sown in ourselves.

If our default human tendency was to openly embrace and exhibit our faults — with confidence! — the world might be a very different place, don’t you think?

Discuss this specific post on Twitter or LinkedIn.

🎹 Music for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9dSYgd5Elk.

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Categories
Foundational Values Humility

It’s a Trick! Don’t Fall for It!

What do your teammates call the audience for the software you create or deploy for your organization?

  1. Employees
  2. End users
  3. Humans
  4. Associates
  5. Users
  6. Customers

If I were a betting man — or a cheap psychic — I might bet that your answer is 2 or 5. Despite my wary ways, however, I wouldn’t hesitate to bet that you didn’t answer with 3.

I confess that over my decades in this business, answer 5 has been a common label for me to use as well. But with each passing year, if that word slips out of my mouth, I feel ever so slightly more sick.

Why?

I’m going to be lazy here and quote myself from an interview I did in 2019 with Phil Weinzimer:

I encourage my teams to avoid the terms “users” and “end users” whenever possible. These terms imply a class divide. Arguably, our industry has adopted these terms to help us empathize with people who we are not. But I find that to be an incomplete thought. It’s a very condescending concept when you think about it. We are all people, and we share similar limitations. If we are solving problems, and we create an “us” versus “them” scenario, we are really not putting ourselves in the same bucket as our customers. Some people will say to this, well, if I create something that works for me as an engineer, it will not work well for a non-engineer. I say: don’t create something that works for you as an engineer. Create something that works for you as a non-engineer. If you cannot get in touch with your inner non-engineer, then I believe you have further personal development to do!

https://thestrategicciojournal.com/2019/03/18/cios-outlook-people-process-technology-formula-for-business-success/

Listen to your teams over several hours or days. You will likely hear the term “users” pop up from time to time, and it might just start to feel like weeds or crabgrass in your lawn or garden in mid-summer. I might argue that this is the most basic indicator of a lack of humility in our field that you can find.

It is wise to remember that we are all simple bags of blood and bones. No one of us is more special than another. We may be asked to perform duties because of certain willingness or abilities, but the people who we serve deserve every minute of us being just like them that we can give them. You will never — never — deliver a brilliant solution to the people you serve when you come to the table as the person who you are, but who they are not.

If this is starting to sound like a discussion about empathy, you’d be onto something. But empathy is most attainable if we start with a foundation of humility, and we have plenty of time to discuss empathy at another time.

Will you admit that you are a small, meek animal in a universe that is infinitely larger than you are? Will you admit that you really understand very little, and that you will never truly understand everything about your life?

If not, why not? What have you got to lose?

Discuss this specific post on Twitter or LinkedIn.

🎹 Music for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j13oJajXx0M

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