Lately, I had been overthinking things at The Data School (DS), constantly questioning my capabilities and really started to suffer from imposter syndrome. For those of you that are not familiar with the expression; imposter syndrome is a psychological term that refers to a pattern of behaviour that causes an individual to question their achievements, causing a growing fear of being unmasked as a fraud.
Rather than allowing this pattern of behaviour to consume me, I decided to share a post on Convo (team communication app that The Information Lab uses) to everyone within TIL about my current mindstate and if anyone had similar experiences to myself when starting at The DS. The feedback and advice were immense and truly depicts the open and supportive environment that TIL embodies.
Based on the substantial feedback I received, I thought it would be an injustice to withhold the quality guidance and tips I received from TIL members which could help numerous people external to the company as this issue stretches far beyond The Data School.
My reasons for overthinking and feeling like a fraud
My first week at The Data School was like a honeymoon period, as we were lightly introduced to things and ended the week with a Welcome Party. As stated in my first blog, I could not wait for the weekend to be over so I could return to The DS and continue to progress, however, I did not envisage that I will be questioning my position within the company a few weeks later.
I believe the first issue was my insatiable appetite to learn more. I constantly found myself asking a series of questions about something that I had yet to take time with and comprehend which led to me receiving answers that I could not grasp. Consequently, I started questioning myself, doubting if I was capable of comprehending the things that myself and DS14 were learning.
Perfectionism is another contributor to my current phase of overthinking. Many of the tasks provided at The DS come with tight deadlines, and I find myself constantly trying to do something grand when the majority of the time: less is more. This ends with me fighting against time, scrapping my original idea and then delivering something that I did not originally plan. I then start to believe the work I have delivered is sub-par when realistically it is what would have been the most effective thing to deliver in the first instance.
Lastly, I started to compare myself to members of my cohort which was not the wisest thing to do. As stated above; my thirst for knowledge led to me asking a series of questions in classes, and I started to judge myself, thinking that the rest of my cohort were not asking as many questions, and what I mistakenly concluded from this situation was that ‘everyone must understand and I clearly don’t’.
Other TIL members experiences and advice
Mike who is a member of DS7 stated that it can be difficult going through The DS as everyone seems to know everything, however, the reality is that each person picked up different things better, but I may find myself thinking of my cohort as one person and comparing myself to this one hypothetical person. This was a great outlook from Mike, as I didn’t originally view the situation like this, but he was right. Various members of my cohort (including myself) all have different areas where we excel and instead of me noticing and accepting that we all have different strengths, I decided to link all these individual strengths to one hypothetical individual and questioned why I was not as well-rounded/perfect like this fictional character. This was unrealistic and Mike advised that I should back myself and assist others on the areas I’m good at whilst not being afraid to ask for assistance on things I don’t understand as many other people are also likely to be struggling with that topic in question.
Josh Henderson, who is a member of the Core Team at TIL, welcomed me to the club haha! He stated that numerous people had the same thoughts and that a way to address this could be to write down my thoughts and challenge them because when he’s critical with his thoughts on paper it highlights how silly and trivial they are. He stressed that it was important to not think too far ahead and focus on getting 1% better every day. This was important advice, as I previously stated that I was constantly trying to wrap my head around things that I had not given myself time to grasp. It is key to focus on steady progression rather than trying to run before you can walk.
Nick (DS11) was also very empathetic and stated he had similar experiences and initially found the transition from studying in his own time at University to the structure of work quite challenging. Nick said what really helped him was being open and asking for advice like I did on Convo, whilst also speaking with his mentor, Andy, and Carl. He explained that being open enabled him to develop connections with people that he was comfortable conversing with and who were able to help him overcome his struggles. Nick suggested an app called Headspace which could be useful in regards to my current problem of overthinking.
Carl who is one of my head coaches at The Data School had spent the most time with me out of the TIL members that provided advice, so he was able to interpret further as to why I may be overthinking and suffering from imposter syndrome. He stated that he admired my thirst for wanting to completely understand topics immediately, however, the challenge was that some of the things we were covering were quite difficult to absorb completely on the first experience. He advised me to be comfortable not fully understanding things straight away; giving myself time to absorb the subject whilst doing some extra practice and asking the coaches to cover the subject again. This ties in to what I said earlier about my insatiable appetite for learning and need for perfectionism; providing me with a deeper perspective on taking my time, constantly reiterating and revising topics, and focusing on steady progress as it will not always be possible to comprehend a whole subject based on an initial introduction to the topic.
Brian (DS12) provided me with some practical advice, stating that if I was seriously overthinking a particular problem; I should go for a 15-minute walk outside and give my brain a rest. Although it is very enjoyable, it can be intense being in a room for 8 hours, tackling challenging tasks/problems hence the importance of taking a mental break as we are exercising our minds every day.
Seffanna (DS12) whom I had the pleasure of meeting at The January Meet and Greet before joining The DS; shared that she also suffered from imposter syndrome when starting out at The DS. She explained how she was comparing herself to others via Tableau Public and also questioning how members of her cohort quickly absorbed topics that she thought were quite challenging. I also found myself comparing my Tableau Public profile to the rest of my cohort and as stated earlier; I questioned myself many times as to why I was constantly asking questions when others were not. Based on the advice and experience I gained from this pattern of behaviour; It is critical that you do not compare yourself to others, as we all have our own weaknesses, strengths and develop at our own rate.
Chris Love who is an Alteryx Ace and Tableau Zen Master advised that it was best to just tackle overthinking and imposter syndrome directly, via showing vulnerability and asking for help. He admitted that it involves some risk and to take risks you need to feel safe. Chris continued by guaranteeing that everyone within the company has my back; encouraging me to be honest and vulnerable knowing that I have the support behind me to be okay.
I am so happy that I was confident enough to post my struggles on Convo, as it has provided me with a wealth of knowledge in regards to tackling the issues I had posted. The feedback I received was truly insightful and has further proven the supportive environment/network that is available to me at TIL, whilst also keeping me encouraged to share any struggles I may have in the future.
I hope this post encourages others (whether they are TIL or not) to feel confident to confide in people when they have any problems and to constantly back themselves when they are questioning their capabilities!