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Overcoming Impostor's Syndrome
by Tanya X Short on 07/16/14 10:37:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Tanya X. Short is the creative director of Kitfox Games, who recently released their first game Shattered Planet on Steam. Their next game is Moon Hunters.

Onset can take a few months, years, or it can be instant, as soon as you sit down at your computer to start making a game.

Sometimes it happens at a party, or a conference, or just browsing the internet. But the more you learn, the more likely you start feeling unsteady. Generally, it hits exactly after your first ‘big break’ -- whether it’s your first job in the industry or your first game’s release.

You realise that you don’t deserve to be here.

You do not belong. You see amazing, talented people with more experience and talent, and you know you aren’t qualified to work in their industry. You know it as deeply as you know the color of your eyes, without even thinking about it. Your lack of credibility is suddenly a part of you, undeniable and ever-present.

Worse, you see people who work as hard as you do, who haven’t made it as far.

Taken from Eric Sipple of Saalon Muyo

Taken from This is Indexed

The good news is that game developers are generally cool people! In my experience, they’re so friendly and nice (or self-absorbed), they don’t even seem to notice. You can pass. But it feels so obvious to you that it's only a matter of time before they realise you've slid under the radar.

I know what you’re feeling. Because most of us feel that way, too.

Different Flavors

Impostor’s syndrome is the feeling that your accomplishments (whatever they are, regardless of source) are undeserved and invalid, or in some way not earned.

After all, “fake it till you make it”, right? This is the other side of the coin -- once you’ve made it, you remember you’ve been faking it. This can create a deep sense of unbelonging, as everything you have earned feels undeserved.

Recently, I asked my Twitter followers whether they ever felt like frauds. I received an outpouring of fears and anxieties that had roughly no correlation to experience, age, or apparent success.

One talented programmer, on condition of anonymity, confessed they secretly never passed a programming test, and are terrified someone will find out. Another said they still had no idea if they can actually program or not, since nobody has told them, presumably because they are too scared to ask. A third said they felt they hadn’t accomplished enough yet to admit to having impostor’s syndrome (ha). One developer wondered if they were secretly lazy, unknown even to themselves.

Newer devs feel it because we can’t talk about our years of crunching on Classic Title X or share a bro-fist over memories of the Atari (or NES or, soon enough, PS4). We didn’t program for the PlayStation, we haven’t shipped 10 games. We just got here. We haven’t paid our dues, so we don’t deserve to succeed.

Veteran devs feel it because we know we’ve wasted precious years being inefficient and the new brilliant developers are always younger than the last crop. If the churn rate for the industry is 5 years what does that say about us? If we’re succeeding, is it just due to blind luck and networking rather than real talent?

Women, people of color, and queer folk feel it because we can’t “pass” for the default image of a game dev, or we feel guilty when we can. Our credentials are questioned, our politics scrutinised, our abilities tested. In press and conferences, we’re sometimes lucky enough to be invited as special interest guests to represent our minority and sometimes we're hired as tokens to meet a quota, so surely our success is undeserved.

Experimental developers feel it because we’re not immediately relevant to a 10-billion-dollar industry; we're not really part of the "industry" at all. Most "gamers" would say that what we make is "not a game", so surely any of our success is undeserved.

Commercial developers feel it because we’re just soulless machines earning a paycheck in a capitalist system, creating products to meet or exceed customer expectations generated by marketing hype. We could be replaced by an algorithm at any time, so surely any of our success is undeserved.

Struggling developers feel it because our minor triumphs are really just consolation prizes, comforting ourselves with the smallest progress. These successes aren’t the kinds that get headlines and were probably just a stroke of luck anyway. Soon we’ll be found out for the frauds we are.

Successful developers feel it because our games were overrated, and certainly nowhere near as (profitable/acclaimed/polished/cool) as it could have been, if we had worked harder or been more talented. Even worse, we already know our next one won’t be as good. We’ve peaked and everyone can see we’re on the decline.

Others feel it because we aren't questioned enough -- we always get the benefit of a doubt. Everyone looks at us and assumes we know what we're talking about because we fit the standard mental image of a developer, fitting the right age/race/gender/orientation/ability. As soon as we open our mouths, surely they'll see how we took advantage of our situation, so clearly we don't deserve our success.

No matter who you are or what you've done, your ‘success’ can be explained away as belonging to someone else.

Everyone can feel it. In a way, everyone who does is spot-on, because chances are that for every success you’ve earned, someone else really has worked just as hard and received less. It’s a chaotic, mostly classist, English-advantaged world out there, folks. It’s not a real meritocracy, and it won’t be anytime soon. 

If anyone knows the actual owner of this meme, please let me know so I can credit accordingly.

Why Do We Care?

“Stop whining,” some might say. “This sounds like a rich person disease. Oh poor me, I’m so successful, look at me, I’m an impostor. I’d kill to have enough success to suffer impostor’s syndrome.”

And to some extent, they’re right. It is not a medical condition. Some have criticised the use of the word ‘syndrome’ as it makes it sound like it should be in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - which it definitely should not. As a rule, if feelings of fraudulence are interfering with your actual quality of life (sleeping, eating, intimacy, etc), it is probably a different, very real problem interfering, chronic depression being a more likely candidate, and you should see a professional.

Besides, maybe feeling like an impostor is healthy, or at least worth it. I’ve often wondered if successful people without any actual self-doubt or critical thought could possibly be worked with at all. I’ll let you know if I meet any.

However, even if your quality of life is steady, the quality of your work can be another matter. Impostor’s syndrome can be creatively paralysing and cause problematic behaviour, if left unaddressed.

Deep fear of being outed as a fraud can surface as fear of admitting ignorance and anti-social behaviour. If left unchecked, it can lead to:

  • Working alone, avoiding all but superficial collaboration
  • Avoiding opportunities to receive feedback
  • 'Working through' a problem that could be solved quickly if communicated
  • Defensiveness, inability to accept critique OR praise, which leads to
  • Heightened, perhaps impossible standards/expectations, which leads to
  • Self-destructive levels of perfectionism, which leads to
  • Working hard, unnecessary overtime (which could also lead to a martyr complex)

Most of these should raise a red flag. If a game developer isn’t open to collaboration and won't take criticism, their work will suffer. The more we give in to impostor’s syndrome, the worse we become at our jobs -- thus, cruelly, the more we deserve to be called impostors.

As a bit of a side note, impostor’s syndrome looks to be the exclusive opposite of the  Fundamental Attribution Error (in which most humans tend to attribute successes to themselves, and failures to outside factors). I believe, but have no proof, that “Fake it till you make it” is intuitively linked to the fundamental attribution error, in that we get so caught up with trying to have a positive attitude, we willfully ignore rationality for our own mental well-being and productivity, claiming any and all success as our own. If and when we realised we’ve done this, we begin to err on the other side, to be safe. Just a thought.

Anyhow, given all of these possible setbacks, if you or people you work with are suffering from feelings of acute inadequacy, it’s important to minimise its impact, like any other insecurity, for the health of your team and game.

Healing Impostor’s Syndrome

Impostor’s syndrome can’t be stopped forever. They’re weeds growing all along our thoughts. As long as we succeed, and as long as deserving others fail, we’re pretty much doomed. The good news is that there’s gardening you can do to help stay on the up and up.

Note that I’m not a psychologist, sociologist, or any other -ist. These tips aren’t based in science. These are just the things I’ve experienced that have helped me and my team.

The best part is, even if you aren’t an impostor and you do deserve to be where you are (which I suspect is most of you), most of the tips can help you be a better developer and a better member of the dev community anyway. I’m pretty sure none of them are dangerous, damaging, or risky. So get to work!

Healing Tip 1: Re-Read the Wikipedia Article

Yep. Actual scientists say the best guard against impostor’s syndrome is to remember that it exists. So, bookmark it.

Also, if you open up to your colleagues, you'll probably realise everyone's feeling it all the time. Fake it till you make it isn't exactly new technology.

Healing Tip 2: Keep Learning

Maybe you didn’t deserve that stroke of luck, but you can channel your energy to make up for it! Work hard so you can earn it retroactively!

Take classes. Try new things. Ask questions. Willfully solve your ignorance. Your ‘comfort zone’ is clearly becoming uncomfortable, so get the heck out of it and take a creative risk. The project will probably fail according to most commercial/critical measures (which will help re-set your impostor’s syndrome clock), and teach you something new about yourself, making you a better developer. Then the next time you succeed, you’ll feel a bit more deserving.

Some would even go so far as to say that playing in fields you have no expertise in, or official business with, is a great way to own uncertainty and put our amateurness to good use. Being in over your head can be the perfect way to find new inspiration.

Yes, you'll make mistakes. That means you have a chance to learn -- the mistake wasn't asking questions and being visible. The mistake, if any, was thinking you were infallible in the first place. Part of learning is being ready to change.

If/when you find yourself out of your league, as in the Peter Principle or its market equivalent, you can’t afford to clam up and close your eyes and pretend everything’s fine. Keep improving before they catch on.

Healing Tip 3: Don’t Compare Yourself or Your Games

It's normal to think, "Oh man, look at this other person and their game. They definitely deserve success (more/less) than me and my game."

But you’re not comparable to anyone else. Seriously.

Whoever or whatever it is? Has no reflection on you. As a person, you didn’t win over anyone, and nobody won over you. You’re different, with different virtues, flaws, and experiences. Even a twin sibling has their own fortunes and challenges.

It’s the same with games. Each is different, born to a different situation. Sometimes we’re lucky, yes, and sometimes we’re unlucky.

Even if the comparison is positive, it starts you on a path to misery. If you’re a competitive person (like me), and have the constant urge to measure your progress, compare yourself to yourself. Keep track of your own performance and min/max that way. Leave the rest of the world out of your craziness.

Healing Tip 4: Welcome Diversity

Competition and comparison can be especially tempting among birds of a feather that have flocked together. When everyone’s similar in some way and you’re all making the same kinds of games, you just feel more … comparable.

So, for your own mental health, invite more kinds of people to be in your bubble of game development, and encourage more kinds of game-making. If you're part of a clique, widen the circle. Appreciate others' successes that you never could have done. The more the merrier.

Don’t scoff that this or that "isn’t a real game” -- whether it's big-budget, violent, arty, commercial, text, whatever. I mean it’s obviously a jerk move anyway, but even as a purely self-motivated act, it’s not in your own best interests, because: 

The more different kinds of games blossom and succeed, the happier you’ll be developing your own game, with less eerily similar competition.

Healing Tip 5: Let Them Pass; Assume Everyone at an Event is a Dev

The diversity mentioned in the previous tip can take some time. While we’re getting there, don’t emphasise when a dev is “not like the others”, even as a joke. Stereotype threat is a real, measurable hindrance to cognitive tasks, not to mention emotional stability.

Similarly, if someone doesn’t bring up their race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, whatever, don’t bring it up for them. They know, probably painfully, that they stick out from the crowd, or don’t match someone’s mental image of what a game developer “usually is”.

Talk to them about game development instead. Let them pass as a game developer. It’s what they are.

In other words, don’t encourage impostor’s syndrome in others.

Someone reading this tip is probably wondering what’s in it for them. I could go on about the spirit of friendly competition with equals and the joys of collaboration and how good karma helps long-term networking. But you know, if you really need a self-serving reason to not make someone else feel vulnerable and exposed? Fuck you. You have my permission to stop making games and go ruin a different industry. Cheers.

Healing Tip 6: Leave the Gates Open

If you’ve had trouble accepting your successes for long enough, you might become the worst kind of impostor: the gatekeeper.

Gatekeepers exclude people from their garden of knowledge, believing that, or even telling, a frenemy/sibling/stranger isn’t ready to make games because they’re not tough enough, not passionate enough, not _______ enough.

But usually it’s subtler than that. You might start thinking that if you can’t _______, you don’t deserve to make games. Whether it’s making your own engine, accepting nasty tweets, writing “real” code, enjoying Super Mario Brothers, whatever. It’s all the same -- it’s a way to justify your own success as deserved more than others. It’s a coping mechanism.

Unfortunately, gatekeeping does actually help you in the short-term. At first, you’ll feel better about yourself -- you’ve found a reason, however spurious, that you deserve to succeed and others don’t. In the long-term, however, I’ve seen more than a few developers shoot themselves in the foot with this kind of bitter, sour attitude, driving away potential collaborators, feedback, and networks. You’re building a cliquish, insecure wall around yourself, and your work will suffocate.

The opposite is what I call sharing your crayons.

Healing Tip 6.5: Share Your Crayons

Share what you’ve learned. Go out of your way to help someone else become better. Show them your tools. Help them succeed. There are thousands of would-be developers trying to make their first game right now, and most of them are asking for advice and seeking encouragement, either at a local school or on a forum somewhere.

You don’t have to be an expert. You’re probably not. You’re just another game dev. That’s okay! Nobody wants condescention anyway! Go ahead and explicitly warn the newbie that everything is just based in your own random experiences. That’s fine.

My favorite example of this is actually when Richard Hofmeier, the winner of the 2013 Independent Games Festival with his game Cart Life, chose to take the attention from his "big win" and divert it to Porpentine's Howling Dogs (available for free online). It was a courageous, generous sharing of the spotlight with a lesser-known creator of merit:

Photo courtesy of Joystiq

Somewhere, someone is asking a question, or needs a leg up, and helping them will help you. Not because you’re better than them! But because by giving back and helping someone else have just a little bit of good luck, you can start to feel just a little bit more deserving of the breaks when they come your way.

Healing Bonus Round for Managers: Cultivate Criticism

It might seem counter-intuitive, but sufferers from impostor's syndrome really do want and need constructive criticism -- we know our work isn't perfect. Nobody's work ever is. In fact, like most problems, our lack of trust in those around us (secretly believing they wouldn't respect/employ us anymore if they inspected our work) is the core problem. 

Feedback, helpful criticism, and deep collaboration must be regularly scheduled part of the process, and tyranically forced on the unwilling. Ideally these enforced reviews (even if they start out more soft-ball and supportive) would mostly consist of similarly-expert colleagues not considered 'friends'. Consider using parts of the Clarion method to reduce opportunities for defensiveness. 

The key is that reviews shouldn't be linked to quality -- when reviews are part of the process, criticism isn't indicative of failure or success.


It can be terrifying to realise that you’re not particularly special; but this is the true, meaty center of impostor’s syndrome. You don’t deserve success more than most other people.

I’m sure you (like many others) are very intelligent, flexible, and worked hard to get where you are. But you (like many others) also had some good fortune in there. 

And that’s okay. Really, it is. Just use your newfound powers for good. Keep learning.

Be the success you want to see in the world.


Have you suffered impostor's syndrome, or still aren't sure what the fuss is all about? I look forward to reading your comments. For a real dialogue, though, Twitter is probably the better avenue.

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Jorge Gonzalez
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I'm a self taught person, although I went to college and got a degree, most of what I've learnt comes from long hours of internet research and just screwing things up until they start working. That's just the right mindset to developing a lot of anxiety(which I just found out this year that is called Imposter Syndrome) and that was one of the demons I battled for years.

It's a curious thing because even if you get recognition from your peers, it's something that you keep doing to yourself, just drilling in the idea that you're just deceiving people and that you're just "shooting arrows unto the wild"(it's a venezuelan expression); in my case, I think i managed to convince myself of my merits in a progressive way as I managed to instinctually answer technical questions that used to keep me up hours without end, I finally could convince myself that. i've got a hang of this and that I'm not just a key smasher.

So yeah, doesn't happen overnight, but it's something that can be overcome.

P.S. That dog is hilarious

Tim Knauf
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Thanks for another great post, Tanya! The Onion article was priceless.

Sangwook Park
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This was really helpful.
Tips you gave surely will help the industry as a whole to become healthier.
Thanks for the great post.

Alan Barton
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@"You do not belong. You see amazing, talented people with more experience and talent, and you know you aren’t qualified to work in their industry. You know it as deeply as you know the color of your eyes, without even thinking about it. Your lack of credibility is suddenly a part of you, undeniable and ever-present."

You need to realise when you are in the job, you've already made it. Don't forget its hard to get into the games industry.

Also there's something you don't realise about these talented experienced people. They were once in exactly your position and in our industry we never stop learning, so we are all new to new areas, no matter how many years of experience we have.

Also there's something else people who are insecure often don't realise. Their insecurity can make life very tough indeed (even depressingly so) for the people with experience. Working life can be very hard for someone with years of experience. For example, you'll find decades later that once you are more experienced, that it won't make it easier for you to get a job, it'll often make it harder for you to get a job. Like try being interviewed by someone with less than half your years of experience and you'll often find they won't want you to start, because you know more than them, so they fear you can outshine them.

The grass isn't greener on the other side, so to speak, once you have more experience. Based on my experiences and the experiences of my friends, you won't notice much hardship until you're mostly passed 2 decades of experience, when you are likely getting into your 40's, but when you are there and more experienced, in the workplace its often an awful thing to be experienced, not a wonderful place to be. Because no matter how inoffensive you try to be others, some of them will see and react to you as if you are a threat to their position.

So the grass most definitely isn't greener on the other side, once you have experience.

Tanya X Short
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I've been working in the industry for over 10 years now.

And at every step, I've met people who have worked as hard as I have, and gotten less recognition. This is the root. It's a problem of outlook, of whether I "deserve" what I've achieved.

Joshua Wilson
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You could apply that to anything in life. If you did you wouldn't be able to function. What makes you more deserving of education, a place to live, clean water, regular and nutritious meals?

You take the breaks that come your way and make the best of them and feel fortunate and thankful to be in the position you're in. That's all you can do and what everyone else does.

That's the only part of this article that I don't get. I can understand insecurity and/or self doubt. I can understand people who have trouble internalizing success - any number of things could cause that, more so in a group environment where it's often really hard to nail down the effect of any individual contribution.

But the thought that someone else could be more deserving? I guess I would feel somewhat insincere thinking that because it's a tough world and I have to put myself and my family first and I'm very thankful that I am in the position I'm in.

I can empathize with someone who has worked hard and just hasn't gotten the breaks and I can envy those that haven't had to work as hard and have it easy but that's life. It's really not fair.

Heng Yoeung
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This sounds so counterintuitive to me, to say that with experience, things get harder. Is there something I am not understanding? It seems that the commercial world is all about experience. Which, without experience, you can't get experience. So, the less you have, the lesser you have. And the more you have, the more you have.

Alan Barton
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@Tanya X Short

I don't think you get what I mean. Its not a question of recognition or deserving. Its about empathy to other humans and how insecure people (obsessing over their own position and so thinking about themselves) can often lack empathy to others and become a source of passive aggressive hostility to others as a result of their insecurity. (They lack empathy as they are distracted by thinking about themselves).

Its how the insecure person can behave towards others. If they feel embattled and fearful of their job, they can often be overly defensive to others and that defensiveness can be hard to deal with for the people on the receiving end. In some cases it can be very bad indeed.

Also 10 years isn't enough time for you to notice the behavioural changes as you get perceived as a greater, more experienced threat, to the insecure people. You'll know as you get older when your friends and family start having conversations about how they and others they know have had to cut down their CVs to get a job. At some point in your life you will get to hear this. It may take another decade or so, but you will hear it. (Also you're a director, so as long as that continues, you won't have to apply for jobs, so you won't experience it from that and as a director, you're also very senior in management, so again you won't see so much of it at work, because you can often only see insecurity when its directed at you and insecurity in the workplace is hidden from management, especially upper management like directors, because the insecure fear management, so they hide their fears from management).

Also insecurity from staff isn't restricted to just younger inexperienced workers. Some of the worst workplace insecurity can come from some middle managers who fear upper management will see them as an imposter, because they secretly fear they can't keep up and fear being seen as doing anything wrong. The irony is they can be such embattled and fearful bastards to the people who work under them, that they can often be the worst kind of workplace bully.

So insecurity in the workplace can come in many forms. Some mild and just need encouraging and time to fit in, whilst some can unfortunately be very serious indeed. In its most serious forms insecurity is Passive Aggressive behaviour which can be conveyed in many bad and often hidden ways. From obstruction of the success of others they see as a threat to their position, to even undermining people they see as a threat to them in the eyes of others. But in senior management you won't see it, as its hidden from you. They won't be that way to you. In fact they will more likely appear as fawning crawlers to upper management.

(Learn about Passive Aggressive behaviour and then look at the behaviour so common in politics in how they obstruct the progress of others and then you'll start to see why this same behaviour occurs in office politics). This harmful behaviour goes far beyond simply insecurity in the workplace.

Alan Barton
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@Heng Yoeung: Sorry I was replying to Tanya when you posted, so I just missed your post in my previous post.

@"This sounds so counterintuitive to me"

If only work was just about doing a good job, then the more experience the better. I really wish every workplace was that pure, but unfortunately the older I get the more I realise many workplaces are often tainted and biased and twisted and made much more complicated by human interaction behaviours.

For example, If you want to be good at something, that risks others seeing you as better than them. Its how they react where the problem is. Some will be ok with others being better than them, but some (often the insecure) won't like it. Some insecure people, if they get the chance to interview you for a job where they work, won't even want someone better than them working in their company. They are not thinking about the good of the company, they are thinking about their own position. Behind the interviewee's back, they will find some way to make the interviewee sound bad to their manager. Its a common pattern of behaviour found in passive aggressive people. Its bad and its harmful to the person who simply tries to be good at something, but the insecure people don't care, they are worrying about themselves and not thinking about how they harm others.

The more I've learned about psychology the more I've learned to see when some human interactions can be harmful. What I've described is just the tip of the iceberg so to speak.

Florian Putz
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Really nice article. It reminds me of a blog post[1] that I read a few days ago - from scott meyers blog - yes _the_ c++ guru meyers.

Let me quote from there: "Of the 315 pages in the manuscript, only 91 survived unscathed. That means that over 70% of the pages in the Early Release version have problems (that I know about)." and
[...] "To date, my favorite error report concerns a page in the manuscript where I managed to mis-translate a simple C++14 lambda expression into a corresponding C++11 lambda or call to std::bind in three different ways. I got it wrong. Three times. In three different ways. On one page."

So, just be honest, no need to be self-conscious - everyone makes mistakes, even the gurus - but they probably don't worry too much about it :).


Ed Bryan
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Fantastic post. I certainly have my days where IS gets to me. That nagging feeling that this'll be the day when what ever I'm trying to draw just won't get out of my head. I think its true that pushing to learn new stuff helps a great deal and keeps you going forward and of course understanding that if everyone is enjoying the product you've made then life's good!

Matt Marshall
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Nice article! I really thought it was insightful and useful and in my case pointed out the issue well. Knowing is half the battle and all that.

As a solo indie who's new to making my OWN games...who never felt they could program until I FORCED myself to learn...I look at my first mostly finished game and wonder who the hell made it. Also that it'll never come across as a 'finished' game. Who would want to buy such crap, I ask myself...every day....But I actually did make it, still can't believe it, probably never will. Can't imagine doing the customer support when people ask to add features cos I'll still be wondering why the hell they're asking me to add something! :)

It hasn't been released yet, but I will. Because I have learned that the only time you ARE an imposter, is when you stop. Stop learning, stop creating, stop developing, just stop... Thats giving up.

On top of that though, learn EVERYTHING. Don't stop half way on a project to because the current version 'could be improved' on the next round. That way you will NEVER learn how to finish anything. You'll just get very good at not finishing things. FINISH EVERY PROJECT. So you get GOOD at finishing things!

“Fake it till you make it” actually gets me through a lot of the time, but I like to tweak that a bit to just "Fake it...indefinitely." Going in knowing you will never 'make it' allows you to realise you will always grow. And with THAT comes acceptance of your place in the universe and all things shiny...thats my approach anyway.

I think, at my current pace, I will beat down the imposters syndrom with 'Moving forward syndrome', and try to stabilise that idea as best I can (of which is ALWAYS a CONSTANT battle) where I 'simply' always learn, create, AND finish.

I believe that is the perfect balance as a creator.

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I've made 2 observations of myself:
Observation 1: I give myself excruciating punishments for my subtle mistakes.
Observation 2: I simply get to the "next problem" after I'm done with my 2 seconds of relief of the previous one.
Now I'm actually content with my first observation, but I think I'm not cherishing my little accomplishments in life. Doesn't matter how small it is, be it small a bug fix or a simple solution to a problem, we should be feeling better about ourselves after accomplishing them. I let so many of the "Aha!" moments pass by, yet lose my sleep over the mistakes that I've done during that day. Life of a perfectionist makes you miserable for the rest of your life but it also makes you proud.
I say maintain your perfectionism, but cherish even tiniest of the victories.
Thanks for the article.

Vinicius Freire Curto
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Great Article. It is actually the reason I finally created my gamasutra account, just to say thank you(I see gamasutra daily for almost six months). I work as a game programmer for 1 year now, and graduated at gamedesign course in 2011 and often I feel the impostor's syndrome and unmotivated to create my own games in my spare time, but this article made me feel fresh to start doing my own projects. Thanks again.

Ps: Sorry if anything sounded weird, I'm from Brazil and my english is not so good.
Ps2: Funny thing, I registered to receive emails from Kitfox games a while ago and expect to play Moon Hunters.

Curtiss Murphy
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For our World Cup party, my in-laws brought cookies. The home-made, peanut butter kind that was full of every kind of yummy'ness. Which is exactly how I feel about this article! It's got the homemade touch of personal experience, the humbleness to admit it's just a cookie like any other cookie, and the gooey, rich, good-to-the-last-crumb yummy'ness to make it memorable.

In the spirit of "Sharing my crayons", here's two more yummy nuggets.

- Consider reading, 'Mindset' which is Carol Dweck's scientific analysis of the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset, which seems strongly linked to Imposter Syndrome. Even with 15 years of experience, the paradigm shift in Mindset exploded my career from 'good' to 'great'.

- Consider complimenting EFFORT, instead of outcome. Though it seems counter intuitive to replace labels like, 'Great Coder' with, 'Hard Worker!' it will result in a more productive, more collaborative, and more successful team. So, kudos to Tanya for sacrificing the time to share her crayons.

nicholas ralabate
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i think with performance anxiety it's best just to think about how we are all going to die pretty soon whether we are imposters or not. it's a bit dark, but true.

"performance anxiety" is maybe a strange way to put it, but i think games are included, unless you are making games in private to be published posthumously. after all, it's not the act we are talking about here, but the trading of (public) social currency that happens in conjunction with the act.

p.s. i blame a childhood of watching woody allen movies

Phil Sorger
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More advice: Talk to veterans. Don't just find out what they did, or how they did it, but why they did it. What problem were they trying to solve and what was their inspiration for solving it. You'll usually find that you might have solved it that way, or close, and you'll be on your way.

Heng Yoeung
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Hey, I am a chemist. Is that dog supposed to be me?

CE Sullivan
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I'm just a grad student with no real successes as a game developer yet, so while it might be a little early for me to feel imposter syndrome as a developer (because I still AM an imposter), I definitely feel this as a graduate student. Feeling somehow that the other people in my program are smarter than I am, or more passionate about games than I am, or more deserving because they're better at X. Or because they fit the image of a game developer better than I do. Not just because I am female, a lot of times I don't even feel like I fit the image of a game developer as well as the other females in my program do!

Maybe this is the real reason I'm reluctant the collaborate with people, and not just because teamwork in college can be torturous for other reasons. Of course, maybe those reasons all relate back to virtually everyone having imposter syndrome in college,which would explain why they usually can't take criticism, and either want everything their own way or someone else to either do everything or hold their hand and tell them exactly what to do.

Kent Engel
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I can absolutely relate to this, since I just graduated from a 4-year program and had some similar experiences. We just have to realize that everyone is different (like this article implies) and that there is no 1 single road to success.

I wouldn't say I "fit" the typical image of a game developer at my school either, and even had a lot of conversations with fellow students who would constantly say how busy they were always working on their game and almost brag about their lack of free time. While this might work (and be enjoyable) for some, I cannot function this way, and although I would say that I am a hard worker, I value relationships outside of work and cherish the time I can spend doing things other than game dev.

Kent Engel
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Thanks for this article, it was really well written. I am a recent graduate and am having a very hard time finding a job currently, so these kinds of thoughts can pop up into my head from time to time. I'll just share a personal experience of this feeling, and how I am trying to remedy it:

I attended GDC for the first time this year and it was an amazing learning experience and just a great place to be in general. I met a ton of really smart people, and even some developers of games that I love playing, as well as attending a lot of insightful talks and round table discussions that cleared a lot of things up for me. I thought that GDC was basically going to be my networking breakthrough, but to be completely honest I sort of froze up when I got there. I was surrounded by so many smart and talented people, that I thought it was obvious that I didn't belong there. I felt this for a day or two, but kept trying to absorb as much knowledge as I could (and luckily I was there with friends so they were able to lighten the mood). This happened until I attended the GDC awards show, and someone whose name escapes me said to the crowd "Don't forget what brought you here today," and that really resonated with me. Although I did feel pretty discouraged at times at GDC, I realized that EVERYONE has their own path in life, and just because someone seems more talented than you now doesn't necessarily mean that you aren't passionate and can't find your own way.

Anyway, I left GDC knowing that producing for a video game is absolutely what I wanted to do as a career, and I have since been trying to learn something new every day in hopes of being able to speak more intelligently about my passion at next years GDC. Although some of my insecurities were on display at GDC, I left feeling welcomed because of the awesome people I met and their willingness to hear my ideas and explain things that went over my head without being dick-ish. I will try my best to perpetuate this kindness as best I can on my journey towards reaching my game dev goals!

Julien Delavennat
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I don't suffer from impostor syndrome and here's why:

I've been lucky to have already been "found out to be a fraud". It happened, I moved on, and I'm free from the uncertainty now.

That makes me so confident. It's like I've already hit the bottom and I can only go up, nothing can beat me down anymore. I've accepted the fact that I didn't use to know what the hell I was doing, and I've decided to do something about it.

The result is that I learn stuff every day now, and I can look at the progress I've made and be like "hell yeah, once I've made all possible mistakes once, and found solutions to all of them, I'll be unstoppable".

Now instead of feeling that I'll certainly be "found out", I feel that I'll certainly be succesful eventually, it's a mathematical rule at this point.

In case you're wondering what the story is: when I was in high-school (2006-2009), I used to make amateur PvP videos in World of Warcraft. I started making them without thinking twice about it, I was just having fun. And I was getting terrible ratings, but I didn't care because I was a beginner so of course I was going to have bad ratings. For the first three videos, my ratings were progressively going up: 1.5/5, 2.5/5, 3.5/5. Untill I released my fourth one, and I got a terrible rating, like 2/5, even though I had put more effort into that video than the previous ones. For some reason I was expecting it do to better than the previous one because that was how it had been going up to then.

The comments were something along the lines of "what the **** that's terrible", except I had a few dozen of those (and only a few positive ones, I'm actually still kind of astonished by those). I wasn't *that* hurt, but still, I realized I would have to get waaaay better to be considered at least decent. And now I've been spending the past 5 years getting better at everything: coding, game design, music production, writing, etc.

Anyway that's why I don't suffer from imposter syndrome, the ambiguity's been lifted long ago and everything is awesome now :D

Kee-Won Hong
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Like the poster above, what I've been doing to fight imposter syndrome is attempting to be honest with EVERYTHING. Working to be honest until it hurts. And its been really great! One, you no longer feel like you have to hide anything; you've already admitted you feel like the dumbest person in the room (which is not a bad attitude to have, either). Two, it helps other people be honest around you and lets you connect on all the hidden fears that everyone has.

So thank you for another great article, and thank you for your honesty. We're all equally shocked when we realize we're the ones in charge.

Victoria House
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The source of the index card image is mis-cited, probably because the other guy didn't credit it visibly on his site.
It is originally from here: . Thisisindexed's author is witty and wonderful and deserves credit for her work.

Victoria House
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(I understand that you discovered the card on his site, and still linking to that as where you discovered the card is totally fair, but please credit the original creator!)

Tanya X Short
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Hey, cheers, and thanks for finding the original! Reference changed. :)

Larry Carney
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I have found that the best way to conquer this fear is to actually produce something of merit.

Tanya X Short
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That's actually when the problem tends to begin -- it's not performance anxiety, it's a form of guilt. When you produce something others tell you is of merit, but higher merit than you feel it is... and/or of less merit than something someone else made that isn't getting recognition...

In retrospect, I should have definitely included this as a public example of healing imposter's syndrome (a winner of IGF preferring to give attention to a lesser-recognised artist he respected):

Larry Carney
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But is guilt necessarily a bad thing?

There is such a focus on rationalizing and institutionalizing mediocrity in society (the oft mocked "participation trophy" an entire generation of those now or recently entering the workforce grew up being accustomed to receiving, for example) that there is a negative connotation often associated with guilt.

That needn't be.

Rather than expend energy and resources towards trying to be comfortable with one's own mediocrity, why not be open to that guilt perhaps being deserved, and work towards creating something which can refute that feeling of guilt?

Kenneth Blaney
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Somewhat counter intuitively, actual accomplishments often make impostor syndrome worse because actual success is written of as being a matter of luck or, worse, as being evidence of deception. That is, instead of thinking about it logically and saying, "I must be good because I earned X award," they say, "I must have tricked them into giving me X award and they are going to be pissed when they find out."

The psychology is comparable but not identical for a number of reasons (readers: please understand I am not equating the two) to eating disorders. That is, "Why doesn't an eating disorder cure itself once the person loses the weight that was making them feel fat?" Because the fat wasn't what was making them feel fat. The "problem" is not the problem.

John Owens
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Great article. I think the impostor syndrome, victim syndrome and Fundamental Attribution Error are all basically the same thing.

Attributing success and failure to the wrong things.

What's the line from the poem.

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;"

However it has taken me a long time to learn/accept that.

James Yee
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A great article that of course applies far beyond game design. Hell I'd say it applies to pretty much every creative field if not pretty much every where.

For me, I went through that early on in my life when I first got started with NASA. Before working at Goldstone I was the Assistant Manager at my local movie theater, a college drop out, and pretty much as far away from a NASA employee as you can think of. Yet thanks to serendipity, luck, a whole lot of bull$hit, and desperation on the site's part I got my foot in the door. When I got there I was prepared for the worst, that there was no way I could do it and they would figure me out in a heartbeat.

That energy, that doubt, it made me want to "not fail" so much I worked twice as hard as the other guys and quickly "earned" my place. I turned the impostor feeling (and TRUTH don't get me wrong) into a driving force that has kept me gainfully employed in the space industry for these last 14 years.

I'm looking forward to using that same energy on top of all the other changes as I quit and leave all that behind for Game Development on the other side of the planet with my whole family. :)

Troy Walker
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I'll be honest and say this,... that I stopped reading your article after:

..."But you know, if you really need a self-serving reason to not make someone else feel vulnerable and exposed? Fuck you. "

I know what you are eluding to, but you mostly just wrapped yourself into a blanket, missing an opportunity to make a real difference.. changing someone who "is" a bad apple, negatively affecting others while thinking you are protecting yourself through ignoring.

It would be hypocritical of me to say I've never done this... as I have and generally with regret, as it is a lost opportunity to make a real difference in the life of just not myself, but those whom they affect as well as the person themselves.

.. and of course, some people seem to never change.

Kenneth Barber
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To combat this "imposter syndrome" in my creative endeavors, I try to treat the thing I am working on as a piece/work unto itself. I want my creation to represent something great and the mental reminder that what I am working on is a separate thing from everything else out there, regardless of how close to or derivative from anything else it is, helps me to focus on the creation and not on how fumbly or under powered I may be with respect to any portion of the creative process. I try to remember that all current development stands on the back of the development of generations past and that my process is MY process and it is OK to do things differently from everybody else as long as I put in the work to finish what I start...

Ezrad Lionel
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I think, that as long as you don't work at Rovio, your rewards are most likely proportional to the effort you put in.

Seriously, there are REAL impostors though.. like Rovio's Devs. Yeah, yeah.. I know they made a ton of stuff before their break-out hit, but for me, Angry Birds will always be the signal that the video game industry had plateaued. (It was GTA before this)

And the developer of box-2d?? That's a real hard core mofo. The fact (maybe they did by now? doubtful..) That Rovio didn't hand over at least 1million to this guy tells me that they're not only impostors, but deutches as well (bad multi-lingual pun)

I mean, I've struggled with my little "Engine" for at least a decade. Then here comes Unity freeing me up from any real geek dues. I mean, If I ever net a 1/4 billion on anything I make in Unity, how could I not Personally back the %$#! out of that company??

After all, it's the least an impostor can do. amirite?