How to Not be a Phony
Do you feel fake? Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Someone that has convinced everyone around you that you are not what you truly are?
In a recent article by one of my favorite podcasters and developers, Scott Hanselman, the idea of being a phony was discussed. What Hanselman discusses is how people that have a lot to learn, particularly those in IT related fields, end up feeling like they know very little.
In fact, people can internalize these feelings and think that they know nothing compared to other coworkers or others in their field. These people end up feeling like fakes and that one day they will see that dreaded pink slip because someone has “figured them out”.
I can relate to this.
Being a programmer and writer I feel I can never learn enough and I’m always behind. But, instead of feeling like a failure I decided to sit down and come up with some ideas that can help me through these false feelings. If you are feeling like a phony, consider the points below:
Take a skills inventory
One of the best ways to figure out exactly what you’re capable of is to take out a piece of paper (or a text editor for you nerds out there ;) ) and write down everything that you can do. Whether it be writing, drawing, being a visionary, understanding difficult mathematics, anything really; get it all down.
After you’ve written everything, add four columns to the right of your list. At the top of these write “beginner”, “intermediate”, “advanced”, and “expert”. Go down your list of skills and mark which skill is at which skill level.
Having a skills inventory is one of the best ways to realize who you really are and who you really aren’t. With this you can get a more realistic idea of what you need to learn and concentrate on as well as what you are good at.
Beat down negative thoughts
Regardless of having a skills inventory, negative thoughts and emotions are still going to be in your head on a daily basis. With you skills inventory though, you will be able to see which ones are legitimate and which ones are garbage.
Beat down the garbage.
There’s nothing special and magical to this. You just need to know that these are negative thoughts, that they happen to everyone, and that you can overcome them.
What we focus on, we empower and enlarge. Good multiplies when focused upon. Negativity multiplies when focused upon. The choice is ours: Which do we want more of?
- Julia Cameron
Honor the true ones
Not all negative thoughts are garbage. In fact some of them are the issues that you have to deal with the most.
After taking a skills inventory and listing out some of the negative thoughts you have on a daily basis, try to compare those thoughts to the inventory. See some sort of pattern? Are some negative thoughts related to how bad you are at something you want to be good at?
If so, then these are the exact issues that you must overcome to feel less “phony-like”.
Jack of all trades, master of one
I remember talking to one of my favorite professors while still in college. I told him that I was understanding that being in the IT field was complicated and that I could never stop learning to make it. I told him that I felt like I had to be a jack of all trades and master of none. He said,
“Yeah, sort of. More like a jack of all trades and a master of one.”
Take out your skills inventory again and see where you exel. If the things that you excel at are the things and activities that you truly enjoy then it looks like you are in good shape.
Mastering a smaller set of skills (a niche as you “serial entreprenuers” call it) while understanding a wider set is one of the best ways to set yourself up for success.
There’s nothing better than being good at what you love to do.
Rise up to the challenge
Now that you have a more honest outlook on your skill set, what you’re good at what you are terrible at, it’s now time to rise to a challenge.
The only time most humans grow when they are challenged. If you want to get better at what you love to do you have to constantly and willingly challenge yourself. Doing this will ensure you never have that “I’m a phony and everyone is about to figure it out” type of feeling again.
Understanding that you’re not a phony is all about integrity. You are no better and no worse than you actually are.
This is one of the hardest things to learn in life not just in the professional field. As soon as you realize who you are, who you want to be, and what you love to do, you can start to feel free in work and life.
You will see that life’s challenges are just the thing you need to make yourself believe that you aren’t a phony.