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Of masters and impostors

thoughts, craftsmanship, and testing
Monsters Inc, 2001

Disclaimer: This post is a bit all over the place, and at times directed more towards testers. Feel free to reach out with thoughts or comments via social-media or maybe e-mail (you can find it on my Github).

Intro

Ever felt like the world has given you more than you deserve and you’re an impostor? Ever felt like it’s impossible the masters of the craft you love ever feel like that? At least once they’re an absolute great craftsman, right?

I can’t help but feel both lately. I know I’ve fought and fought hard, to get through several points in life, but I always have that tingling feeling:

I’m a fraud. I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve good stuff that happened throughout time any more than the person next door.

The trigger

If testing has taught me anything is that what I observe can be quite different from actual reality. Observations are just that: observations. They’re not the actual facts. They may go hand-in-hand with actual facts, but they’re not it. I spend some time admiring and studying the “thought school” of people who are craftsman testers and brilliant programmers, trying to think what’s it like from their perspective and what’s it like to make observations in their shoes, and recently I’ve had the luck to chat with such a kind of tester, and clear my mind a bit about this mastery and “impostor feeling” deal.

Practically speaking, this person is someone who I consider to be a part of the “Big” league, and the catch was that from his own perspective, and we’re talking about someone who coaches and mentors other people, has more than a decade of experience in deep thoughtful testing and is a reference for automation to other “coding” testers like myself, is invited to speak at conferences instead of having to submit CFPs, is shoulder to shoulder with other amazing world-known testers like Angie Jones or Richard Bradshaw, still this guy (whose identity I’ll keep private in this post) admits he doesn’t view himself a master of the craft and is far from it. He shared that indeed he doesn’t “have it all figured out”, and that the feeling “I’m not good enough” part never truly disappears.

Wait. Hold on, what?

Even at different points in each other’s lives and careers, the same happens for him as it happens to me in terms of the lingering “not good enough” or “I don’t deserve good stuff” feeling. So I definitely needed to question some observations I had made and even my own “impostor” feelings.

I since have a suspicion that the same applies to me as it may apply to people that are seemingly way out of my league and are by current standard followed and not followers: Both me, you, and other people, masters or not, people who recognize themselves as superstars, and people who can’t seem to have their breakthrough, we all seem to feel the same “I’m not good enough”, even if it manifests in different not-apparent ways.

That hard to live-with lingering feeling, that resonates in the most inconvenient of times, filling our minds with stress and the constant fear that there’s always these visible and invisible players that we’re competing against. But through our observations we’re lead to believe the same wouldn’t apply to the biggest heroes in our craft, right? Be it the best tester or programmer in the world, they certainly must have it all figured out! Right?

Nope.

The thing is, there always seems to be someone we compare against that makes us question if we’re impostors.

Comparisons are bottomless pits

The first mistake is right there: we compare with others, which is never a fair and good measure, as opposed to comparing with past iterations of ourselves in the craft. The moment we actively stop using others as the ruler to measure our signs of progress is the moment we’re dissecting one of the vilest sources of feeling “not good enough”.

And as this person shared with me, the doubt seems to linger on: will we ever be good enough? Will we ever have the respect we wish for in the craft?

It’s life. And this is where I think I can make a contribution in this post: we can be our best selves, it’s not impossible. It’s possible provided we:

Why I say they’re not real blockers: It starts with our free-will choice of comparing ourselves to others.

Comparing against others as a single and unique ruler of our progress in a craft is a folly. It’s just a bad idea, no matter how awesome or not the person we’re comparing with is. For example, there are definitely those whom we can spot who don’t want to grow or invest in themselves. During many times we observe that in a portion of this crowd there are also those quite hollow that believe that, for example,

Maybe if I just have a membership card to the “United Nations of Testers” (for example) and do some multiple choice quizzes, maybe then I’ll be deemed of respect and even at a later time: a master of the craft”.

But it’s pretty much common sense among any thoughtful tester, or any other professional, that being a “hotshot” in the “UN” of testers in no way qualifies you as a master of the craft. So, why would you kick yourself and compare with any so-called “hotshot” based on your own observations? Do you really trust your observations as facts, or should we scratch the surface a bit more, and observe in deeper levels?

Observations might be immutable, but remember, they’re not facts. And more often than not, they’re always limited and shallow. This person with +11 years of experience, whom I would consider a mentor, felt himself not a master, for example, and also himself in need of a mentor and a master, underlining the importance of having a mentor, and that I’d be making a mistake to just plain compare myself with him.

Fictional Facts are: Fictional!

The second mistake is sticking to a viewpoint where we treat observation as fact in that any person who is a master and mentor, like a top-level craftsman, has nothing more to learn, and zero feelings of “I’m not good enough”. That’s not real.

So, let’s cut the fog. If we crave craftsmanship, the freedom that comes with it, and the recognition of peers, then we need to stop and think: what can we put in steps and actions that will translate into better chances of us getting to a level of being actual masters, and recognized as so?

Take the example of a sushi master, considered the best in the world: never settle! They’ll still be fighting, learning, trying, perfecting. They’ll scout their minds, their knowledge, both old and new, to perfect their craft. And from our lacking point of view - we fool ourselves into believing that someone like for example a master of testing eventually reaches a cap level where they can’t advance further and are immune to feelings of “being a fraud” never touch them. This is not true.

There is no cap level. Feeling like you’re not good enough is not reasonable. And these observations, that we take as facts, distract us from the hard-working pursuit of craftsmanship.

You can try to fight it all and repeat to yourself “No, but I am good enough” countless times and make yourself believe it, but instead I invite you to dissect those feelings, what are their sources? On what grounds and observations are they being founded?

Wrapping up

Stay sharp. The people who I see as incredible masters of testing, they have no cap level, and through their actions, voluntarily or not, end up dissecting these impostor feelings, acknowledging them, and moving forward.

You also don’t know what they go through in life outside of what’s apparent. All the defeats, mistakes and failures. Maybe they carry alongside great craftsmanship some serious physical or mental illness, and many other hardships.

And maybe they feel depressed and like they’re not good enough at times. But their actions speak differently: they’re fighting every day in multiple ways to be sharper in their craft, and more often than not focus on comparing only with their past selves and not with other rock stars.