Impostor Syndrome

This is the transcript of the Indie Soapbox talk I gave at GDC 2016…enjoy!

I want to talk about Impostor Syndrome.

I’m the type of guy that thinks people often try to find ways not to be accountable for their own failures, and initially when I read about impostor syndrome, I played it off as another excuse for failure. I dismissed it as whiny millennial garbage. But the description of it and stories I read stuck with me and I started to analyze myself and people around me and I’ve come to this conclusion:

Everyone feels like an impostor to some extent, it’s an issue of self confidence and uncertainty with your own abilities. Everyone that isn’t a narcissistic sociopath has felt these feelings at some point in their life, some deal with it better than others, but it exists in everyone. I don’t know what I’m doing. Everything I’ve done in my life I’ve just made up as I went along. That’s what everyone is doing. That’s how life works. That’s how evolution works.

I have felt like an impostor since the first days of school. I wasn’t known as the “smart kid” I got overlooked for several really neat academic things that all my friends got to do all because I never spoke up…and I never tried…and because of that I felt stupid. I felt like the dumb guy in my group of friends. Truth be told I wasn’t the dumb guy…I was on the honor roll just like them but I never felt like their equal because I never had confidence in my abilities and I always got overlooked.

I’ve changed the way I think over the years. In terms of Software Engineering, think of a brain as a ton of hardware threads. Each thread is thinking something like I need to do this, or I should have done that or I wonder if… In my brain, I have allocated one of those threads to be my thought skeptic…to monitor all my other thoughts and wake me up when I start thinking something stupid about myself. It’s very helpful, but I still have feelings of inadequacy and sometimes I feel very out of place.

In December, 2015 Handmade Con happened. I know Casey Muratori and Jon Blow and before handmade con I knew of Mike Acton, Ron Gilbert, and Pat Wyatt. I have such a tremendous amount of respect for all these guys and what they’ve done. When Casey asked me to talk, I felt really strange about it. I felt like maybe he needed another person, or felt sorry for me and I was thinking “Why the fuck would you want me up there? You have all these titans and some dipshit that made a game 5 years ago that’s been working non stop ever since but has yet to put out anything and the things he’s been working probably won’t see the light of day…i’m not a titan…I’m a titanic failure”, but when I started thinking these things that thought skeptic thread woke up and said “Hey…knock it off” So I said screw it and I took Casey at his word, I convinced myself that maybe I can offer something useful, and I decided to go with it. I’m glad I talked myself into doing it because it felt great. I felt very comfortable sharing a stage with those Titans. I felt like I was supposed to be there. I felt like a Titan because I let myself feel like a Titan.

I see a lot of people talking about impostor syndrome and how it affects them….a lot of these people I greatly admire both personally and professionally. When they talk about this, all I can think is they must have gone through something similar to what I went through when I was growing up. Something like they felt they were more than what they were perceived and through years of feeling this way yet not seeing any positive movement towards their self image, instead of understanding and being confident in their own abilities, they compared who they were to people around them and started thinking they were out of place and that what they were thinking about themselves was wrong. But that’s stupid because they weren’t wrong and they aren’t wrong. They are the titans those tiny almost inaudible voices tell them that they are.

I am a Titan. Do you know why I’m a Titan? It’s because I believe I’m a Titan. There are so many of you in here and out there on the internet that are so talented and I know you’re talented because of what you’ve put out into the world. By the way, don’t take any of this as indie love, I don’t subscribe to the indie club and I don’t like “indie” games just because of how the developers market themselves. What I like is people who do things and I respect people that do things even if I don’t like what they’re doing. I respect the courage it takes to put yourself out there.

Take what I’m about to say and remember it next time that doubt starts creeping into your head:

It takes a lot of guts to wake up every day and jump into the unknown. It takes a lot of confidence to rely on your own abilities and put yourself, and your work, out into the world. Realize that people with confidence don’t naturally have it, they just pretend they have it and the amount of confidence they have is based on how hard they believe the fantasy. If you’re a person who’s put even the tiniest little bit of yourself or your work out there…guess what? You’re not an impostor, you’re not pretending, and that tiny little voice in your head that says you are a Titan, start listening to it, because it’s right. You are a Titan.