Isolated and Intrigued, HeroPress Essay 3

The third HeroPress essay is by Sean Davis, and speak deeply to imposter syndrome, feelings of isolation, and overcoming all that stuff. I’m interested in similar stories, would you folks be willing to post some similar ones here?


Direct link is here btw:

Will check it out and give my response in a few!

I can identify with the main concept that Sean shared.

I find imposter syndrome ebbs and flows in my work. Participating in a monthly WP mastermind group helps put some things in perspective-- but also creates new concerns.

My concerns might seem trivial to developers w/ more experience but for me keep the embers of imposter syndrome warm…
am I using the “right” themes and plugins?
am I relying on too many plugins created by someone else?
what important skills am I missing that are holding me back?
who are the appropriate role models for my business+path?
is it okay to admit I don’t yet know how to do something?
is it bad to sometimes be envious of another community member’s success?

Celebrating even small victories helps me stay on course
i.e. creating my own simple plugin that I can use to solve a problem on multiple client projects.

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I agree totally. Celebrating victories is a huge deal. It helps put things in perspective as you sometimes feel like others are having nothing but victories when in reality, they’re just celebrating theirs as well.

One of the best ways to overcome imposter syndrome, I’ve found, is to really embrace what you know. Squeeze as much out of it as you can. Build things. Teach people. Answer questions. We love to look ahead and take notes about how much more everyone knows than us. But we rarely look back and interact with those who are looking ahead to us in the same manner. There needs to be balance between the two for sure.


Thanks for sharing @IamSeanDavis. I thought your essay did a great job of showing how broader social barriers to entry make our community, although friendly and welcoming, still predominantly white, male and middle class. Now that you’ve “made it” (horrible phrase, sorry) in the tech community, I wonder how you feel about it’s relationship to other cultures. I know you and Helen Hou-Sandí have joked about being the only ones who get each others’ musical references. And the online world can often have a nerdy, know-it-all kind of entitlement when evaluating other cultural ideas. Do you think that discourages people who might be in the early years of a story like yours?

Absolutely. There’s no doubt about it.

Speaking about the WordPress community specifically, I feel like people don’t understand what it’s like to be involved while black because they attempt to view the overall experience based on their one-on-one interactions with black community members. That’s not how it works, though.

To better explain what I mean, think about “rules” of masculinity… especially in America. When an individual has a close, intimate relationship with a man, that man may feel comfortable expressing his feelings and being somewhat vulnerable. He can trust that individual enough to open up. That same man may act a completely different way when he has a spotlight, though, because to him, it’s no longer about trusting one individual. Now it’s about living up to society’s views on masculinity. He can either adjust for the masses and possibly lose part of his connection with that individual. Or stay true to his vulnerabilities and come off to the masses as less masculine.

This situation is no different. I have a lot of white, male, middle-class friends. One-on-one, we will never have any issues. I guarantee it. I’m cool with them and they’re cool with me. I have plenty of black, male, whatever-class friends. Again, no issues. But what happens when we scale up? What happens when it’s time for PressNomics and an email goes out titled “Golf or Guitars?” as an invitation to a Saturday social event for the community at the conference?

Uhhh… how about neither?! That’s when the isolation starts brewing and you can tell you’re in a foreign land. For many individuals, this is tough to deal with. It creates a dilemma for the individual that puts them between a rock and a hard place. Do I act like I give a damn about either of those things just to be part of the community? Do I become anti-social which gives the impression that I put the isolation on myself by choice? Do I do my own thing and gather people to come with me in sort of a rebellious act?

I’m in the 3rd category. I say screw that, let’s go play basketball or something I can identify with. And that’s not really me being a rebel, that’s just me being me. Luckily, I’m confident enough to know that I can make that decision and still come back to the community and no one will think I’m just being difficult. But guess what… very few people have the confidence to do that. That’s the key issue here that the majority of the community is unaware of… because they fit in already.

And understand that I only just described the WordPress community side of things. I haven’t even mentioned the black community side. Now when I decide to post my event pictures on social media for my personal network to see and in the pictures I’m surrounded by white men who look like they belong in this culture, just imagine what type of separation that creates between me and my black community. Again, there are no one-on-one issues between me and another black male friend. But when the black community struggles as a whole with social issues, guess which one of us is viewed as the guy who can’t relate? So again, do I drive home my true, black identity to everyone in the WordPress community or do I pretend to be someone I’m not and lose touch with my people?

This is not just about black people either. I’d imagine women have it just as bad… probably worse. So yes, I do think it discourages people who might be in their early years. If you’re not already the type of person who’s willing to wear the “I’m different” badge, you either have to learn to be, fake like you’re not, or go find something else to do. Lucky for me, this is not my first tour through a predominately white institution. 9 years in the Army has given me plenty of time to practice how to deal with these situations.

Sorry so long.

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This comparison may not seem appropriate to you, but it was striking to me how similar the experiences you described in your last post are to those I’ve heard from refugees or long-term migrants. They feel out of place in their new countries and yet, with each passing year, they find it harder and harder to relate to their families and friends back home.

It’s amazing how easy it is to take for granted where we came from. Thanks for sharing your experience.

(Also, lol re: the Army)

Oh it’s definitely an appropriate comparison. Same exact concept. Check out this tweet from a few weeks ago: My 20 year old sister back home in St. Louis describes herself as “ghetto” all the time. On the surface, she’s more or less the typical girl from my culture.

She thinks I’m the “king of nerds” and as different as can be from those in my culture. At the same time, I’m telling you all in my essay how I have imposter syndrome and can’t relate to other developers because I don’t have the same history.

Where does that leave me?

Thank YOU for the great question and comments.