I wrote a song this morning. I feel really good about it.

I tend to record music, frown a little and then hide it far away from human ears. It isn’t that I don’t like it. I just don’t want anyone else to realize how amateur it is and that I, by extension, must be an amateur. A fake. An imposter.

So, I’m doing the imposter syndrome post? About time, I suppose. It’s really in vogue right now. Everybody who’s anybody has had one. Well, in a way, I suppose I am, but in another, no.

Partly, this is just my public confessional. Past that though, I wanted to consider an interesting side effect of feeling like a fake.

Compensating Much?

The above song has four instruments: A soft piano, a viola, a clarinet, and briefly, a cello. They each lead at some point. At others, they each follow. Constantly though, they play. They each have a rather simple purpose, and each play their rather simple part. I think that makes it sound really solid.

Most of the compositions from my vault of shame don’t fit that profile though. The bulk of them have many loud and brash instruments, all trying to out play the other. Together they hope to weave a blanket of volume and senseless complexity that might cover my fear of being found a fraud.

I don’t think I’m alone. I think that, at heart, most of us have the tempting thought that we would feel like a true professional if we could do the complex things that a true professional could do. After all, if they are professional, they must do things I can’t. The things I can do feel simple. They must be able to do the complex.

And so, to sound professional, my music cranked up the complexity. Ironically, this overly complicated sound, fueled by my fear of sounding like a poser, made my compositions rather displeasing. This further fueled my feelings. It was a bit self-fulfilling.

The Freedom of Amateurism

Looking back at my catalog, the pieces that I’m most proud of are the pieces where I persued simplicity, rather than fearful complexity. Here’s another of my favorites, for example. Once again, four instruments. Each plays the minimum amount required, rather than the maximum amount available. Each role is added to fill a purpose, not to fill my fear.

I see the same thing in my codebases. I can see the insecure college grad who thinks if only he can do a task in a one clever line, then maybe, just MAYBE he’s a real developer. I can see the developer who chose the complex solution using every pattern and interface he could come up with. I see the developer who decided to future proof, because PROFESSIONAL.

And then I see something different.

As the commit messages become more ordered, and as the git log moves closer and closer to the present, I see a developer who looks more and more like a professional as his intentions were less and less about carrying the facade of PROFESSIONAL.

So Real Professionals… What Then?

For the longest time, I felt fake. I would list off in my head why the facts disagreed, but feelings are hard to persuade. Even while listing the reasons, my feelings would remain charged against me.

As it turns out, at least for me, growth is a long process, and can’t be done without moving. I couldn’t move past my fear as long as I allowed it to influence my choices. Fear needed to have its commit access revoked. Growth required not that I no longer fear, but that I no longer caved to its demands.

So, that’s the secret then? Haha. Nope. I still feel like a fake from time to time. I’d be surprised for someone to tell me they don’t. But now it can’t stick around. There isn’t as much to sink its claws into.

The slow lesson I’m learning is that “Real professionals do whatever it is that you do.”