My imposter syndrome, insecurity and depression

It is common for people in I.T. to suffer from imposter syndrome, and I am one of them. The feeling of self-doubt and personal incompetence. I felt like a fraud, working in the most reputable consulting firm writing software. My undergraduate degree was not in computer science. My initial work experience was in marketing which has nothing to do with information technology. Before being assigned for the banking project, I was mainly a web developer in frontend using javascript. However, I became the lead android app developer when I was tasked with the fintech project. I work hard to self-study Kotlin and build apps using online tutorials. And to be clear, I did deliver quality code with testing. But it was a scary thought: what if they realised I was not the most competent expert in the room? What if they realise I never heard of a standard library that is used in the industry? What if they know I was not very family with different design patterns? There is so much knowledge related to my job, such as cloud computing, networking, architecture, security etc., you name it. It was nearly impossible to be an expert in everything, Yet, I was charging my client an expensive hourly rate, googling answers for the client, which they could also look up online themselves. As a director of the team, my boss demonstrated all the qualities of a professional consultant, dressing up to impress, speaking all the buzzwords, and selling the dream. It sounds terrific with the digital transformation, artificial intelligence and blockchain, yet, my daily job was moving a useless button-up with a few pixels. Sometimes I felt hopeless as I could not even align the button to the centre of the screen. A simple task like this is not that simple with many screen sizes, operating systems and browsers. With that in mind, I decided to study part-time for a master degree in computer science at CUHK in 2015-2017.

Studying more for a higher educational degree did not resolve my imposter syndrome. It makes me feel worse when reading the academic paper. I need to deep dive into my weakest area in networking to study border gateway protocol (BGP). I also learned the algorithm of machine learning with multiple layers and backpropagation. The mathematics were particularly challenging using linear algebra, matrix and differentiation for gradient descent. My foundation was fragile, and it took me extra hours and effort to catch up with the materials. The content was interesting to study on weekends in the library. I learn a lot about theory, but not many are relevant to my day to day job. I did not have a chance to use quantum computing for cryptography while my day job was adding text, which I was already struggling to render on the screen.

While working long hours and studying part-time, I met a girlfriend on a dating app. Her name was Jo. She worked at the bank of China as a relationship manager. My imposter syndrome at work extended beyond my personal life. I felt the insecurity. I thought I do not deserve this beautiful lady, and she may run away one day with another man who has better qualities than myself. I constantly worry about revealing my salary with a fear that she paid a much higher income tax than myself. I was silly. She seems to be happy with me being her boyfriend and did not mind about the things above. However, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I always worry that I did not treat her well enough. I insisted on being her uber personal driver to pick her up back home every day. I tried to impress her friends, making sure I look like a good boyfriend and showing my love to her. I said sweet things every day, telling her that I love her and even writing love letters to express my passion. I spent time with her whenever I could, but I had to balance my crazy workload as a consultant at work and study complex theory at night and at weekends. I could not let myself slow down. I had to keep myself busy. I had to earn a lot of money to afford a better life for my girlfriend, buy her the dream house in Hong Kong at a crazy expensive price.

The busy life did not feel more fulfilling. On the contrary, I felt more stressed. I need to ensure my project is delivered on time at work, homework submitted on time at school, and being a good boyfriend at the personal time. I was crazy to adopt my work methodology of scrum in my personal life, asking my girlfriend for feedback on my performance and weekly retrospective. I was afraid I would fail to deliver. I was scared of losing her. And I did not realise my mindset was unhealthy at that time until I look back later on. But it was already too late. Later on, I thought I loved her and treated her well to keep her happy. She was feeling stress as well in the relationship. She thought I was trying to control her, but I did not realise. She said she was going to the Bahamas in the Caribbean to travel by herself. She said she would enjoy the sunshine wearing a bikini. My insecurity came into my mind, worrying that she would look too sexy to wear a bikini. I said I would not allow her to do so, and she thought I was crazy. We got into an argument over this little thing, and finally, she broke up with me. The way she decided to end the relationship was blocking me. Block every way of connections from a phone call, WhatsApp, WeChat and everything. That drives me crazy! My life was a lot of stress at that point, and I thought I was nearly at a mental breakdown. My mind was full of anger and resentment. I could not understand why she treated me like this. The one who hurt me the most was the one I love the most. Of course, I could understand now after a couple of years and calm down. I was not in health psychology. I was burned out at my work, pressured too hard to study and forced myself to be the perfect boyfriend out of fear. I did not think I deserve all the good things I got, and I destroyed them all with my insecurity. My mindset pushed me to be a high achiever and psycho at the same time.

Blocking me from contact was the worst thing that my girlfriend could treat me as an insecure man. I did not have the realisation at that time. I took the time to reflect and recover. I was active again on the dating app. I got a new girlfriend and thought I could move on from the relationship. It worked for a while, but history would repeat itself if I did not fix the root cause. This time I had already changed to a new job working as a consultant at a software monitoring company with an even higher salary increase. Due to my imposter syndrome at work, I also study part-time for another degree, master of business administration (M.B.A). I felt that I need to equip myself with these qualifications to justify my expensive charge rate to the client. However, it did not solve the problem. I was sitting at the enterprise client office, being asked all the technical questions about the software, but I had no idea how to answer. I made a couple of mistakes that made me sound like a fool more than a professional. Meanwhile, my study material on the weekend wasn’t easy either. I had no foundations in accounting, which took me some time to catch up to the advanced topic in finance. With all this stress building up, my new girlfriend, who I treat seriously, decided to break up with me. The reason was that she realised we were not suitable for each other beyond my comprehension. I was working hard to build our relationship, and I believe it took the effort to maintain a relationship. But she decided to block me, the same way my ex-girlfriend treating me, stopping from contact at all channels. I suffered from depression. Yet, I did not realise at that point, and I did not seek any medical help. Luckily, I was a book reader. With no girlfriend occupying my time, I got time to read one book per day. I was so depressed reading many self-help books to keep my mind busy from thinking about her. Self-help books, such as 12 rules of life by Jordan Peterson, helped me overcome the darkest period. I had an intense self-reflection on the meaning of life and love afterwards.

It was hard for people from the outside to understand my depression, it had nothing to do with material things like how much money I earned, but it was a feeling that I could not see the hope of the future. It was a moment in life that was not motivated to do anything as nothing seems worth doing. I cried all day and night with pain and regret, beyond what I could describe here. Later on, I tried to recover by doing exercise daily and running to keep myself busy. And I need to change my environment by switching jobs and moving house. There were many good memories in my house which I had to move on. I resigned from my consulting position, then became a technical lead in Hong Kong’s most well-established retail bank. I planned to focus on my career instead of wasting time on dating.
However, the plan did not go well as I was just an ordinary man who would also feel lonely sometimes. Some beautiful ladies I was fortunate to meet, yet I was not fully ready to start a new relationship. More importantly, I need to solve the root of my problem, my imposter syndrome at work and my insecurity in relationships. Those are things that I had to overcome to prevent further tragedy from happening to me again. Today, I would still feel the imposter syndrome at work being an engineering manager for the bank. The more I learn, the more I realise so much I did not know. The positive side of it is to remind me to keep learning as much as I could. Yet, I shall enjoy the learning process instead of driving myself crazy again. On the relationship side with insecurity, I am writing down my vulnerability, hoping that I could become happier, less anxious, less depressed, and physically healthier by spending time writing carefully about myself. I hope my personal story could help others who suffer similar experiences feel relief. To share my experience and hope you would not make the same mistake.

By Victor Leung

Experience in software development, consulting services and technical product management. Understanding of business and technology with an MBA in Finance and a Master degree in Computer Science. AWS Certified Solution Architect with experience in building products from scratch and serving as a charismatic leader.

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