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The year to eradicate impostor syndrome

“In 2014, we’ll all need to challenge ourselves to more publicly share and document not just how we deal with insecurity, but how we build our skills, networks, and confidence.”

I lost track of the number of conversations this year that set off the impostor syndrome alarm bell in my brain. At first, I thought people were just being modest. But it soon became clear that people were reluctant to recognize in themselves the same traits that awed them in other people. This dynamic holds people back while also overtaxing the limited number of anointed experts. And 2014 is going to be another busy year: Olympics, elections, World Cup. In order for the journalism-tech community to continue to grow and do incredible work, we must shake off the specter of impostor syndrome.

erika-owensSpeak up. To start, we need to admit we have an impostor syndrome problem. Knight-Mozilla Fellow Noah Veltman clearly laid out how much of an issue impostor syndrome is and how it’s harming the journalism-tech community. He also raised another important part of contending with it: bringing visiblity to the questions everyone has as they are learning (and we are all always learning).

As more people grapple with impostor syndrome publicly, it brings transparency to the process of how someone gets to be regarded as an expert. How even experts ask questions. How those experts often want to share what they know — not just with other experts, but with anyone interested in learning. Twitter is a great way to watch those conversations unfold. In 2014, we’ll all need to challenge ourselves to more publicly share and document not just how we deal with insecurity, but how we build our skills, networks, and confidence.

Band together. Until this year, I didn’t fully understand how networking functions as a critical welcoming and support structure in this community. I found this out principally through joining the Tech Lady Mafia. At first I was intimidated: How could I offer anything useful or compete with these amazing women? But over time, I started to realize that TLMers were awesome in their own individual ways that not only did not detract from each other, but actually bolstered one another. I then got to put the power of the network — the people I met, the tips I learned — to work in publicizing the Knight-Mozilla Fellowship. This year we had a four-fold increase in female applicants, which I attribute in large part to recognizing the power of these existing networks to help people deal with their reservations and reach for big opportunities.

I look forward to TLM continuing to grow in 2014 and to seeing other similar public and semi-private networks flourish.

Reach out. There’s a quiet confidence that comes from not just being good at what you do, but also being respected by your peers. This year, we’ve seen some great work from conference organizers to include speakers of diverse backgrounds, and efforts like that are important to dismantling impostor syndrome. Consciously including new faces and voices in conferences, publications, and invitations to lead and teach demonstrates that expertise exists within all of us. Tools like the OpenGenderTracker also help increase awareness of how limited our existing networks may be, and what we can do to ensure that the people we spend the most time reading are representative of the wider communities we live and work in.

From NICAR to Nieman Lab, opportunities abound to herald the work of everyone in this community. And 2014 will have plenty of ’em.

Impostor syndrome is something many of us have been struggling with individually. But it’s also something we need to contend with as a community. 2014 is our chance to talk openly, build connections, and foster new leaders who will have the confidence to create projects that are only little sparks of an idea now, but will someday become the next project-turned-verb.

Erika Owens is community manager of Knight-Mozilla OpenNews.

Updating regularly through Friday, December 20