Simon J McDonnell

Creating cool stuff

Imposter Syndrome and Failing to Finish

There’s a thing called “Imposter Syndrome” Put simply it’s the feeling that you’re just tricking people with your competence, and feeling that they’ll eventually find out how terrible you really are. This is something that I feel is probably common among beginner game developers, at least it is in my completely anecdotal experience. I know plenty of developers who feel they always have to work, and always think they’re terrible. I also know ones who let this fear of being secretly awful paralyse them into never doing anything, because they just assume it’ll be the worst, that it and they will never be good enough.

Imposter Syndrome is a really shitty thing to be suffering from, and it’s a pretty hard thing to escape. You feel like you’re shit, so you don’t make things, so you feel shittier about not doing things, and so on.


I’m someone who very firmly believes that most people can do most things if they apply enough dedication and practise, and even I struggle with this still. Something that helped me was getting and maintaining a job, eventually I began to feel like maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t tricking them and was actually decent at my job.

I’m sure that’s only one way of getting out of that funk, though. A key component of it is becoming more forgiving of yourself. Perfectionism will only ever make you miserable about the things you create. I was only able to enjoy my work more when I stopped beating myself up over every mistake. That’s also only in regards to my engine coding side project by the way. I still give myself tons of shit whenever I try to design a game, or when I write something. I always think it’s garbage. Always. But I’m working on it.

Something that helps me right now is just trying to finish things. A lot of the time I’ll start something with an initial surge of excitement, and that will fade and I’ll think it’s all shit. Then I never work on it and never recoup anything from my investment. Whereas if I’d simply stuck with it I’d have at the very least learned some useful things about what doesn’t work. When you abandon something early on you miss out on all those learning opportunities.

This is actually part of a theory that’s been percolating in my head lately about creative work. Which is that you have to be okay with making shitty things. I realise this isn’t something new, but there’s a difference between hearing something and internalising it. You have to be okay with making shitty things because that it is literally the only way to make good or even great things. I can’t expect a game idea to spring into my head fully formed, be amazing in it’s implementation the first time I try it, and have no unforeseen issues at all. That’s crazy.

Every single project that I’ve worked on has started with some excitement and then eventually run into serious issues. The difference between the ones that I’ve finished and the ones I haven’t is that the ones I finished usually had outside pressure applied. They were either for college, a competition, or my actual job. I had no real choice, they HAD to be completed. This made me/us actually work through the issues that came up, and I learned valuable lessons each time. They never turned out exactly the way I liked, sure, but they were never as awful as I thought they’d be. Each one was usually better than the last, too.

Now I’ll wrap up this meandering post by linking to a typography of an Ira Glass quote that says all of this far more succinctly than I did.


PhilCK says:

I used to feel shit about not finishing stuff. Then i realised how much I was learning that I wouldnt get in my job. Its not wasted because ive now started making alot of progress both in work and in hobbies, it just reaches a point. Think of it as a big “Level Up” in a semi circle above your head, where each letter bounces in turn. Nom nom nom.

Also it is better to give up on shit if youve found its shit, your free time shouldnt be spent doing shit, because thats well shit! Shit shit shit (Q: word of the day is? A: donkey!).

PhilCK says:

You tottally thought word of the day was “shit”!

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