How I Overcame Imposter Syndrome as a Engineer

With the imposter syndrome, you feel like you don’t belong in a job. You think of yourself as a fraud. You feel your success came all from luck.

Most people have these feelings. It doesn’t matter your profession or background. In all types of engineering, you’ll find the imposter syndrome lurking.

You may have attached too much prestige to a profession. The people in a profession you may have held too high on a pedestal.

As a result, the profession or work may seem out of reach to you. You feel unworthy in your position and your insecurities run wild.

This feeling sets in, in all areas of life. I never had the feeling before when I worked on my businesses and with my past successes. Yet, the imposter syndrome did kick in when I first started working as an engineer.

Never did I talk about it though. I thought I had insecurities.

That said, I did learn to overcome imposter syndrome, but the journey took time.

I would think to myself:

  • Why are people two to three times my age asking me for advice?
  • How and why am I in charge of designing this large complex project?
  • Why are they paying me all this money as a freshly minted college graduate?

Starting engineering salaries in America

None of it made sense to me. I even felt I deserved success as a freshly minted college grad. Yet, I still looked around myself and questioned why others didn’t have my position.

Keep in mind, I had a strong skillset as a college graduate. Also, I loved engineering and I excelled in the work. Regardless, the imposter syndrome still kicked in for me.

I wrote a post on what engineers do. The post focuses on my own work as an engineer. So, you can see why I doubted myself as a new graduate.

Over time though, I got over these thoughts. But, it required work to beat the uneasiness to fit in.

In the long run, I used the imposter feeling like a tool. Once I better understood the imposter syndrome, I hacked my mind.

I leveraged my insecure thoughts to empower myself. So, I taught myself how to be a great engineer.

Imposter Syndrome from Drastic Life Changes

When you climb an industry fast, the imposter syndrome typically kicks in stronger. Imagine an upcoming actor after their first blockbuster film. They go from a nobody to instant fame.

But, when an actor slowly moves up the ranks, the imposter syndrome becomes less impactful. Only when the change happens fast do you really feel it.

The reason because your lifestyle completely changes in the snap of a finger. The way people view you changes overnight too.

In my case, everything happened fast. I directly went from studying in school to practicing engineering in the real world.

My position quickly through me in the thick of things. This large change caused my mind to spin in circles.

Analogous to reading about swimming and then you find yourself in the water trying to swim. This shocks your mind.

Why Do You Feel like a Fraud?

Feeling like a fraud stems from imaginary thoughts in your head and insecurities. When you feel like a fraud, your skillset takes a back seat to your insecurities. Even when your skillset trumps the skills of others around you.

You feel others have more skills than you without any reason. Your illogical thoughts on others may come from such things as:

  • Their resume spans three decades, while yours spans two years.
  • Their white hair signals wisdom to you, and you’re decades younger.
  • They’re the loudest in the room, while you’re quiet and reserved.
  • They drive an expensive sports car, while you ride the bus to the office.

When you think of these illogical thoughts, you sabotage yourself. Your insecurities become a bad habit. These bad habits lead you to always find excuses to feel uncertain over yourself.

For example, we all have great ideas, but we don’t always express them due to fear of criticism. We fear critics and our peers.

We think others may know better even without proof. As a result, we place others on pedestals.

But would you fear to express your ideas to a room full of first-graders? Probably not. You could care less if the first-graders judge you or your ideas. Also, if you come off as an idiot you wouldn’t care.

In short, nothing will happen to you if you say the wrong thing, given you don’t view first-graders as smart as you.

Getting Posterized in the NBA

On the same token, some basketball players never get posterized in the NBA. They fear to defend a dunk at the rim.

But, you’ll only get a block at the rim by accepting you may get dunked on. No risk no reward.

To point out, every player in the NBA can play at an elite level. But, only very confident players understand you win some and you lose some.

In other words, in one play you get dunked on, and in another play, you get the game-winning block.

Dunking basketball in NBA - gain confidence to lose the imposter syndrome

Sure, some players fear to trend all over ESPN highlights because they got posterized by a dunk. But, some players also don’t feel worthy enough to contest the dunk of a top player.

All in all, the NBA shares many similarities to every work environment. To maximize your success you can’t feel insecure and hide in the shadows.

You need to showcase your skill set to thrive. Someone hired you or works with you because they believe in you.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Over the years, I’ve devised ways to overcome feeling like a fraud. My techniques will work in every industry.

It requires work to change your thoughts though. You need to break certain bad habits that have built up over the years.

Sometimes feeling like a fraud never goes away. But, the feeling will subdue overtime. To speed up the process we’ll go over my five techniques that you should use.

These techniques will only work if you have a skill set in your line of work. Imagine a computer programming position.

No matter how well you follow these improvement techniques, you’ll always feel like a fraud if you can’t program. Some can fake it, but over time the truth comes out.

I’ve used all these techniques and they work. That said, you need to set a goal. Work towards overcoming the imposter syndrome one step at a time.

#1) We’re All Human

Over time I came to realize we’re all humans. I’m stating the obvious, but we never take the time to reflect on life. To strip away the superficial media layer we create in our minds about life.

We all eat, sleep, and use the restroom like clockwork. That said, every person you see will have some type of insecurities.

Also, we all become angry, have fears, and feel joy. Not one human exception exists despite what Instagram may have you think.

Once I realized this, I no longer viewed any one person as above me. We all circle the same fireball while trapped on this amazing spinning rock.

No one comes out alive from this game called life. This ultimate perspective will change your view on everything.

These thoughts will empower you. Steve Jobs once famously said:

“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world.

Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Steve Jobs with the Apple iPad

Steve Jobs’ quote alone captures how you should never allow a person to make you feel below them. As well, you should never place anyone on a pedestal.

In every profession, you work there for a reason and earn a paycheck. Someone else sees your potential and wants you there.

Whether you went to school or were self-taught, you gained a skill. As humans have done for centuries, you apply the skills you’ve gained. Each person starts from somewhere when they first apply a skill.

For example, your business card may look empty compared to your tenured colleague. His business card includes ten letters listed after his name.

So, he may have simply been practicing his skills decades longer than you.

On that note, from my experience, those letters don’t mean much. You can have the alphabet soup listed after your name. But if you can’t solve a simple problem, then I view the letters as wasted ink.

You also may have a colleague who solves problems better than you. But, also some people may stand taller than you.

You can’t win every hand in life. But, you do the best with the hand you have in life.

Also, knowing the full story of every person’s success I find important. It shows how much we all have in common.

As a result, you shouldn’t compare your starting point to someone thirty years your senior. We all start from somewhere.

Gaining Respect From Peers

That said, understanding our similarities makes only one piece of the puzzle. We also need to fit in and earn the respect of our peers.

All types of feedback from your peers will help gain your confidence.

Some people will hate you because you intimidate them. Others will look up to you because they admire you. While few will look at you as their equal. Either outcome should empower you.

#2) Speak with Colleagues in Private

Find people who you respect and trust and talk with them. Ask them how they started in the profession. This will help you better understand and overcome imposter syndrome.

You’ll get an inside look into the people who you respect. A great way to strip away the façade experts carry.

You’ll see them as regular humans who you’d meet at a grocery store. Not the genius engineering whiz who fascinates and intimidates you.

Ask your colleague the following questions:

  1. How long have you been working in the field?
  2. Are you always confident over the things you say to clients, colleagues, and others?
  3. Did you have any insecurities when you first started working? If yes, what did you do to overcome these insecurities?
  4. How do you suggest I improve my self-confidence in my work?

Don’t feel ashamed to become vulnerable by asking questions. Think of it as training.

The more quickly you complete your training, the faster you can go into combat.

Also, check out this post I wrote on how engineers think. This will give you a leg up into the mind of engineers.

You can see how much you have in common with superstar engineers. This way you can become just as great.

#3) Speak up and Don’t Stand in the Shadows

Don’t remain silent and hide in the shadows. Speak up, even on smaller matters in your work. For instance, ask about the project schedule.

This will help you get the ball rolling and give you the confidence to say more. Then over time begin to ask deeper questions.

You’ll build great habits. Soon all your thoughts will pour out.

This then snowballs with you tackling greater issues. In return, you gain more respect from your peers.

In this process, you’ll receive feedback from others each time you speak up. This feedback loop will make you more confident to continue to speak up even more.

Then, the more you speak the more you’ll fit in. The imposter syndrome will soon begin to fade away.

Further, you’ll more quickly sharpen your engineering skills too. The fast way to level up.

Always remember, most people enjoy helping. Even people who don’t smile much.

#4) Crack the Imposter Syndrome Code and Gain Confidence

Recognize the recipe behind the imposter syndrome. You’ll soon realize imposter syndrome comes with every journey to success.

With each new line of work you do, you’ll feel like a fraud. You’ll feel you don’t fit in.

But, feeling like a fraud, I view it as the first hurdle. You need to overcome this feeling to build success.

Every great journey will include a flavor of imposter syndrome.

For example, think of lifting weights.  You’ll feel the burn with every last rep in a set when lifting weights.

But, only those final reps in a set will build your muscle. As a result, you learn to push through those final reps each time because you want muscle growth.

You do the same when you feel like a fraud. The difficult beginning stage you push through every time. The end result leads you to crack the imposter syndrome code.

Most importantly, you now have built a good habit. You understand with every new line of work and responsibility you need to push.

You can easily now identify and control imposter syndrome.

In short, use this hack to gain confidence and not give up, in the beginning, difficult stages. Think of this as your right of entry to advance and level up.

#5) Fake It Until You Make It

We’ve all heard this said at one point in our lives. Because it works.

We all do it to some degree. Trying to look smarter, richer, bigger, and the list goes on.

Humans judge by what they see. If they see you acting and looking the part, you’ll become believable. At first at least when you introduce yourself.

Regardless, you’ve won half the battle. This highlights the importance of fake it until you make it.

When you can sell yourself, you can skip most all the other techniques that we’ve discussed. But, the caveat is that you do have the necessary skills to perform.

Without any skills, you can only get so far. You may win a contract to build let us say a bridge. But if you don’t have the skills to design a bridge, you’ll only receive a lawsuit.

If you have the skills, then look at the top people in your industry and copy them. Over time you can add your personal touch to set yourself apart.

So, emulate the top people by learning how they:

  • Dress
  • Talk about work subjects
  • Talk outside of work on non-work related subjects
  • Treat colleagues
  • Treat clients
  • Study

Actor acting in movie - similar to imposter syndrome in real life

Presidency Imposter Syndrome

Imagine the American president. A handbook on how to run a country doesn’t exist. Most every person would feel like a fraud running a nation of over 300 million people.

I don’t see any natural human qualities in this position.

As a president, I’m sure you need to fake it until certain actions become a habit. Doing anything repeatedly will turn into a habit.

That’s how a senator becomes a president. Then later returns to becoming a normal citizen after their presidency. All these big changes in life can switch on imposter syndrome.

So, repeat certain actions enough, and they’ll become a part of you. Also, I would bet new presidents study past presidents.

They learn and take away things they should and shouldn’t do. Then over time, they add their personal touch to the position.

You too can overcome imposter syndrome by using this technique, while staying true to who you are. You still will remain the same person.

Your beliefs and character will go unchanged. But, you’ll have more confidence in yourself as you level up.

Conquering the Imposter Syndrome

Certain things in life we all experience. We all learn to write at a certain age. Shakespeare didn’t come out the womb writing plays.

Everything takes time and over time we grow into our professions. In every journey, imposter syndrome sits on the first steps waiting for you. It’ll exist to some level in every line of work you pursue.

As a result, push yourself harder in the beginning stages to quickly adapt to your new work. You want to overcome imposter syndrome as fast as possible

I know once I’m comfortable in my shoes, others will feel comfortable around me too. At this stage, I know I’m doing well. I’ve passed the first hurdle where many fail.

If I still feel uncomfortable though, then I know need to work harder and smarter to fit in. In due time, I know I’ll get over the hurdle.

I understand the larger the hurdle, the greater the reward.

Further, don’t feel alone either. Many of the greatest minds overcame this same hurdle countless times.

As I’ve said, imposter syndrome becomes your right of way to bettering yourself. If you quit too soon, you’ll lose in the game of life.

In summary, feeling like a fraud will fade away and your work will become like drinking water. Everything will become second nature and effortless.

Did you ever suffer from imposter syndrome at work or any other place? If yes, how did you overcome it? 


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