How I Overcame Imposter Syndrome in Engineering

You’re at your job but you feel like you don’t belong. You think you’re a fraud. You feel your success was all due to luck. These are all very common feelings to have. We call this imposter syndrome. It doesn’t matter what profession you’re in or what your background is.

You may have attached too much prestige to a profession. The people in a profession you may have held too highly on a pedestal. As a result, the profession or work seems out of reach to you. You feel unworthy 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 own businesses and with my past successes. However, the imposter syndrome did set in when I first started working as an engineer. Never did I talk about it though. The imposter syndrome I thought I had to control myself as an insecurity.

I learned 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?”

“Why am I in charge of designing this large complex project?”

“Why are they paying me all of 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 the success as a freshly minted college grad. Yet I still looked around myself and questioned why others didn’t have my position.

My skill set was not lacking. I loved engineering and I was good at it. Regardless, the imposter syndrome still kicked in for me.

In time I got over these thoughts. However, it required work on my part in overcoming the uneasiness of trying to fit in.

I eventually found the imposter feeling to be a great tool. Once I better understood the imposter syndrome, I was then able to hack my own mind. I’m now able to leverage certain thoughts to empower myself.

Imposter Syndrome from Drastic Life Changes

When you quickly reach the top of an industry the imposter syndrome typically kicks in stronger. Imagine an upcoming actor after their first blockbuster film. They go from no one recognizing them on the street to instantly becoming famous.

However, when an actor slowly moves up in their acting career the imposter syndrome is less impactful. It’s when the change is large and drastic, that the impact is great.

In my case, my change was drastic. I went directly from school studying engineering to practicing engineering in the real world. This large change caused my mind to spin in circles. It’s like reading about swimming and then next thing you find yourself in water trying to swim. It’s a shock to 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 is superior to the skills of others around you.

You feel another person’s skillset is better than yours for no logical reason. Your illogical thoughts 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 may be 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 these illogical thoughts, it’s not rational thinking. It’s insecurities that have become a bad habit. The bad habit leads you to always find any excuse 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 they may know better or they’re better than us. We’re placing others on a pedestal.

But would you fear expressing your ideas to a room full of first graders? Probably not. It’s because you simply don’t care if they judge you or your ideas. You could care less if you look like an idiot to them. There are no repercussions for being wrong as you view them as not as smart as you. They’re not your equal.

On the same token, there’s a reason why some basketball players are never posterized in the NBA. It’s because they never challenge a dunk at the rim. You’ll only get a block at the rim by accepting you may get dunked on. No risk no reward.

Every NBA player is in the league because they can play. Confident players understand you win some and you lose some. In one play another player dunks on you, 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 trending all over ESPN highlights because of a poster dunk they received. But some players also don’t feel worthy enough to contest the dunk of a top player.

The NBA is similar to most every work environment. You don’t always win. To maximize your success you can’t feel insecure and hide in the shadows. It’s important to showcase your skill set to better yourself.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

There are ways to overcome feeling like a fraud. It requires work to change your thoughts. You need to break certain bad habits that have built up over the years.

Sometimes feeling like a fraud never goes away. However, the feeling will subdue overtime. To speed up the process we’ll go over 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 eventually the truth comes out.

I’ve used all these techniques and they work. It’s important to set a goal. Work towards overcoming the imposter syndrome one step at a time.

#1) We’re All Human

Overtime I came to realize we’re all humans. It’s stating the obvious, but we never take the time to deeply reflect on life. To strip away the superficial layer of life we see everyday.

We all eat, sleep, and use the restroom like clockwork. Each of us has insecurities. We all become angry, have fears, and feel joy. There’s not one human that is an exception despite what Instagram may have you think.

Once I realized this, I no longer viewed any one person as above me. We all circle around the same fireball while trapped on this amazing spinning rock. Not one person comes out alive from this game called life. This is the ultimate perspective to change your view on things.

These thoughts 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

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

When you’re in a profession, you’re in the profession for a reason. You deserve to be there. In most instances the gates of opportunity opened for you because someone knows you can perform.

Whether you went to school or were self-taught, you gained a skill. As humans have done for centuries, you apply the skills that you’ve gained. Each person has a starting point on when they first apply a skill.

Your tenured colleague has a business card with ten letters after his name. He may have simply been practicing his skills decades longer than you. You may also have a colleague who is little smarter, but also some people are taller. You can’t win every hand. However, you do best with the hand you were given in life.

Knowing the full story to every person’s success is important. It shows how similar we all are. Your starting point shouldn’t be compared to someone who is thirty years into a business.

However, understanding how similar we all are is only one piece of the puzzle. We also need to fit in and earn the respect of our peers.  Any positive form of acknowledgment from our peers is most always good.

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 will empower you.

#2) Speak with Colleagues in Private

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

You’ll get an inside look into the people who you respect. This will strip away the façade they 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.

Here are four easy questions to ask:

1) How long have you been working in this field?

2) Are you always confident with the things that 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.

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

Don’t remain silent and hide in the shadows. Speak up, even if it’s only on the smaller things in your work. For instance, ask about the project schedule. This will help get the ball rolling and give you confidence to say more. Then slowly begin to ask deeper questions.

This’ll help you build a good habit. Soon all your thoughts will naturally pour out. This then snowballs to you tackling greater issues and in return gaining the respect of your peers.

Great thing is, you’ll receive feedback from others each time you speak out. This feedback loop will make you more confident to continue to speak out even more.

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

#4) Crack the Imposter Syndrome Code and Gain Confidence

After you recognize the imposter syndrome within you several times, you soon realize it’s part of the journey to success. With each new type of work you’ll slightly feel like a fraud. You’ll feel you don’t fully fit in.

However, feeling like a fraud is the first hurdle you need to overcome in your journey to success. You realize it’s a part of most every new journey you choose to do.

It’s like understanding that you’ll feel the burn with every last rep in a set when lifting weights. It’s those final reps that are important to build muscle. As a result, you learn to push through those final reps each time because you want to build muscle.

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

You’ve now built a good habit. With every new line of work or new responsibility, you now know you must push through the imposter syndrome stage. It’s a hack to gain confidence and not give up in the beginning difficult stages. It’s your right of entry to advance to the next stage.

#5) Fake It Until You Make It

We’ve all heard this said at one point in our lives. It works therefore we often hear it said.

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

Humans judge greatly 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. However, 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 lawsuit after lawsuit.

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

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. There’s nothing natural about this position.

As a president, I’m sure it’s necessary 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 and then returns to becoming a normal citizen after their presidency. These are all big changes.

Repeat certain things enough, and it’ll become a part of you. Also I would bet new presidents study past presidents. They learn and take away things they should do and shouldn’t do. Then overtime they add their own personal touch to the position.

It’s important to remember this is only a technique to overcome the imposter syndrome and gain confidence. You’re not changing who you are as a person. Your beliefs and character are to remain the same.

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. Knowing this, I view the imposter syndrome as only a beginning obstacle in most every journey. It will exist to some level in every line of work you pursue.

As a result, I push myself harder in those beginning stages to adapt to my environment. I want to quickly overcome the imposter syndrome.

Once I feel comfortable in my own shoes, I know others are feeling comfortable with me too. Then I know I’m doing well. I have passed the first hurdle where many fail.

If I still feel uncomfortable, then I need to work harder and smarter to fit in. Eventually I know I’ll get over the hurdle. I understand that the larger the hurdle is the greater the reward will be.

Don’t feel alone either. You’re in the company of many great minds who constantly overcome this same hurdle. Again, the imposter syndrome is simply the right of way to bettering yourself. If you quit too soon, you’ll have lost the game of advancing in life.

In time feeling like a fraud will go 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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