How I Overcame Imposter Syndrome as a Design Engineer

The imposter syndrome makes you feel like a fraud in a job. I even had imposter syndrome as a design engineer, but I learned how to beat it.

Most engineers have this feeling when they start new work. Your profession or background doesn’t matter either. In all types of engineering, the imposter syndrome exists.

But, you can overcome the imposter syndrome. I’m going to share the 6 hacks I used.

Before I do, I’m going to discuss my own experience as a design engineer. Also, I’ll dig into the imposter feeling itself. This way, you can better understand why this feeling even exists.

My experience with imposter syndrome as a design engineer

You may attach too much prestige to a profession. Or, you hold the people in a profession on too high of a pedestal.

As a result, a profession or work will seem out of reach to you. You feel unworthy. Because let’s face it, who are you? You’re just a regular person filled with insecurities.

To a lot of people’s surprise though, everyone has this feeling to some degree in something they do. Strangely, I never had the feeling when I worked on my own businesses.

But, the imposter syndrome hit me like a ton of rocks when I started working as a design engineer.

I never talked about it though. Why would I? That’s not the manly thing to do.

Back then I thought to myself:

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

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 questioned why others didn’t have my position.

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

I wrote a post on what engineers do. It’ll give you an idea of the work I did at the time. So, you can see why I doubted myself as a new grad.

Over time though, I got over these thoughts. But, it required a lot of work.

In the long run, I used the imposter syndrome as a tool. Once I understood the mechanics behind imposter syndrome, I was able to hack my mind.

I leveraged my insecurities to empower myself. I taught myself how to be a great engineer.

In summary, to best leverage this imposter feeling, you need to understand why you feel this way.

Imposter syndrome sourced from drastic life changes

The faster you climb up in an industry, the stronger imposter syndrome typically kicks in. Imagine an upcoming actor whose film becomes a box office hit. They go from a nobody to instant fame.

When an actor slowly moves up the ranks, the imposter syndrome becomes less impactful. The key is big and fast transitions.

So, it’s sourced from your lifestyle completely changing in the snap of a finger. Also, the way people treat you changes overnight too.

But, your mind still lives in the past. It hasn’t adjusted to the change. And, this is where the problems begin.

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

I was instantly thrown into the thick of things. My mind was still processing doing make-believe problems in school.

I compare it to swimming. You’re at home reading about swimming and the next thing you find yourself in the water trying to swim. Mind shock!

Even more, you think people know much more than you in your field. From my experience, many people don’t know as much as you think they do.

Many people just act the part great. After years of experience, you’ll be able to much better spot the fakes.

Now, here’s data from TeamBlind.com showing how even the top techies feel like phonies in their work.

Tech CompanyPercent of tech employees experiencing imposter syndrome
Expedia72.88%
Salesforce66.88%
Amazon64.48%
Facebook59.31%
Microsoft56.21%
Google55.99%
Intel54.00%
eBay49.69%
Apple45.45%

Why do you feel like a fraud?

Feeling like a fraud stems from 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.

These are some of the things you may think that makes you feel insecure:

  • Their resume spans three decades, while yours spans two years.
  • Their white hair signals wisdom, 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 self-sabotage yourself. Soon, your insecurities become bad habits.

In other words, you’ll always search for excuses to keep yourself down. This way, you’ll never create great expectations for yourself.

Thus, you won’t ever let yourself down. Because you’re living in your comfort zone. This is poisonous thinking.

For example, we all have great ideas. A lot of the times though, we don’t tell others our ideas because we fear criticism.

We think others may know better even without justification. So, indirectly we’re placing others on pedestals.

That’s bullshit! We all bleed the color red.

Now think about this. Would you fear expressing your ideas to a room full of first-graders? Probably not.

You’d care less if any first-grader judges you or your ideas. You wouldn’t even care if you come off as an idiot to them.

In short, because you don’t view first graders as smart as you, you freely express yourself.

The fear of getting posterized in the NBA

Have you noticed some NBA players never get posterized? I’m talking about getting dunked on.

It’s because they never try to defend a dunk.

You can only get a block at the rim if you accept getting dunked on. No risk no reward.

To point out, every player in the NBA plays 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 trending on ESPN highlights as the posterized player. 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 you and me. To maximize your success you can’t feel insecure and hide in the shadows.

You need to showcase your skillset to succeed. Someone hired you or works with you because they believe in you.

How to overcome the imposter syndrome

Over the years, I’ve come up with ways to overcome feeling like a fraud. My techniques work in every industry. Since I try so many new things, I’m always using my techniques.

I will say though, my techniques aren’t all easy. You need to change how you think. Also, you need to break certain bad habits you have.

And, sometimes feeling like a fraud never goes away. That’s the reality. But, the feeling will subdue overtime. To speed up the process, use my 6 techniques. They will help you!

But as a big disclaimer, these techniques will only work if you’re skilled in your line of work. Imagine a computer programming position.

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

So, let’s get started.

#1) We’re all human

Over time I came to realize we’re all humans. Yes, I’m stating the obvious.

But, how many times have you stopped to think about this? I find this to be a great way to strip the superficial parts of life that we create in our minds.

To dig deeper, we all eat, sleep, and use the restroom like clockwork. Also, we each become angry, have fears and insecurities, and feel joy.

Not one human is exempt from these behaviors and feelings. Despite what Instagram may have you think.

Once I realized this, I no longer viewed any person 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 empower you.

You’ll say to yourself, “why shouldn’t I be the best?”

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 captures how you should never let someone make you feel below them. Also, never place anyone on a pedestal.

The employment model in society

In every profession, you’re employed for a reason. Someone sees your potential and wants your services.

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.

Also, each person has a starting point. So, you shouldn’t compare your starting point to someone thirty years your senior.

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

But that only means he may have 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. If you can’t solve a simple problem, those letters mean nothing.

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

You can’t win every hand in life. Just do the best you can with the hand you’re given.

Gaining respect from your peers

As social creatures, we heavily feed off our peers.

If you have the right mindset, feedback of all types can boost 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.

Regardless, learn to use all feedback as building blocks to become better.

#2) Speak with your colleagues in private

Go speak with people who you respect and trust in your profession. Ask them how they started in the profession.

You’ll get an inside look into the journey of people who you respect. It’s a great way to strip the façade experts carry. Because people aren’t born experts.

In fact, most of these confident people today at one point had imposter syndrome.

Thus, this is a great way to humanize people who you look up to. You’ll see they’re very similar to you. They’re not some mythical genius engineering whiz whose unapproachable.

Here are questions to ask your colleague:

  1. How long have you been working in the field?
  2. Are you always confident about the things you say to clients and colleagues?
  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 be scared to ask questions. Making yourself vulnerable is not a weakness. Think of it as training.

Complete your training fast. Then you can defeat the imposter syndrome more quickly.

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. Also, this gives you the blueprint for bettering yourself.

#3) Speak up and don’t stand in the shadows

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

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

I find this to be a great way to build good speaking habits. Soon, all your thoughts will pour out.

In return, you gain more respect from your peers. And, you’ll receive feedback each time you speak up.

This creates a feedback loop. The more you speak, the greater your confidence grows.

As a result, the more you’ll fit in and the imposter syndrome will fade.

As an added bonus, you’ll more quickly sharpen your engineering skills. Thus, a great way to level yourself up.

From everything I’ve seen, most people enjoy helping others. This includes the people who don’t smile much. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

#4) Crack the imposter syndrome code and gain confidence

Become familiar with imposter syndrome. In other words, understand why people get imposter syndrome.

I already discussed it comes from drastic life changes. So, it’s clear 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 as if you don’t fit in.

But, this feeling is only a gate of passage. Great success comes with overcoming this feeling.

For example, think of lifting weights. With every last rep in a set, you’ll feel the burn. You’ll want to drop the weights and sprawl yourself on the ground from exhaustion.

But, it’s those final reps in a set that build muscle. So, over time you learn to push through the final reps because you want muscle growth.

You do the same when you feel like a fraud. The difficult beginning stage you need to push through.

The end result is defeating imposter syndrome. In return, you gain more confidence in your field.

Thus, the key is to right away to recognize imposter syndrome. By identifying the feeling, you can better control it.

I’ve programmed myself to push through the beginning difficult stage of any new work. I know the imposter feeling is the right of passage to leveling myself up.

#5) Fake it until you make it

We’ve all heard “fake it until you make it” at one point in our lives. It’s because there’s some truth to it.

And, we all do it to some degree subconsciously. We try to look smarter, richer, bigger, and the list goes on.

As social creatures, we judge each other by what we see. If I see you acting and looking a certain way, I may find you more credible. At first at least, before I learn more about you.

Regardless, you’ve won half the battle. You’ve made me a believer.

As a result, I’ll speak with you differently and this will boost your confidence. Also, by building winning habits you’ll feel empowered.

This highlights the importance of fake it until you make it.

When you can sell yourself, you can speed up the process of overcoming the imposter syndrome. The caveat is you do have the necessary skills to perform.

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

Now, assuming you’re skilled, go study the top people in your industry. Then copy them. Over time you can add your personal touch to set yourself apart.

Here are some things you can copy:

  • Clothes to wear
  • Discussion subjects to start at work
  • Discussion subjects to start outside of work
  • How to treat colleagues
  • How to treat clients
  • Study habits

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

Imposter syndrome as the U.S. president

Imagine the U.S. president position. A handbook on how to run the country doesn’t exist.

I bet most every person would feel like a fraud running a nation of over 300 million people.

As a president, I’m sure you need to fake it until certain actions become a habit.

That’s how a senator becomes a president. Then, later they return to becoming normal citizens after their presidency. All these big life changes can trigger the imposter syndrome.

As I discussed, the key is to repeat certain actions enough until they become a habit. Plus, I bet new presidents study past presidents.

They learn what to do and not to do. Then over time, they add their personal touch to the position.

#6 Learn more and more

The more knowledge you gain, the more confident you’ll become. Not a surprise.

As an extreme example, imagine the game of chess. As a new player, you’d feel like the biggest imposter if you had to play against a chess grandmaster.

You’d want your friend to slap you if you sat to play Magnus Carlsen. But, what if you had the knowledge of every move mapped in your mind?

Like a computer, you could do rapid calculations to always pick the best move. I bet the imposter syndrome would go away faster than you could snap your finger.

The key takeaway is to learn as much as you can. I always try to absorb as much knowledge as I can with a new line of work.

I study like a madman. This is what I do:

  • Buy books and read endlessly
  • Search and read through countless online forum pages
  • Watch videos – Youtube typically has great content
  • Find and speak with the top minds
  • Read project case studies – both success and failures

This learning approach never fails me. In a matter of no time, I get myself up to speed with so-called experts in a field.

As they say, it takes around 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in a given field. Now, look at my table below for how you can speed up the process.

YearCASE #1: hours worked/Year (40 hour work weeks)CASE #2: hours worked/Year (80 hour work weeks)
12,080 hours4,160 hours
22,080 hours4,160 hours
32,080 hours4,160 hours
42,080 hours-
52,080 hours-
Total hours10,400 hours12,480 hours

By working 80 hours per week you can hit the 10,000-hour mark in 2.5 years versus 5 years. A small sacrifice goes a long way to building amazing confidence.

Conquering the imposter syndrome

Shakespeare didn’t come out the womb writing plays.

Everything worthwhile in life takes time to master. In every journey, imposter syndrome sits on the bottom step waiting for you.

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

As once I’m comfortable in my shoes, others will feel comfortable around me too.

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

Further, don’t feel alone either. Many of the greatest minds overcame the imposter syndrome countless times.

As I’ve said, imposter syndrome is your right of passage to bettering yourself. If you quit too soon, you’ll never reach your full potential.

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

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