My first year in engineering school was really tough as I struggled with the pace and level of the coursework. There were many occasions where I wondered how I ended up in a top tier engineering school. I would look around at my classmates and it seemed like they were breezing through the class with so much less effort. Where the hell did all these geniuses come from and how did they all end up in my classes?
Has this ever happened to you where you feel like everyone else picks up the material so much quicker and breezes through the practice problems on which you are struggling?
Do you every feel like you are completely in over your head?
You may not know the name for this, but we have all experienced this in one way or another during engineering school or our careers (particularly the first few years). Imposter Syndrome is the term used to define these types of thoughts and is generally defined as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Well, let me be the first to tell you that THIS IS NORMAL. Everyone gets these feeling now and then and the key is to put them in perspective and to overcome these feelings of inferiority.
My 4-Step Action Plan to overcome these feelings . . .
Because Imposter Syndrome is a psychological process, overcoming these feelings takes a shift in mindset and in your approach to the way you see various situations. Using these four methods can help you push these thoughts out and replace them with positive ones.
1. Recognition & emulation of those above and below you – There is ALWAYS someone smarter or more qualified than you, that’s life. By the same token, there are many people that are not as smart and are less qualified as you. Take more time to recognize your gifts & talents and less time to focus on where someone else’s might be better than yours. The second step along this path is to recognize someone else’s skills and try to emulate them. Instead of grumbling about them from afar, go right up to them and tell them that you admire one of their skills and ask them for some tips on how you can gain that skill as well. Honestly, is that really any different than some of you guys who have turned to me as your engineering mentor? I’m happy to help share my knowledge and I think you will find that most others will as well if you reach out to them in a respectful manner.
2. Understand that everyone fails and that things are often not what they seem – If everyone’s life were really as perfect as their Instagram pictures or Facebook status updates, then you might get the impression that nobody fails. However, things are often not what they seem and I often refer to this as the “Instagram affect”. Everyone seems to be having a great time flying around the world, having one success after another, and making the fanciest of meals. Yet, although they don’t publicize it, these people have the same problems as you and I. However, it doesn’t make for an exciting Instagram post to show yourself struggling to pay your bills or that you burned dinner.
3. Recognize your success – When was the last time someone ever called up their tech support specialist to just thank them and let them know that their computer is running just fine? Probably never, since we only call up tech support to complain when things are going wrong. Similarly, we often have a tough time recognizing our own successes because nobody points them out. Take some time at the end of each day to make note of a few things that went right. Let these be the things that write your narrative and not the fact that you messed up one or two things.
4. They chose you for a reason – Why did your employer hire you? Similarly, why did your engineering school accept you? They know the traits that lead to success in their realm and clearly saw these traits in you or they would not have extended the offer. Therefore, calm yourself by knowing that the “experts” picked you and turned away other candidates.
Start to implement these in your daily life and let me know how it turns out. You got this!