I believe everyone experiences some level of Imposter Syndrome at several different points in their careers. It could be just a feeling of being out of place. Maybe it’s a delegated task that you feel you have no business being involved in or being offered a promotion simply because of your actions. Both of these scenarios can spark self-doubt, commonly called imposter syndrome. Treating imposter syndrome takes effort but it doesn’t need to be something you don’t immediately want to take on!
Let’s walk through 3 great ways to shamelessly tackle the challenges of self-doubt together!
I was once in a meeting to discuss a school project with 7 or 8 other professionals including the architectural team and the school system staff. We were there to discuss implementing phasing construction and the challenges of implementing interim sediment and erosion control measures while maintaining the school’s functionality. At the time, I was not even an EIT (Engineer-in-Training Certificate) but I was the lead civil designer and the project manager let me lead the discussion. Even though it was the first time I had been to a meeting with this team, I was comfortable because the topic was well within my capacity. Overall I thought the meeting went very well and I walked out feeling like I did a great job.
While the project manager was driving us back to the office, I looked at the stack of business cards I collected from each of the people at the meeting. At that moment I realized that I was the ONLY person in the room who didn’t have any letters after their name. Every other person there was a registered Professional Engineer, Architect, or EIT. At that moment, I experienced self-doubt and questioned why the entire room focused on my input while almost all of them were much more qualified to lend their opinion to the situation than I was – or so I thought.
One of the best ways to grow your confidence is to acknowledge your achievements. Each and every time I have suffered from imposter syndrome has been a time in my career when I was being offered a new opportunity. Whether it’s standing on a stage explaining my perspective, or being placed in a position of authority, my immediate reaction is Why me? Why should the audience listen to me? Why am I being assigned this temporary promotion?
All of these “why me” questions have run through my head at some point. No one is immune from self-doubt! I urge you to stop and think about it. Your accomplishments and contributions to your team or project have led you to this opportunity.
- Make a list of your recent accomplishments, no matter how small they may be.
- Reflect on each item and take time to see them from the perspective of others.
- Embrace the valuable experience and expertise that you have gained over time.
You have been given a chance or created a situation where you question your knowledge. You begin a spiral of doubt, but I encourage you to pull up before you crash! Understand that no one knows everything. While there are countless experts across a vast array of civil engineering, none of them are in your exact situation with the knowledge you have, and the experience you have gained, nor do they know the expectations as you understand them. The point is, that you have found yourself in this situation because of you. Lift that chin and set realistic expectations.
- Take a moment to make sure you understand the expectations. If you are not sure, ask!
- Focus on problem-solving. You are in the situation because someone thinks you can solve a problem. Frame the situation into a way that you can tackle it, finding a solution and moving the situation toward a successful conclusion.
- Learn from your experiences rather than aiming for perfection.
Whenever I feel the effects of imposter syndrome, they largely revolve around the fear of failure. If you feel this way, be kind to yourself! We all make mistakes, it’s a natural part of growth. What would the world look like if we all gave up on learning to walk after the first time we fell down as a toddler?
Seek guidance from others and embrace a mentor relationship with a peer. Reach out to colleagues or confide in a team member. Discuss your concerns and seek their advice. There is no shame in gathering perspectives and getting more information. This leads me to mention, continuous learning. It’s not a catchphrase but more a reality. Embrace a growth mindset by committing to ongoing learning.
- Be kind to yourself. You are your biggest critic and that’s ok, but keep it in check.
- Trust the process. Failure is a learning experience.
- Leverage your network. They will provide advice and support you.
Remember that imposter syndrome is a common phenomenon that every professional experiences at some point in their career. By recognizing that you are not alone, implementing these strategies, and building self-confidence, you can overcome imposter syndrome and continue to thrive as a civil engineer.