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How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome When Working in Tech (S5E6)

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When you’re changing careers or working in tech, you might experience imposter syndrome—when a person doubts their accomplishments and has a deep-rooted fear of being exposed as a fake or phony. Imposter syndrome in tech is especially common.

This can particularly be true when you’re working as a woman in a male-dominated field, or working with or managing a team of people significantly older than you. You might start out feeling like you have something to prove and that everyone else is better than you.

It can be a self-perpetuating cycle that damages your confidence at work. This is why it’s important to recognize and overcome this mental barrier before it becomes a problem.

Rebecca LimaRebecca Lima is a busy woman: she’s a serial entrepreneur, a private pilot, and a mechanical engineer with a robotics concentration.

She’s been the only woman in the room, the youngest person in the room, and the boss of her own companies, which give her a wide variety of perspectives on this topic (and others!). And she’s managed all of this before the age of 30.

In this episode, Rebecca joins me to talk about her experiences of feeling like she didn’t fit in within certain environments, plus her tips for dealing with imposter syndrome and overcoming self-doubt.

Listen to the episode below!

 

Imposter Syndrome From Working in an Environment Where You’re Different

Dealing with imposter syndrome has been somewhat of a lifelong experience for Rebecca.

In high school, she was the only girl on the robotics team, which was her earliest introduction to mechanical engineering. This trend continued in college, where her mechanical engineering course of study contained one girl to every eight guys. However, her early exposure to male-dominated environments proved helpful during the adjustment period. “When I first went to my school, it was kind of scary, but I had been in this world already. So I kind of knew what to expect.”

male dominated environment

Perhaps it was only fitting that after college, Rebecca joined the oil & gas industry—another area that’s short on a female presence—as a sales/production engineer. “I was on the production floor, working with my hands working with the guys,” she says. “And I feel like that was my testing point. Working in oil, I would come on to the job and there were times where I actually had to leave a job site because I felt unsafe, where men were coming on to me.”

The most intimidating moment during this period came when she was assigned to a job in Alaska, replacing a production engineer who had broken his femur when a barrel of oil fell on his leg. “I was like, wait, you're gonna send me there? I was freaking out.”

Sure enough, she continues, “I got harassed and cat called and had to kind of show my dominance in a way that in most work environments would not be the norm. It tested me at a really early age to develop really, really, really tough skin. I've been called every name under the sun, and you kind of just have to wear it as armor.”

While Alaska was a tough time, she says, “That was also the moment where I knew that anything else that I did, I could handle it. It literally primed me for this moment in my life, where I'm sitting in investor meetings, and people are doubting my skills and doubting my abilities. I’ve been tested to my extreme limits early in my career, that now it's like, all right, well, that wasn't that bad.”

Not only has Rebecca been the only woman in the room; she’s been the youngest at the same time.

“Most of the people that I worked with were in their late 40s and 50s, and they are taking advice and leadership from a 22-year old that just got out of college. So imposter syndrome hit me early on, because I was like, What am I doing? How can I tell these people what to do? They've been doing this for 30/40 years, and I have to be the one to tell them. That was really eye-opening.”

The twist ending is that Rebecca has now founded a female-focused startup called The Lieu, specializing in fresh-up beauty bars for women in the workplace.

Due to her background, this poses new challenges too! “I am now in this world where I don't know anything. I come from a chemical engineering world. And all I've known is engineering/hard labor and work like that. I don't know the logistics behind starting a beauty company. I'm just doing it.”

leadership

Now that we’ve established how ridiculously qualified Rebecca is to speak on this subject, let’s get into her advice! This is broken down into two categories: overcoming imposter syndrome in the short-term of the moment, and working on killing your own self-doubt in the long term.
 

Tips for Dealing With Imposter Syndrome in Difficult Times

When you’re in the thick of a situation, there are some strategies you can use to push through. Whether it’s as intense as Rebecca’s experiences, or imposter syndrome in engineering or tech, these tips can apply to anyone.

1. Use your fear

“When I feel fear inside of me, I embrace it full force,” Rebecca says. “I use it to my benefit, instead of letting it cripple me. So as soon as I feel fear, I'm like, okay, time to switch gears and get ahold of it. Because if not, it can cripple us, and it can make us fearful of that for the rest of our lives sometimes.”

2. Do what you’re there to do

“You have to establish yourself,” Rebecca says. “Like, ‘I'm here to do a job.’ I embraced my power, even though I was a 22-year-old, and my colleagues took advice and leadership from me. You need to constantly validate the fact of why you're doing it, and say yeah, I’ve done this, this, and this; why shouldn't I be capable of doing what I'm doing now?”

3. Demand respect

“I just stepped into it. I had to, because if not, then I would never be respected in the field and I would never establish myself. So early on, I had to set the rapport with my crew. And once I set that rapport, everyone respected me. Like I was one of the guys and then from that point on, it was like, oh, Becca knows her stuff. So ask her, she's the one that you go to.”

4. Know that once you get through it, it will be better

The hardest point is at the beginning, Rebecca concludes. Make it through that, and that’s enough. “As hard as it was, I almost had to eat it, eat the anxiety, eat the fear just to make it through. It's kind of like a cakewalk for now. I mean, it's not easy. But now it's almost like, well, we're just going to embrace this different chapter in my life. Sometimes those fears still creep up, but you just have to work through it and move through it.”

The more you practice these things, the more natural they will feel. And along the way, you’ll be able to work on your core mindset as well.
 

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome by Crushing Your Internal Self-Doubt

Overcoming imposter syndrome is as much about mindset as it is about action, if not more. Here are Rebecca’s tips for cultivating that mindset of confidence.

1. Remember what you do have (skills/passion/etc.)

If someone ever questions what makes you qualified, make sure you have an answer!

You certainly don’t have to be an expert for this to work. With Rebecca’s beauty company, she says that she’s asked how she’s qualified to run this company coming from such a different background. Her answers: passion, entrepreneurial skills, and problem-solving.

work with passion

The idea for The Lieu was born out of a problem that she personally encounters every day. “I live in New York and commute every day, and had to carry all my stuff with me: a change of clothes, my makeup, my hair stuff, to look presentable for back-to-back meetings. So I really got into this idea of like, what if there are locations where you could freshen up on the go for a busy woman? That would be perfect. And I'm a logistics person by nature. I love solving problems, and this is a problem that I face every day. It was really near and dear to my heart. And I know that the best startups come from pain points.”

If you’re truly passionate about something and willing to work at it, that can even be more valuable than decades of experience.

2. Journal/coach yourself

“I journal almost every day,” Rebecca says. “I do my mental checks. Is this moving the needle forward? Am I pushing past this fear? Why am I not sending this email? I ask myself these questions, sometimes physically, out loud. Is it the fear that's blocking me because I know that there's going to be judgment on the other side? I'm constantly challenging myself and coaching myself. Writing down my fears and working through it.”

coach yourself

3. Remember that emotion is energy in motion

“I actually wrote this down the other day: emotion is energy in motion. And that is what I live off of now. I have to put energy into making things happen, and everything else will follow. It's taking that first step. It might be the hardest email you've ever sent. But taking that first step will allow you to say, okay, that wasn't that bad. So the next email I send shouldn’t be that bad. It’s coaching yourself through the day sometimes, and it's exhausting, but it needs to be done.”

4. Take responsibility for your fear/anxiety

Remind yourself that you’re the master of your own mind and have to work past your problems. For Rebecca now, she says, the motivation comes from leading a company. “I’m the leader, I need to work past it. No one else is going to be like, hey, Becca, work past that. You have to motivate yourself.”

5. Slay your dragon

There’s a book called Do The Work, which is all about overcoming fear and resistance. The author calls it “slaying the dragon.” Those internal battles you have every day from imposter syndrome in tech or another industry are your dragons. You might have a new dragon every day. Find them. Slay them!

Overcoming imposter syndrome isn’t an easy feat, but you can take small steps to move toward it every day.

Links and mentions from the episode:

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Special thanks to this episode’s sponsors

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