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Ask Ada

A service of the Tech LadyMafia. Career advice for professionals in tech, science, entrepreneurship, and media. Hit the ask button and we'll answer to the best of our collective wisdom.
Dec 5 '12

Anonymous asked :

How do you deal with feelings of inadequacy? I am an electrical and computer engineer and it's hard, sometimes.

Oh, impostor syndrome. When everyone seems to underestimate your abilities and undermine your work, it’s tempting to wonder whether or not they’re the ones who are right. But here’s the thing—they’re wrong.

You’re not the only one: Amy Cuddy talks about it. Scott Hanselman has been there. And enough Mafiosas chimed in with “I’ve absolutely felt that way” to break my heart. But while the tendency toward ‘morose self-reflection’ apparently runs strong in tech lady circles, I’ve had to build up my personal defenses against that little voice of doubt and anxiety, and I’ve learned to keep it in check even when I can’t silence it completely. After comparing notes, here’s the best of what we can offer:

Get out of your head. Go to a meetup outside your usual space. Try describing your work to a layperson, and see fresh as the impressive/awesome thing that it is. Ask for introductions to new people in your field who you can learn from or develop the skills you currently feel like you’re lacking, or to compare notes on your shared expertise. Put down the work and go for a walk.

Speak your fears aloud. I’m a huge believer in horizontal loyalty , in building strong peer relationships and questioning—or actively disrupting—the conventional wisdom handed down by our bosses, teachers, and elders. Lean on your friends. In exchange, be on the Impostor Syndrome SWAT Team yourself, and reach out to people you suspect might be suffering similar anxiety with confidence and sincere praise. Provide one another with honest, constructive feedback to grow on. Seek out a mentor, if a good old-fashioned feminist who will absolutely understand and empathize with the subtlest of slights is what you need.

Define what you ARE better than. Go to conferences, and listen for that * other * little voice—the one that says “I can do this too. I could do this better.” That’s how Octavia Butler started writing. Get a broader perspective on your field and your place in it.

Fake it ‘til you make it. Figure out what helps you project confidence and then do it. Overdress. Overprepare the presentation. Practice eliminating “maybe,” “I think,” “I’m sorry,” and “this might sound stupid, but…” from your speech. Take on projects that scare you, and don’t let your colleagues know how terrified you are (that friend network, on the other hand…this is what it’s there for). Fail, and learn from it without resorting to self-blame.

And if all else fails: .


18 notes