Hi, everyone! With the World Championship right around the corner, I just wanted to check in to see if anyone has been feeling a bit “sus” this season. When you work in a community with highly accomplished teams and individuals, you might start to question whether you belong there. You may even start to feel a bit sus, like you’re an impostor. There’s a term for these feelings, it’s called Impostor Syndrome. It’s a condition where you feel like your accomplishments are unwarranted or undeserved, like you’re an impostor. This video does a great job explaining what it is and how it works. I hold workshops with students from FIRST teams as well as college engineering programs, and many students are shocked to learn just how widespread these feelings of doubt and insecurity are. There’s no cure for Impostor Syndrome, but there are two ways that we can combat it.
Giving these feelings a name and understanding how they works can help with dealing with them
Knowing how widespread these feelings are and knowing you are not alone can also help
To help raise awareness of Impostor Syndrome, my team (6413) made these Among Us Crewmate pins to distribute at Houston.
The hope is that if you experience Impostor Syndrome and you see someone wearing this pin, it’ll remind you that these feelings are normal and that you’re not alone. We’ll also have these affirmation ribbons in our pit if anyone needs a little encouragement. You are enough!
If there is interest, I’m happy to hold an Impostor Syndrome workshop next year at Houston. Go ahead vote in the poll if this is something that you or someone you know might find of value.
Yes, I am potentially interested in attending a workshop on Impostor Syndrome
Lastly, if anyone has ever experienced these feelings, I encourage you to share in this thread. One of the reasons these feelings are so powerful is that we think we are the only ones who experience them since it’s not something that is easy to talk about. Personally, even having earned a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, winning multiple world championships in robotics at the university level, being selected as a WFFA, and coaching multiple successful FTC and FRC teams, I struggle with these feelings all of the time. So if you’re at Houston next week (or anywhere else) and you start to have these doubts, know you are not alone. You are not an impostor!
Serious question…are there NO impostors? It seems like there is such a thing as an impostor and there must be some characteristics that define impostors and distinguish them from non-impostors. How would one know if they really are an impostor or not?
That’s a great question! I suppose if someone cheats or intentionally misrepresents themselves, then yes, they would be impostors. This message is not for them. Instead, it’s for the members of the FIRST community that act in good faith, but still feel like they’re not enough. It’s for the teacher or parent without a technical background that had the courage to leave their comfort zone and mentor a robotics team. It’s for the new student on the team who wants to learn programming, but feel overwhelmed when their teammates talk about repositories, tensor flow, and PID control (keep at it, you’ll get there!). It’s for the mentor who doesn’t feel like a good role model because while they studied engineering at a university, they weren’t able to complete the program due to circumstances outside of their control. It’s for the student who has difficultly relating to their teammates because their lived experiences are so different. That different perspective is a strength, not a weakness in engineering design! That’s who this message is for.
For everyone out there who read this and thought “wow, this sounds like me”, I just want to say that you are not alone and you are not an imposter. It’s very easy to judge yourself by your failures and others by their successes, but that’s just not fair to you.
Working with some incredibly talented mentors on 2791 who were very good at things that I wasn’t
Attending an academically demanding high school/university
Working at a company full of super smart engineers
There have been a lot of points when I felt like I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t as good at things as my peers, or otherwise didn’t belong. I’m better at managing it now and can more easily take pride in my accomplishments in FRC, career, and beyond but it’s taken a long time to get there. I hope initiatives like this make it easier for others than it was for me.
I’d be happy to wear one of these pins/ribbons next week.
Being the software lead of my team, i can get overwhelmed at many points in time and feel like i don’t deserve any praise that’s given to me because i feel lost half the time. Thankfully my programming mentors are great at encouraging me and helping me figure out problems as they arise.
(also i think the among us theme is pretty funny)
I have definitely felt this effect, and hope to have a chance to get this ribbon!
It’s also a boundary you have to break to get mentors. My standard mentor pitch included something very similar to: “It doesn’t matter if you’ve never built a robot. You’ve done [this]. We need a mentor who can do [this] and teach it to our students.” #iamenough
I love this idea! You’re right, it’s too late for this year…or is it? Here’s an idea, perhaps when people visit our pit to pick up a ribbon, rather than wear it themselves, we encourage them to find someone else to give it to. It might mean even more that way. What do you think?
I was an active mentor at Bond Brigade 5586 until 18 months ago when I had to step away. I started in 2016 as a parent-mentor without any college degree. But I have experience in industrial safety and experience in disassembling/assembly of machinery and was able to help out. I stuck with the team after my own kids left the program but I always felt like I don’t measure up to the technical mentors, who are able to solve problems I was not. But after I stepped away last season due to some personal issues, I was told by some on the team that I was missed at the regional for several reasons I won’t mention here. But it did help me feel like I belong. I hope that helps.
There is a real danger of training yourself to ignore or suppress feelings of inadequacy; to always tell yourself that whatever you are giving or are capable of in your current situation is enough. You run the risk of sub-optimizing your life, possibly to an extreme level. Say you are programming in FRC and you just aren’t getting it like the other programmers. Programming may not be the thing for you. If you simply tell yourself that you are enough as a programmer, you might miss your opportunity to be five times more than enough as a doctor or a marketer or an artist. Well-meaning people might tell you, “just keep at it, you’ll get there”, or “you can do anything you put your mind to”, but those sentiments are not necessarily true.
The situation can be even worse if you were having success at one level of something, but you are having less success at higher levels. Maybe you were the star student in geometry, but find yourself struggling in algebra. If you’ve convinced yourself that math is your thing and you push yourself to keep the grades up to prove yourself right and convince others as well, you might make some ill-advised choices. Perhaps you lean too hard on Wolfram Alpha, or you get too much help from your parents, or you copy someone else’s homework. You continue to tell yourself that you are not a math impostor and that it’s just a phase or that you’ve had some bad breaks. If you keep fighting to live up to the geometry glory, you might not change course in time to find that you are an amazing music producer.
Managing the negative effects of true impostor syndrome, where someone very successful will never believe it or take credit for their success is one thing. However, convincing people they are always enough in any situation and that feelings of doubt and insecurity are things to be suppressed rather than evaluated and possibly acted on is an oversimplification and quite possibly detrimental.
Sorry no. This is a simply horrible way to look at things.
I’m a dev, a few years ago I accepted a position at Google. The first few months were fine but then I really started to struggle. Under your logic it’s because, idk, I relied too much on Stack Overflow or something but the truth is that the environment at Google wasn’t conducive for me. My personal values didn’t align with how they (or at least the group I was in) operated. This isn’t a failing. It’s a mismatch. I spent the next 2 years fighting against that feeling, feeling like it was just me not being good enough and if I just worked harder I could be good enough. It nearly killed me. Some folks on here know the full story about it, suffice to say it was not pleasant.
Maybe you’re missing something that changing the situation can fill in for you… I’ve since switched employers, I’m in a team where I feel I can communicate and we can all solve problems together. I’m thriving.
This is some hustle culture feces and it can be really dangerous.
Acknowledging and processing your doubts and insecurities to help you discover those things you are best at, can do seemingly effortlessly, and that give you the most joy is hardly hustle culture feces. Optimizing your life is not limited to making the most money or other goals that might be considered fecal.
The thing you’re best at may not always be the thing you enjoy nor something that’s meaningful to you. Part of life can be finding a passion for something and struggling towards it. Reaching for perfection but settling for excellence. It seems like a fundamentally different way of thinking that maybe competent passionate people can do good for the world and not everyone needs to be the pinnacle of their profession/area. (Don’t hear what I’m not saying. A level of competence is still important to do good work)
This might be because we’re told in highschool and college and job searching especially in STEM fields that the most important thing to be a successful person is to work in the most cutting (bleeding) edge, fast paced, competitive way and to always “push the boundaries”. I’d wager most people who have applied to any number of STEM jobs have seen it from applications. I’ve yet to see an application that mentions a quality like contentment as a good quality.
I look forward to a future where we have more good human beings than where we have more geniuses.
As a first-time FRC competitor this year, I joined a team that had (and still) qualified for Worlds for what is essentially 3 times out of the 5 years we’ve existed. Safe to say, as the only strictly non-STEM person on my team (all of the rest of my team’s business crew are involved in the robot process in one way or another) it becomes very easy to feel as if you don’t belong. Our team has won 2 FIRST Impact Awards this year, and while I contributed to that by creating our team’s presentation visuals, it still often does not feel like it is enough to solidify myself as someone who is valued and deserves to be on my team. I know now that my team backs me up, whether it be my pit banner or shirt designs, but I still often gripe with feelings of inadequacy or misbelonging when it comes to being on my team.
I am not nearly qualified nor experienced enough to talk about this, but to any other graphic arts people out there, know that you are a valuable part of your team. Even if you don’t feel like it.
The often mentioned mark is that one feels inadequate despite having achieved success. Persons experiencing imposter syndrome often belittle their achievements by saying they got lucky or give credit to some other external factor. It can be very hard to know, which is why talking to others about it is really helpful (albeit scary).
In your example, if someone struggled to learn programming and never writes functioning code… then that’s not really imposter syndrome. If they are able to write software and are anxious about others “finding out” that they actually aren’t able to program, then it’s imposter syndrome. If they “cheated” and someone else wrote their code and they took credit for it, then it’s not imposter syndrome.
“I am enough” is not the same thing as “I have no room for improvement”. While there are certainly underachievers (that is, those who don’t work to develop their potential) out there, in my experience few of them join the robotics team, and even fewer stick with it. Again, in my experience (from FRC and the workplace and other pursuits as well), most people are more likely to work to improve their skills when they recognize that they are already useful, and those who do not feel useful are more likely to “drop out” of the activity.
If you want to know what imposter syndrome looks like, read about two pages of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, chapter 16, from about the middle (page 341 in the Scholastic hardcover) beginning with “Is it true” through “but the point I’m trying to make is --”
I can relate. I spent 27 years working in a facility with the past 12 years as the 2nd lead on a team. I was miserable there for the past 6 years or so and it wasn’t because I didn’t like my job. It was the tribalism that I was sick of dealing with.
I transferred last month to a different department up the street with a better schedule but a bit less pay and I immediately noticed that I was a happier human being. So much so that my wife thinks I’m a changed person. And this new schedule will allow me to get back into robotics far easier than my old one could. I’m leaving for Houston this week and will be taking photos and handling some social media for the team I once mentored as they take their well-earned trip to Worlds.