There I was sitting in the company huddle during the last hours of my last day of work waiting to meet the VP of Halliburton, also a Purdue alum, hoping to make the most of the 15 minutes I scheduled with her to ask her for some last minute advice on life and her successful career.
The secretaries I had to bypass dressed in impeccable suits, all the men, who were at least 6 feet tall, were pacing quickly from office to office, and finally the long glass windows that glinted the intense Houston sun, brighter than I ever felt, all made me feel like I didn’t belong here.
That somehow I had just slipped through the cracks, first to all to even land an internship at this company, and somehow faked my way through another internship at the headquarters.
My stomach churned as I imagined Sarah, the VP being able to see past my smile, and view all the inexperience and deficiencies I had. The fact that this summer, outside of work, I was retaking a math class that all my fellow Industrial Engineering peers had passed two semesters ago, the fact that I had been rejected by three companies already for an entry level Industrial Engineering full-time position, and the fact that even though this was my second rotation with Halliburton, I struggled just as much if not more to begin defining my project when I first started it in May.
If I told her about my project perhaps she wouldn’t believe that I was able to complete it, much less actually make a business impact. Maybe she’ll send me away from her office and tell HR to revoke my full-time offer because she’ll be embarrassed that a fellow female Purdue engineering students was so incompetent and somehow worked under the same company that she was the VP of. All these scenarios ran through my head, and thanks to my vivid imagination they felt very realistic.
Maybe this was the day that I could no longer fake it till I made it.
Sarah interrupted my self-destructive train of thoughts, called me in, and welcomed me into her perfect, and immaculate office. I sat down across her, laid my messily scribbled questions down in front of me so I can glance at it in case I choke and forget what to say/waste her time.
The first question I posed to her was one about her self worth. I told her how it was emotionally exhausting for me everyday of the summer to be ecstatic when my project action items were complete and then down in the dumps when i received a rejection letter from some company I had applied for or an element of my project kicked back to me having been disapproved.
I knew I had to tie my confidence (or lack of) to something that was more stable, and I wanted to know how someone in great power like her maintains her composure in the face of adversity. In addition, being able to recognize my worth would also help me navigate through the decisions I will be making in regards to figuring out where and what I want to do full-time, because I wouldn’t be shaken by every opportunity or missed opportunity that comes my way, if I knew what I deserved.
Sarah told me instead of trying to quantify my worth, just thinking about the things that I was excited about throughout this internship, should help me find out my strengths and also what I should be looking for in the companies I am considering for full-time.
During my internship these last ten weeks, I felt on top of the world when I was able to question processes and influence change. Many times, when I was presenting my process improvement recommendations,and respective the return on investment (ROI) the senior managers asked, “Why wasn’t this an issue that is just now being identified?”
What I’ve come to realize is that it was because of my inexperience that I was so insecure about, because of my lack of knowledge in many of the technical aspects of my project (the process of repairing drills), and because of my fear of screwing things up for the whole company, that led me to questions every little element of the process. The constant questioning and doubts I had listening to everyone from the technicians to the managers alike, helped me connect the dots and identify the deficiencies that were perhaps overlooked by the more confident and competent employees in my business unit.
Perhaps my severe case of impostor’s syndrome wasn’t so bad since it led me to feed my curiosity and thoroughly look through my project to pick our optimization opportunities.
Had I felt fully confident in understanding the flow of people, products, and paper in my project, perhaps I would not have asked the very basic questions I did during my value stream mapping event to discover where the team and I could better deliver our services to our customers.
As a disclaimer, I’m not saying that my peers and audience should go and try to do heart surgery with no prior knowledge or confidence.
I’m trying to emphasize the fact that impostor’s syndrome doesn’t only have self-depraving effects. For me, being aware of my novice level understanding of a process and my newly acquired lean knowledge from school helped spur me into asking the right questions, and making no assumptions of “how things are run,” in order to better troubleshoot and lead my team take actions that successfully impacted the business at Halliburton.
Maybe Imposter’s Syndrome (in moderate levels) can be used as a catalyst for young and entry level employees such as myself to revolutionize the industry and business of our choosing as we enter the work force because it forces us not to be afraid of sounding more stupid than we sometimes think we already are, when we question “how things are done.”