Impostor syndrome and the confidence of youth. 

Hi there everyone, I’ve had a tough couple of weeks, preparing for a couple of training sessions and a technical demonstration, trying to think of ways to  increase customer engagement and having severe impostor syndrome. If you don’t know what impostor syndrome is its when you are in a position but you think that they must have made a mistake choosing you, no matter how good you are at your job you always find ways to doubt yourself.

It made me think back through my life since leaving school, now this was a long trip, its been over 20 years since I walked the corridors of my high school. When I started my first “real” job, 40 hours per week as an engineering apprentice, there was a level. I was bottom of the food chain, I made 7-10 brews (cups of tea/coffee) an hour and I stood with a skilled guy being shown the ropes for about 6 weeks. This was the time that they thought I’d learned enough to be given a lump of steel and a file. I was then told I had to make a 1/2″ or 12mm spanner. They showed me what one looked like, then told me I had to make the same thing using nothing but a vice and a bastard file.

That was a week of hard work, people walking past me telling me what I was doing wrong, me fixing it, only to be told the next time someone walked past that I was even more wrong than I was before. I finished that spanner  and i was so proud, it looked almost like it had been purchased, but when my training officer looked at it he knew it wasn’t right. This guy came over, looked at my spanner from about a meter away told me to scrap it and started to walk away. I was furious, “what’s wrong with it? Your taking the piss now, you’ve not even looked at it” his answer was simple, go get a 1/2″ and a 12mm bolt, then try to put them into that fixture. I was feeling pretty sure of myself, bolts were found and I started tightening the bolts in the fixture, sure enough before the bolts had locked out at the head, the spanner started slipping, on both bolts. How did he know, from that distance away? Years of experience that’s how, he could tell if a part was going to work/fit just by looking at it because it was just natural to him to strive for perfection. I always use that example as a yard stick, am I as good as Nigel, can I spot the issues from a meter away without taking a serious look at it. If I can I’m an expert.

Here is how my training went for the next 4 years – get given work, I do it, its ok but not perfect, here’s some notes on what you’ve done wrong, scrap it and start again from scratch.

When I started doing technical drawings one of the tasks was writing the alphabet and numbers 0-9 on an A0 sheet of paper, 3mm alphabet 0-9, 3.5mm alphabet 0-9, 4mm……..ok you get the picture, once I had completed the sheet someone would inspect my work, if they spotted one thing wrong, I’d have to rub it out and start again. Not erase the bit I’d done wrong and not a new sheet of paper, erase a full sheet of work, and start again. If there was an issue with the next one rub it out and start again until I’d almost rubbed through the paper on the drawing board before I’d finally completed it. It took about 3 weeks, but it never happened again. The next thing was drawing borders, same thing, drilled and drilled to perfection then move onto the next thing. Eventually I was the one inspecting the next guys work and I felt like I’d achieved something, I was now the one finding the smallest issue pushing someone to be better than they were the day before. Almost every engineer went through this process back in 1996 and before. I don’t know what its like now, in fact I’m planning on interviewing a new apprentice on the current process and finding out if its got better or worse. That should be fun.

I just remember that I was amazing, at 16 years old, no matter what I was doing. I had a job at a bakery, amazing, whilst working at a night club, amazing, full time apprentice engineer, amazing, basketball, I’m bloody amazing. The confidence of youth pushes you to be brilliant at everything you do, no matter how experienced you are. The fear of failure didn’t exist for me back then, I remember it was a great place to be. Look at me I was super amazing back then. 😂

Between now and the end of next year I’m going to get that feeling back, I’m not an impostor I deserve to be here, where ever I am, at home, at work, at boxing. I deserve this, so do you.

So how do I get that confidence back, the same way I got it in the first place, work hard, get feedback, scrap it then do it again better. I’m going to document my progress and the progress of others and keep you updated. Wish me luck.

You can also find me on Twitter @LeanintoDesign sharing my quick random musings. Like, share and comment for instant communication and thanks.

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