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Let’s Share the Lows: Rejection and Imposter Syndrome

It is not uncommon for us to want to share our highs with others. In the age of social media, we know how easy it is to show a highlight reel of our family, friends, and relationships. Everything nowadays feels like a digital resume of my life: my Instagram feed, my Facebook posts, to now my LinkedIn profile. Sometimes I wonder if I am doing and achieving enough. I believe it’s important to discuss the hardships in our careers, whether it be at school or work, that we don’t necessarily enjoy sharing online because it encourages a healthy dialogue. People that know me personally might not expect me to talk about this because I don’t normally express these feelings out loud. I’m sure we would all rather talk about our successes rather than our failures, but that’s too easy. I want to dive into all the lows I have experienced firsthand and go over how I have learned to move past them, so you know you can too. It is one thing for me to go tell you that you’re doing great, but it’s another thing for you to tell yourself that you are.

So, let’s get to the lows.

1. Imposter Syndrome:

The persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own effort or skills”. This is a low that many of us experience. Did I work hard enough to get where I am? Am I smart enough to be at this school? Am I skilled enough to do this job? Was it all just a fluke? If you’ve been through this in the past, then I hope you find comfort in knowing how normal it was for you to feel that way. If you’re going through this right now, I am right here with you and I hope that this can help you gain your confidence back. Imposter Syndrome isn’t a one-night easy fix, it’s a feeling that comes and goes in waves. Remember that you brought yourself to where you are today, whether that was from applying to a university, self-teaching, applying to jobs, interviewing, networking, etc. You took action. Take a second to just list out in your head everything you’re proud of and don’t let yourself think that it was just luck. Everything that you have accomplished in your life has come from your own doing; no one drew your name out of a hat and handed it to you.

2. Feeling Inadequate

It is hard to admit that you feel you don’t belong. It is in our human nature to try and fit in. It can be completely alienating to not see people who are like you at work or school, and this could be in regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, and more. There is a place for you in any walk of life, and if you don’t see it yet, then make it. There will always be people to support you and listen to your concerns whether it be through communities like this, friends, or online forums. Ultimately, you create your own path. The only true limits are the limits you give yourself.

Sometimes it can be good to feel like you need to prove yourself because it can serve as motivation to keep wanting to achieve more. But I feel we can all tell the distinction between a healthy drive and unnecessary stress and pressure. I have struggled with feeling like I always needed to know more than I actually did. Asking questions is hard when your mindset is telling you that everything you don’t know, you should know already. It is as if I needed to prove to others around me that it wasn’t some fluke that I got into __ school or got __ job. Whether it be a poor workplace culture, judgmental friends, cold tutors, and/or unhelpful teachers, if people are making you feel bad for seeking help, that is not the environment you want to be in. I had a habit of saying “sorry” every time I had to ask a question. I didn’t even realize that I was doing this, until my manager told me that I didn’t need to apologize for not knowing something.

No matter what stage you are in your journey, there will always be things you don’t know. You just need to grow comfortable with that. And while you’re asking questions to learn and grow, don’t forget to take the time to look back and see how far you’ve come.

3. Rejection

Rejection in any aspect of life doesn’t feel good for anyone. But failure is part of the process of achieving success. Unfortunately, the feeling of rejection doesn’t feel any better than the first time you experienced it, but how you deal with it can. First off, don’t worry about rejection before you’ve even been rejected. Often times, I catch myself feeling like I got rejected from something I applied for, without even doing the interview yet! I get lost in the idea that the world is against me, and I’m bound to fail because of these factors that are out of my control. The person interviewing me becomes my worst nightmare, and don’t even get me started on the “Leetcode hards” that are going to be thrown at me as ammunition.

Remember that people around you are generally rooting for you to succeed. Just like how you don’t look at others waiting for them to mess up, they don’t look at you like that either. And hey, when one door closes, another one opens. I truly believe that if you work hard, you will end up with a life that you love, even if it is not exactly what you had originally thought it would be. I often look at my life right now and think, “I would never have imagined I would be here 2 or 3 years ago”. It’s nice to have a game plan, but it is also nice to go with the flow and see where life takes you.

I hate to admit it, but I can be a huge pessimist when it comes to my own life and thinking about my future. It’s hard to imagine what good will come next after seeing a rejection. What helps is thinking of myself as if I were my own best friend. I am more positive when it comes to motivating friends and giving advice, so I try to separate myself from the situation and think about what I would tell a friend that I admired and cared for. Without rejection, acceptance wouldn’t be satisfying. It will truly surprise you when you realize how much better you treat others than you treat yourself. Since you’re stuck with yourself for the rest of your life, you might as well start treating yourself well.

Although this blog post touched on a lot of negative feelings, I hope that you feel more positive after reading this. I get in my own head a lot about these exact topics, so feel free to connected with me if you want to talk!

Justine Koa
3rd Year Computer Science Student at University of California, Irvine
RTC Fellow

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