learning to live with imposter syndrome and the rejection that comes with it

Never a person with much self-confidence when it came to school and/or career, I always aimed low because I never felt like I could handle the responsibility and “smarts” that came with a higher paid, higher education job.

After a few years of working the grind — getting paid very little and working too much, I decided to step back and teach myself a new skill. I had a need to create. Every human has a desire to create something, whether it’s painting, blogging, photography, etc. I decided to learn how to code. I never thought I could be an engineer because that was for smart people, not dumb people like me.

Fast forward six months later, I got into a coding bootcamp and couldn’t believe I was on my way to becoming an engineer. My first job out of the bootcamp was awful. Too many complex ideas were being thrown at my head and I eventually left the company mere months after I joined, feeling downcast and like I was a failure. In fact, the lead engineer there told everyone that I left because I was not able to cut it. Fast forward months later, I ended up with a job in the Hollywood for software engineers. None other than Silicon Valley. Not quite able to believe my luck, I started working at a startup. It was tough work — pair-programming all the time, being unable to think safely inside my head. I learned a lot and learned even more about my imposter syndrome and how hard it was to shake that feeling of doubt and fear everyday. I never felt like I deserved the high salary I was being paid. In the end, the company dissolved and I was back on the streets of unemployment.

Feeling more confident this time around, I started applying, believing it would only take me at most 4 months to get my next job. Quite the opposite. Rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection. The imposter syndome came back in full force. Continual rejection does something to you. It colors your world and changes how you perceive everything. The world is in technicolor when I’m feeling good. Now it’s awash in gray.

The imposter inside my head reminds me of things that people have said to me. A friend mentioned that if he were me, he would feel like a failure. He didn’t mean it to make me feel bad but that kind of thing stays with you for a long time.

When you’re rejected over and over again, you naturally try to do things that don’t make you feel rejected. “I can do that. I can do that and I can feel good about it,” I tell myself. I aim low because aiming high or even level brings me nothing but rejection. Rejection makes you feel like the lowest person in the world. People wonder what you’re doing wrong. I’m frequently asked, “Are you doing anything different after you get rejected? Is something improving?” It’s humiliating and seemingly reaps no rewards. Trying again and again becomes emotionally exhausting and physically draining. “When will the tides turn?” I ask myself over and over again. I don’t know what reward I’ll get out of this but I know that if I don’t keep trying, I’ll never be able to pave the way for other imposters like myself.

What has rejection taught me?

Humility. Seeing your flaws in bright lights is never fun but it’s definitely enlightening. It helps me to understand that I’m no better than anyone else. I had unemployment benefits for a while but couldn’t afford health insurance. I got sick repeatedly and started losing weight because of the stress of unemployment. I applied for MediCal but was rejected because I was receiving unemployment. They told me, “When your unemployment runs out, come see us.” In my mind I was hoping that I would have a job by the time my unemployment ran out. My unemployment ran out yesterday. I went to urgent care and waited in line for a financial aid appointment. I looked around and realized how many people were in similar and more dire circumstances than I was. I knew how they felt, and I was glad to understand what they were going through. If I wasn’t in this situation, I wouldn’t be able to understand. That leads me to the next lesson I’ve learned.

Empathy. Growing up in a wealthy suburb, I never thought I would struggle with money, lack of health insurance, or make income below the poverty line. Now I know what it’s like to be in all circumstances.

Philippians 4:11–13
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

I may not be employed and I may feel like a failure and I may even be really, really bad at engineering. But one thing gives me hope. That all of this isn’t for nothing. If this is a lesson in knowing what it is to be in need and to have plenty, then it’s a lesson worth having. I know that these lean days aren’t going to last forever, and I know that this is a journey for me to trust in God. Maybe right now I don’t understand why it’s so long and arduous and full of rejection. But I will one day and I trust that. If it’s all so I can understand and empathize with how others feel, then it’s worth it. I can go through this because Jesus went through this and much more as a man when He was on earth. He knows what rejection feels like more than anyone else. It brings me hope that God has a purpose behind every bend in the road especially when that bend doesn’t feel good.

As human beings, we’re purpose-driven. Maybe that’s why we strive so hard to make a mark in this world with our careers and achievements. But you see, I know that God has a different plan for us in mind. It isn’t to make a mark on earth with careers and achievements. Those are accolades that won’t matter and we can’t bring that with us when we pass on in this world. But our mark on other people in this world is more important. Who did you pass today that needed encouragement? Who did you talk to today who needed your listening ears? These are achievements I’m happy to take home. These are accolades I’d rather have than contributing to an open-source project that would turn the VR world on its head.

Last lesson. Love. I know God has a purpose and plan for me. Maybe the world sees me as a failure who can’t get an engineering job. I struggle with the world’s perception and my imposter syndrome daily but I’m grateful for reminders that God loves me and He values me. In Him, I have a purpose, and He will take care of me no matter what happens. In this struggle, I have learned to love others more than myself. I have learned to ask people how their day went and really listen. I have learned how to walk life with people, pray with them, sit in their pain, cry with them, but also rejoice with them.

God is showing me everyday the beauty of walking with Him even through the storms. I’m learning how to let Him color my gray world back to technicolor.