On Impostor Syndrome and My First Work Anniversary (Part I)

It barely feels like a year has passed by since I signed with my current employer to officially land my first full-time gig.

With all that had happened for the past year, in this particular occasion, I’d like to reflect a little bit on this very short amount of time that I have invested in building my career as a geologist. A position that truthfully, I never really knew would fit in or not, that I was never too confident about. Not because I thought I sucked at it, but because I personally never thought that I was exceptionally good at it.

I didn’t graduate cum laude on my undergraduate, unlike many of my classmates did. The ability to find an interesting research question in this field does not come quite naturally for me. Any geology-related achievement that I ever made was more of a result of being scared of failure and becoming a disappointment, instead of a purely natural drive out of passion and curiosity. I’m lucky that I seem to still do pretty well in the past eight years which was mostly thanks to my innate perfectionism and commitment, I guess, but truthfully, I just never expected to really succeed in this field.

Maybe at least until a year ago.

(This title will be split into two-piece articles since apparently I had refrained so much from writing about my career, hence I’ve got so many thoughts to be poured now. This first part will mostly talk about my process of finding my entrance into my first full-time job. Buckle up if you decide to follow along, because this post isn’t particularly a short one.)

When I finished my Master’s in 2018, I told myself repeatedly, that I didn’t have to get a job as a geologist. That if I matched with another position, I would still be happy, content, satisfied, and thankful. Apart from the fact that the oil industry was still very unstable, I also knew that there were so many talented geology graduates who would all apply to the very few geology job openings, especially in the petroleum industry, which I had specialised in throughout my university years. With that much competition and uncertainty, I had set up my mind to not expect to get a job in the energy field, especially in oil and gas, despite it being what I had always envisioned for me throughout my university years.

I came back to Indonesia in 2019, and together with A who had also just come back home after completing his Master’s in petroleum-related studies, we tried to learn as much as we could about management consulting instead – where we saw many bright talents were aiming to get in. At some point I also applied for the banking industry, not knowing whether or not I’d actually like the industry if I ever got accepted, but I thought I needed at least the interview experience, so I kept going.

Yet out of the blue, a text from my senior in ITB came in one day, asking if I wanted an onsite job as a geologist at a national oil and gas company. He figured that I had just finished my Master’s and he needed someone to fill up this contract position. He thought that I’d be qualified for the gig because of my specialisation. So I took the offer, mainly because he’d allow me to keep looking for a full-time job, and that the salary was not an issue, and also because I thought this might as well be my last chance to actually work as a petroleum geologist.

Along the way, two oil and gas-related companies announced that they were hiring, and these were the kind of official management trainee vacancies that led to full-time positions, with supposedly well-defined career ladders and promising professional growth. Since it was quite a rare occasion in the industry, I applied to both, while not being brave to expect much.

The truth is, I never wanted to admit that I did want the job. I always told myself that I had nothing to lose, that I just wanted to try out of curiosity, that I just had no reasons to not apply. I told myself that if I didn’t get it, I wouldn’t be disappointed since I pretty much always thought that I didn’t quite belong in geology as much as I seem to do in other fields such as creative fields anyway, that someday I’d find a career outside geology that suits me as a whole – even though I invested five years of my life studying it, and another year in-between working in it.

I didn’t know if it was true to some extent, or whether it was merely a denial statement to protect myself from being disappointed if I never get a job in this field.

However, the universe seemed to have conspired unexpectedly in my favour. To my surprise, I eventually landed both positions. Yes, I was surprised – though not too surprised. Surprised, because I had never been that lucky before and my competitions were not any less talented. Not too surprised, because like the perfectionist that I am, I prepared everything so well during all the recruitment steps, so the hard work fortunately did pay off.

They weren’t even just another corporate jobs. They were both perhaps the most ideal entry-level positions for aspiring petroleum geologists that all domestic geology graduates would’ve dreamed to have, that years ago I literally thought it was just a dream that I didn’t dare to even think about, thanks to my low self-esteem.

I knew that I was extremely fortunate to get both job offers, especially when the oil and gas industry was still trying to stay afloat. However, half of me thinks that I probably… didn’t even deserve it? Especially when there were many other talented graduates who were also trying to pave their ways into the industry.

Even though I knew that throughout the past few years, I had tried my best to build everything in my resume that I probably shouldn’t have thought that I didn’t deserve it, the thoughts were still creeping in. For years, I had worked so hard to get to that point, only to think that this was probably, literally too good to be true for me. After all, who even am I without this trait of constantly doubting my capabilities? It’s just the same old, same old myself.

I tried to think that maybe this is the universe’s way to tell me that perhaps, I kind of belong in geology. Maybe, I’m better at this than I always assumed I was. But I really was that nervous to take the job that I didn’t even change my LinkedIn until I passed the probation period. I didn’t even choose to share the update with my network.

I know I’m not supposed to feel “guilty” for getting this job while other talented people did not. I know I don’t have to feel awkward about getting my effort and hard work recognized. I know I shouldn’t feel like stealing away other people’s opportunities, because as someone who believes in religious views, I believe that we all have our own proportion of fortune that had been written for each of us. I know that it’s not my fault that some of the people that I know to be good geologists, maybe even better than me, have not yet found their ideal career paths. After all, I didn’t do anything illegal to bring me to this point and I came this far only after surviving multiple failures as well previously.

All my efforts were valid, and other people’s businesses have nothing to do with whether or not I deserve any of it. I know that. I just can’t help suffering from these thoughts.

If you’re patient enough to bear with my ramblings until this point, you’ll probably notice how my impostor syndrome seems to mostly stem from me being constantly bothered about the fact that I think there are other people who are better than me at this, and that I may deserve less than them.

I guess along the way, as I execute more of my jobs properly, I’d hopefully find the comfort in trusting my own ability and stop thinking that I get too much than what I actually deserve. It’ll be a very long road ahead, but hopefully, I can carry myself all the way to get there.

If you’ve ever suffered from impostor syndrome as well, how did you survive it? I’d like to learn more about how people deal with these insecurities, so please feel free to drop your comments and thoughts.

On a side note, the story behind deciding to take one offer and not the other is probably worth a standalone post for another time. This is probably something I’d like to review in the upcoming three years when hopefully I would’ve finished my fixed-step training at my current workplace (and still employed here).

Cheers.

Written by

A geologist, self-taught photographer, hobbyist writer, and wanderer who loves subtle colours, sunrays, mother nature, wilderness, adventures, flowers in the afternoon, quiet corners of a city, being literally - yet not figuratively - on top of the world, solo travels, trips by train, fascinating rocks, vintage postcards, and aesthetically pleasing urban landscapes.

12 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Sharing yang menarik, mbak. Saya sampai menggunakan Google Translate untuk memahami maksud sharing tulisan ini 😀 😀

    “I’d hopefully find the comfort in trusting my own ability and stop thinking that I get too much than what I actually deserve. It’ll be a very long road ahead, but hopefully, I can carry myself all the way to get there”

    — Saya rasa disinilah kuncinya, mbak. Memang akan membutuhkan waktu bagi kita untuk pe-de dengan diri sendiri; kadangkala kita terlalu “mengasihani” diri sendiri dan merasa tidak layak untuk sesuatu hal; padahal sebenarnya memang kita layak untuk mendapatkannya.

    Menikmati proses dan menemukan diri, menurut saya itu jalan yang terbaik sih. Bahwa diri memang patut untuk menerima apa yang kita (mbak) dapatkan saat ini.

    1. Ah, betul sih, menemukan diri itu yang kayaknya masih agak jauh perjalanannya buat saya, hehe. Mudah2an bisa menikmati prosesnya dan lambat laun jadi bisa merasa “berhak” atas kebaikan yang dikasih ke kita, dan bukan karena hoki semata. Anyway, makasih lho udah baca curhatnya. 😀

  2. I’ve also been struggling with the impostor syndrome. It’s such a beast, and apparently something that a lot of women struggle with. I never believe I’m good enough until somebody else says so, and this need of validation from other people is really, really bad. Why do I need to hear it from other people first before believing that I’m not good enough? I should know better than that. This will be a constant work in progress for me, and I hope you’ll get better at it too 🙂

    1. Somehow I always believe that if I think I’m good at something, but others don’t see me that way – and vice versa – it must be the arrogance speaking. But I think somewhere along the way, while I was trying to be down-to-Earth and not being easily proud of any sort of accomplishment I might’ve done, I took a slightly wrong turn and kept going in that direction, and ended up thinking that everything I do well is not even good enough until someone, preferrably of a “higher” status i.e. mentors, bosses, supervisors, etc. validates the idea.

      Anyhow, fingers crossed for us Kak! 🙂

  3. Hi Bil, just find this blog post link through twitter timeline and the caption says “Impostor Syndrome”, then I click. You tell to share if your reader has ever suffered from the same problem, then I begin to write:

    I once experienced this syndrome when I started my career as a writer. Actually, it came in different form to me unlike things that make you feel like an impostor, but it’s still sort of something like not letting myself to accept what I have with a whole gratitude. In similar feeling of when you’re conflicted to profess your job title written in your Linked In page, by the time it was also hard for me to proclaim myself as a writer due to the lack of experiences in writing and no formal background study to bolster.

    What makes me ‘survive’ – love your pun choice because we perhaps never fully detach from this syndrome, but we do can manage it – is the act of being a little nice to myself. Let me put this objectively based on your current concerns in this post, not as me who is the long time friend, who shared 4 years journey of breaking the mystery inside the ancient rocks and figuring out how this knowledge would benefit to our life. Although, the reason I’m here is also 100 percent related to this fact, hehe.

    Feeling like an impostor was surely hampered myself in many ways. My job demanded producing something new everyday, this syndrome could easily stop my creativity right away. By believing that I was not as good as a professional writer should be, I sometimes lost my capability to write, even often found myself grappling in disdain for hours just to produce a single word. Long story short, I tried to track down the culprit, the source of this impostor distress, and I found it. It’s me who was not giving myself a break.

    You says perfectionism has mostly saved your life. I don’t know exactly how comfortable you are being a perfectionist, but I discovered the reason I always felt lacking and not capable as a writer was because I applied an unattainable perfect standard for the idea what a good professional writer is. I pushed myself to fit this idealism that I personally developed without considering the fact that I was a newbie which made the standard made no more sense at all.

    From this reveal, i think the way we cope with impostor syndrome is to retreat ourselves with self-compassion, to stop being too harsh to ourselves, to put aside all of the standards we force ourselves to fit in because we’re genuinely created not to be compatible to something called perfect, to simply celebrate what we have even it’s still far from what we expect, or in your case is beyond what you expect.

    I know you don’t ask my opinion about your quandary, but It conspicuously written that you actually are not as lost as you might think.

    Half of your writing already reflects gratitude and acceptance that you indeed deserve what you get today, but it’s hard not to notice along the way you keep contradicting your own kindness toward yourself. First, you mentioned the hard work you endured defines you as you are today, but then you simply put yourself as lucky with the impression like a person who magically wins the lottery with just a single feat of trying. Surely, you do know you went extra 8000 miles (to Canada) to get here. Well, i think it’s the trick of perfectionism to always counter us to undermine what we did.

    Like what you say, the universe has its own way to work and it’s outside our control, so don’t bother to question its righteousness. Contrary, what we can control is put all of the efforts to achieve something. The result is barely on our hands, but once you get it, it’s valid that is yours. Even the efforts that shape who we are today still don’t make us to meet certain qualities, in this point it’s already worth to say that we deserve it.

    1. Welcome to my tiny home, Fid! Happy to have a real-life friend stopping by.

      Thanks for sharing your experience! I guess this syndrome is kinda funny in a way that the first time I figured that you pivoted to becoming a copywriter (or content writer? Don’t mean to be ignorant but I do forget the difference sometimes), my immediate thought was: “See, I always knew that’s where she belongs. She’s gonna do great there.” Despite having those thoughts about not being as good as professional writer should be (yet), I hope at least you do feel that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, because I know you are, and I believe it’s just a matter of time until you can liberately announce that you own every nano-inch of that professional writer job title.

      As I wrote that first paragraph, I was hoping I could say the same thing to myself too. The truth is, I don’t know. I only know that I don’t actually *suck* at this job. Heck, I might even be good at it if I rule out the fact that those stereonets with multiple faults still scare the sh*t out of me. But whether or not I actually feel like I belong is a whole different section to ponder. And it’s not about that classic issue about “passion” either, I think. I’ve come to realize that once I feel that I get a good grip on something, eventually I’d become passionate about handling it. The problem here is, I don’t know how good (or bad) of a grip I’ve got in this field.

      It seems that no matter how well I do in this field (or maybe even another field? I haven’t got enough experience in anything else to back that up), there is always that part of me who thinks that I’m still not good enough. And for this, I agree I should practice more self-compassion and be much less harsh towards myself. I know it doesn’t matter how expert I eventually become if this perception still lingers – I will forever feel like an outlier in comparison to other people. However, constantly being in an environment where many of your friends or colleagues seem to already fit in that idea of what a good professional should be, while you’re out here still trying to even figure out if you’ll ever find that sense of belonging in this field is not much of a help at all.

      I guess the major (or only?) reason I stayed in this field is that I’ve dipped my toes too deep, so it’d only make sense for me to keep swimming. Not knowing whether or not I’d eventually call the water “home.”

      Welp, my self-doubt is just all over the place now. But I do love and support your epilogue paragraph. I always try my best to believe so, even though in reality, I always end up thinking, “Had someone else been in my position, would they have learned it faster?” I guess that’s just the outcome of constantly being in a competitive environment where you have to fight people to get in, and once you’re in, you’re expected to meet certain standards to be labelled “good,” and even surpass them. I want to care less about those labels and celebrate my effort and commitment instead, but it’s hard to not be tempted to go back to that idea. I always go back into thinking, “I’ve got a Master’s degree already compared to many of my colleagues. Aren’t I supposed be better at this?” And the cycle repeats. I know I should’ve stopped even before I started asking the question.

      Anyhow, appreciate you taking the time and effort to write those well-crafted thoughts. My takeaways is that being nicer towards ourselves and recognizing that our effort was valid, and that we’re a rookie in the industry so there may be certain checkpoints that take some time to get to, should be our weapons today to feel that at the very least, we deserve where we’re at now.

  4. Topik ini relevan sekali. Emang banyak banget high-educated women yang menderita impostor syndrome, mungkin karna seumur hidupnya dikasi tau sama orang2 sekitarnya bahwa dia “kurang”? Setidaknya itu isi artikel analisis di bbrp media belakangan tentang kurangnya wanita di bidang STEM, soalnya perempuan rata2 kurang percaya diri sementara laki2 mah terabas teroosss!

    That said, mungkin karna kultur juga, selama di Indonesia gw merasa banget “dihakimi” (dihakimi terlalu berat kali ya) sama orang2 sekitar tentang kemampuan gw, barulah setelah pindah disini gw dikasi praise klo kerjaan gw bener dan berhasil (ditegor juga sering sih), jadi gw lebih bisa mengira2 kemampuan gw itu sebenernya seberapa sih, jadi ujung2nya lebih percaya diri juga.

    Semoga kamu juga lebih mantap di kerjaan kamu sebagai geologist ya. Eh, ga pengen pindah kemari? 😛

    1. Kalo aku kayaknya karena semenjak terjun ke bidang ini, selalu ketemunya sama orang2 yang bikin aku jadi selalu tergoda untuk ngelihat ke atas & raise the bar quite high Mbak, karena collectively they compose this idea for me about how good a geologist should become. Jadinya tanpa sadar aku bikin standar baru based on collective idea tersebut, tapi kadang lupa kalo mungkin sebenernya individually, nggak semua orang2 tersebut pun bisa nyampe situ. Susah emang ngeyakinin diri sendiri kalo perkara merasa mediocre atau nggak ya bukan parameter yang valid, kita cuman bisa ngasih effortnya aja kan hehe.

      Tapi benerrr, meskipun aku cuma bisa ngomong dari perspektif kerjaanku ya, jolojis laki rata2 lebih pede untuk show off, regardless yang dijual beneran oke apa B aja. Dosenku juga sering curhat gitu hahha.

      Aamiin, thank you Mbaaak. Same goes to you too. Haduh aku dari dulu pengen ngungsi ke Skandinavia :” wkwk tapi for now emang harus di sini dulu karena satu dan lain hal. We’ll see in the next few years hehehe.

  5. Hi mba Bila, ini pertama kali komen karena biasanya jadi silent reader. Jujur saya baru tahu tentang “Impostor Syndrome” ini dan baca pengalaman mba gimana mba merasa nggak pede dan pantas atas apa yang mba raih sekarang, saya sambil ingat-ingat kayaknya saya pernah berhadapan sama teman yang juga kayak gini dan berkat mba saya jadi tahu kalau ini sebuah syndrome. Saya juga punya seseorang yang selalu nggak percaya dan merasa nggak deserve atas sesuatu yang dia raih, even we know kalau dia memang pantas, jadi harus ada orang lain yang yakinkan kalau dia peroleh sesuatu karena memang atas usaha dia, karena memang dia layak. Kayaknya saya bakal tertarik untuk cari tahu tentang ini lebih jauh. Thank you mbaa for sharing.

    Beehubung karena saya juga nggak punya pengalaman tentang ini, saya nggak bisa menanggapi. In the end, Semangat mba Bila, semoga bisa menemukan cara how to cope with this syndrome ❤

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