Three Tips When You Just Don’t Know Something on the Job

The term “imposter syndrome” is being thrown around a LOT these days. If you’re not familiar with the term, it basically means when you attempt something, you feel like you’re not qualified—usually on the job, and usually when you’re trying to lead or show high competency for a certain task. And I’m not saying I’m not immune to it—feeling enough is a frequent struggle for me internally. And, every single time I try something new I think, who in the heck trusted me with this?! I really can’t screw this up, so how am I going to make it through? How am I going to look good?

For me, “not knowing” something sparks a fear that I’ll be seen as incapable or unintelligent. But deep down in my gut, I know that isn’t true. I know myself better than anyone else, and when I put my mind to something, I work through whatever I need to get to the other side. For example, whenever I start a new construction management project, the design plans completely overwhelm me. There are just so many details. I’m a detail person, but phew. A 200+ page plan set printed in 4 point font will test anyone’s ability to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. However, once I literally stare at page, follow the index, and ask umpteen questions, it slowly gets better, one chunk at a time.

The struggle with imposter syndrome is what I think others will think of me. And I can’t control that. I know I can’t control that, but it’s difficult to remember in the moment. Imposter syndrome is also rooted in describing what I can’t do. Next time someone asks you to do something at work that you don’t know how to do, notice how you explain your capabilities to them. Are you telling them what you know, or what you don’t know? It’s so subtle, but often times we want to explain what we don’t know, thinking that will somehow convince the other person that we’ll eventually know. Put that in perspective: as well intentioned as it is—we don’t always want to “fake” something we don’t know—practically speaking, actually acting on imposter syndrome just doesn’t work. At the end of the day, no one wants to hear how incompetent we think we are. Especially ourselves.

To combat all this, I came up with three things that I can say to myself, or another person, when I’m caught up in imposter syndrome.

  1. I can learn. These three little words send a big message to someone you’re working with, regardless of their perception or expectations of you on the job. For one, it shows initiative – a job trait that never goes out of style. Self-led learning also demonstrates commitment – you’re investing your own time to add a skill to your repertoire. something new. And it shows confidence – you’re taking the lead on something you know is a priority, and you’re doing so without being asked.
  2. I can ask someone. Above all else, this concept promotes networking. There are some things you just can’t look up on the internet. For my job, there are project-specific details that only the client knows. These can be anything from opinions… how do you think we should handle the Contractor’s request for more money?… to technical specifications… if I want to check what the Contract says about weather delays, where would I find that? And it goes without saying, asking questions is so easy these days. Bonus points for you if you match the style of the person you’re asking: John likes texts, Jane likes emails, Taylor wants a phone call, etc.
  3. I can research. This may sound similar to ” I can learn”, but it’s slightly different. This is meant to be a quick action, like looking up an acronym you don’t know rather than asking the first person you see. It may sound small, but these small moments can be empowering. When you take the act of knowledge into your own hands, within reason, it can give you just the confidence boost you need to tackle a more challenging task in small bites. And on occasion, looking up a quick answer can give you brand new insights when it’s presented in a different context or from a different industry source than you’d normally seek.

The photo came from one of my jobsites when the Contractor proposed using the existing manhole base instead of building a new one. After much deliberation, head scratching, hand sketches, and reviewing the specifications, the Contractor demoed the base, and we paid for the extra cost to install a larger manhole to better fit the existing conditions. Our round peg, square hole situation looked daunting at first but turned out well in the end!

10 Things I’ve Learned About Myself After 10 Years of Marriage

My 10 year wedding anniversary is today. I feel like we blinked, and 2020 showed up. There we are in 2010, in the traditional black and white garb, followed by a colorful honeymoon in Hawaii. In the next blink, it’s a blurry, action-packed ride, and 2020 zoomed on in. The year that many of us want to erase or rewrite almost as soon as it began.

I’ve always been a Learner type – it’s one of my five strengths in the CliftonStrengths themes. I love soaking up knowledge, whether just to “know it”, or to categorize and file it away for future use at some opportune time. When I got married, I knew I’d learn and grow as a wife with the same curiosity and vigor that I had throughout friendships, my career, and other aspects of life.

But what I did not anticipate was how much I would learn about myself. Just me, outside of all the other hats I wear. More so this year than the past 9 years combined, I’ve grown and stretched in ways I never anticipated. I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever knew I could. I’m certain I wouldn’t have had this much personal growth without the gift of marriage, where you link up your life with another: hopes and dreams and vulnerabilities, flaws and struggles and fears, all of it. 

To commentate this major milestone, I want to take a different spin and pause from the “here’s how we did it” angle. That is all good and worth celebrating, don’t get me wrong. But today, I’m reflecting with gratitude on all that I’ve gained from the mid-20s woman I was to the mid-30s woman I am now.

  1. There is no limit to the amount of grace I can show my spouse – especially when they don’t deserve it and especially when I don’t want to. It is really difficult to put this into practice. But, the more I try, the better I get. This goes for relationships beyond my marital one, too.
  2. The illusion that each spouse gives 50/50 to the marriage is irrelevant and inaccurate. Some days I feel like I give 65 and he gives 35, he gives 80 and I give 20, etc. There is no magic formula, and self-awareness goes a long way when assessing where I’m at at any given time. (side note: Brené Brown refers to this concept as the family gap plan – highly recommend listening to S1, E4 on her podcast, “Unlocking Us”).
  3. Humor is a nonnegotiable asset; specifically, it is a lifeline in the heat of an argument. I really hate it when my husband makes me laugh when I’m just about to land point #378 of how I’m right. But then again I love it, because I get to laugh with him, and the argument ends sooner. I wish I had countless examples of how often I embraced this, but it’s a regrettable few.
  4. My husband is supportive of my personal ambitions, while at the same time keeping me in check when I stray across the line of overdoing it (marriage has definitely exposed the depths of my intensity). But ultimately, I am the one who gives me final permission to fulfill my goals and passions. They may have evolved or shifted from when we got married to now, but they are still mine to own once I’m start pursuing.
  5. Self-care is an absolute necessity, and a practice that I did not intentionally start until last year. I was fooling myself when I thought I was tough or brave or sacrificial if I didn’t workout or take a long bubble bath once in a while. It did not make me “super-wife” like I hoped it would. My dissatisfaction with myself slowly seeped into other areas of my life, until I made the conscious decision to take better care of myself.
  6. I do not like awkward silence; I’ll be the first to fill the dead air with mindless banter to avoid any real or perceived discomfort. However, I learned the importance of autonomy and letting things just “be” sometimes. Magical things can happen in silence, such as moods shifting, clarity to tough decisions, missing each other, and so much more.
  7. This may sound trite, but I discovered I can host parties by myself. As a kid, I was an only child, and all of my relatives lived out of state, so we didn’t have regular get-togethers. My husband has a knack for whipping the house into shape, gathering people around the kitchen island, and cooking a delicious meal. His skills rubbed off on me, and being able to share quality time with friends and family at our house is one of my all-time favorite activities.
  8. The Fruits of the Spirit are my anchor when I am lost and feel like I’m failing, in life or in marriage: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Who doesn’t want one or more of those?! Sometimes I’ll meditate on just one word for a few minutes to help bring clarity to my angst.
  9. I am a recovering codependent. It basically means that you look to others to fulfill your innermost needs instead of looking within. I am now a self-proclaimed work in progress and have woken up to the reality that the Land of Perfection is a fictional place.
  10. Actively choosing to be the things I want to be – kind, joyful, patient, etc. – is incredibly challenging. But, it is way more effective than just wishing or praying for them. I naively thought these qualities would “just happen” and be bestowed on me by willpower or “should”-ing myself. But once I gravitated toward books, sermons, or podcasts with actionable steps that felt doable, I slowly began to grow and mature in grace.

Marriage has taught me so much, and I know it will continue to as I share life with my best friend. I’m closing with one of my favorite quotes that I want to start off with for the next 10 years. Cheers!