Letter To My Younger Self
Remember when you graduated from university after four seemingly never-ending years and copious amounts of maths, elated at the prospect of never having to sit an exam again. Will you believe me if I tell you that a couple of years down the line, you will be voluntarily sitting certification exams in a bid to learn new pieces of technology and happily attending evening classes post-work to pick up new coding languages.
I’d be lying if I said there were no hurdles in the journey to where you currently are — 18 months into your first graduate job, with two promotions under your belt and surrounded by a plethora of inspiring colleagues and wonderful friends to share this experience with.
There will be days where you’ll be over the moon with how far you’ve come and more than content with your choice of career path and days where you’ll feel like you do not belong in the tech industry and have made a grave mistake by entering it. However, along the way, you’ll pick up some crucial lessons and invaluable bits and pieces of advice which you will rely on every time a ‘Do-I-even-belong-here’ day crops up.
Lesson 1: Find your own motivation
At the beginning of your career, you will constantly compare yourself to your peers, especially male peers. You will feel like you have to work twice as hard to get half as far. You will envy their innate confidence, louder voices and the strong presence they exude, whilst you yourself would feel compelled to cower in corners of meeting rooms where you are the only woman.
Gradually, you will realise the need to break out of your comfort zone and in order to do this, you will look to your immediate surroundings for motivation and guidance. What you will find is that you are not alone in this boat, by any means. If anything, the boat is on the brink of sinking. This will frustrate you but fortunately, the frustration will be short-lived.
You will attend your first International Women’s Day event and be awe-struck by the sheer talent and brutal honesty of the incredible women on the panel who come forward to share their stories. You will feel empowered by the incredible, albeit few, women you will see in leadership positions around you and want to follow in their footsteps and slowly but surely, you will transition from contributing to teams to leading them.
Lesson 2: It’s never too late to learn
Throughout your time at work, you will come across a diverse yet equally talented range of people from developers who could code with their eyes shut to senior managers who seem to be juggling a minimum of twenty tasks at any given minute. This will be daunting at times but soon you will discover the wealth of training resources at your disposal, both inside and outside of the office, realising that it is never too late to learn.
Keep challenging yourself, there should never be a limit on learning. After you master one thing, find another that needs to be mastered. Initially, this might seem like a chore — making notes and filling up spare time with reading technology blogs online but soon what felt cumbersome will become a passion and you will continue this habit for years to come, not because you have to but because you want to.
Lesson 3: Talk about your experiences
There will be times where you will feel like an imposter in the office and struggle to internalise your achievements. Despite constant reassurances from your managers and colleagues, you will continue to experience imposter syndrome. This is an important topic that desperately needs to be talked out openly.
Do not shy away from this.
Vocalise your self-doubting thoughts and you will be astounded to discover the sheer number of people who are able to relate to your personal experiences of constantly feeling inadequate.
For a while, you will be reluctant to reach out to women and men you admire, who you’d deem to be in a different league. But the minute you start speaking out about your experiences, inspiring women and men will reach out to you. This will be your chance to learn, speak up and define your career.
Lesson 4: Find a mentor and a mentee
On occasion, you will be judged on how you look before you have had a chance to speak. You will encounter people who refer to you as a mere ‘resource’. Do not let these preconceived notions frustrate you! Remember that your self-worth isn’t defined by a stranger in a meeting room but by you yourself.
You will also come across people who will empathise with the challenges you face in the workplace and recognise that the system is not skewed towards women in technology. They will go on to generously volunteer to mentor you, which will surprise and humble you.
Surround yourself by these people.
Thank them profusely and make sure you pay forward whatever you learn by helping other mentees. You will meet new starters who will remind you of yourself when you first started out. You will see them struggling with the demands of the role, you will sense their fear and reluctance to ask questions, you will feel their passion to learn and excel, you will see your younger self in them.
Reach out to them.
Share your own experiences with them and reassure them that they aren’t imposters and are more than deserving of their successes. They will also help you learn some crucial things about yourself, especially your strengths and your weaknesses which will go on to shape your career.
Lesson 5: Don’t neglect your work-life balance
After a year into the job, the pressure will start to creep up and soon 6.30 pm finishes will morph into late nights and working weekends. It is easy to become caught up in a misguided glamorisation of late evenings, and taking pride in staying in the office after everyone else has long gone.
Don’t let this become a pattern and neglect your physical and mental health. Make it a habit not to check emails when you are on holiday. Do not let dinner conversations with non-work friends be plagued with panic-stricken mentions of broken code. Strive to find a work-life balance that suits you to avoid burning yourself out. It is important to learn how to not only set priorities in life but also to stick by them.
You must continue to do everything you are passionate about; never stop being a runner, never stop being there for your family and friends, never stop campaigning for mental health as these are activities that keep you sane amidst the frenzy of work.
Lastly, I’d say that you have your entire career ahead of you and many more milestones to hit and lessons to learn. Enjoy your journey, make the most of it and always remember to thank those who took out the time to help you along the away.
Feel proud of where you are now (even if your dad still doesn’t understand your job title) and look forward to where you will be going in the future.