I first heard the term impostor syndrome from a fellow designer. We were chatting about the projects we were on, and comparing each other’s work to our peers: designers we knew, designers we didn’t know, even super-influential icons we swooned over, like Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Hische.
“How did we even get hired?” he asked me. “It’s like I have perpetual impostor syndrome—it’s bad.”
There I sat, staring at this person whom I deeply admired, witnessing a fleeting moment of vulnerability, and I realized that I’m not the only one that feels this way.
I’m someone who will walk by the espresso machine multiple times, trying catch a glimpse of how to make a latte, just so when I decide to do it myself, I’ll look like I know what I’m doing. I avoid confrontations, so as not to tarnish what others think of me. I convince myself I am where I am because of luck. I’ve spent the first few years of my professional life trying to be a good pretender, trying to ignore this voice in my head that takes over and says I don’t belong.
But, there are ways to shake off those feelings, to help you remember the value you have, that you should trust yourself, and that you belong in your job. It took me a while to figure it out, but I’ve developed ways to cope. If I could take a time machine back to when I first started out, here are the three things I would remind myself:
I’m an introvert who, for years, kept my vulnerabilities wrapped up. Fake it til you make it was a subconscious motto. What I didn’t realize was how empowering it is to openly admit the things you are afraid of, and the empathy and advice you get from others when you do. The sooner you are able to identify these fears and voice them, the sooner others will be able to help you through these challenges. Don’t try to pretend your insecurities don’t exist—voicing them is the first step to overcoming them.
Throughout school, I was laser-focused on learning everything I could about design. When I came to IDEO, this passion for design was no longer something that made me unique. It’s what you know beyond design that allows you to come up with a solution that your peers haven’t considered. Good design skills are most powerful when they are applied with another discipline or two, or three. I found the designers I most admired were experts in some other area—neuroscience, climbing, magic, baking.
It’s so easy to be consumed by other people’s talents, but comparing yourself to others is an impossible game to win. Instead, try competing with yourself. Where were you a year ago? Six months? Can you measure your improvement over time? It’s a commitment to continuously learning that will make you grow as a designer. You went from getting coffee at an internship to distributing the first magazine article you designed? Growth!
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