Dealing with imposter syndrome (& how to overcome it)

April 18, 2021

I deal with imposter syndrome, yes. Even me. From the outside, I probably look like a successful young designer. I have a career I love, am excited about, and am good at. There is no denying that. But sometimes, often when I am under tight deadlines, I feel the imposter syndrome come on so strong that it is nearly crippling. Have you ever experienced this? According to Creative Review: “Imposter syndrome affects 7 in 10 people at some point in their lives.”


This is a short story that many of you will probably relate to from my own experience:

Less than a year ago, after completing a huge UX project for a high-profile company (something I am very proud of), I got tasked with designing a small set of ads (something I am undeniably less excited about, but spend a good chunk of time researching best practices to ensure great results when I do them). After completing a round of designs, I submitted something I was proud of and was confident would perform well. A day later, an older designer decided to take over the project and told me that: “ads just aren’t in your wheelhouse”. Of course, in retrospect, this was an act of insecurity on their part and not something a professional would ever do without an explanation. But at the time, I was crushed and embarrassed. I thought I was good at something — and was shot down without any constructive criticism.


Even to this day, this interaction haunts me when I am feeling imposter syndrome. The voice of “you’re not good enough”, or “this just isn’t in your wheelhouse”. As untrue as those statements are, many of us struggle with them, and they can seriously cripple us if we let them.

If you, like many professionals, struggle with imposter syndrome, this email is a little reminder that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We all do, and there are actions we can take to overcome imposter syndrome. Below, I’ve gathered a list of tips + resource that have helped me beat the anxiety and crippling stress that can come when imposter syndrome decides to knock on your door.


1. Perfection is an enemy.

Perfection is unachievable in UX design. There is no such thing as the ‘finished’ or ‘perfect’ design, there is always that one edge case that fails. Its all about learning from the issues and creating the solutions — pretty similar to avoiding imposter syndrome.


2. You aren’t going to get over feeling like an imposter right away.

Take small steps. If you feel like an imposter, let it happen. There are times you are going to feel that, but just remember, that your skills and ability to get where you are is something that you did, and it’s a matter of accepting it, instead of reasoning with it.


3. Separate feeling from fact.

You may feel stupid, but you are not stupid. You may feel inexperienced, but you would not have gotten the job if you didn’t have the experience needed. Separate what you’re feeling from what is fact, and recognize that one often follows the other and both can be easily confused, especially when we do not take the time to speak or think clearly.


4. Exposure to different scenarios will fast track you to comfort.

You could experience a situation 10 times in 6 months or 10 times in 2 weeks. Throw yourself in the deep end. If you don’t feel confident presenting directly to stakeholders or clients, put your hand up to present at the next possible moment. Make mistakes often and early. But make sure you reflect on these afterwards to continuously improve.


5. Be a pioneer

Chris Lienert, web developer and currently a team lead at Iress Melbourne, says that more representation can help immensely here. “The best counter to the crippling impostor syndrome I’ve found to date is the comfort in knowing that we’re not alone in experiencing this fear. Rely on peer pressure in a good way—if others have leapt into the unknown before us, then we can too. Even one pioneering representative can immeasurably help those who associate with them.”