Recognizing (and Confronting) the Imposter Within

The truth is, I think most of us experience feelings of imposter syndrome at all phases of our lives or careers, and honestly, as someone with 12 years of experience in graphic and user experience/interface design, I can say that it doesn’t leave you even though you move up the ladder. You might even start to feel like someone will eventually figure it out and your own personal Ponzi scheme will come crashing down.

I have to say all the schooling in the world doesn’t relieve it either, but I’ll share some of my personal experiences and things I’ve learned to overcome (more like cope!). 

First things first, what is imposter syndrome?

People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. Those with imposter syndrome are often well accomplished; they may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees.

Psychology Today

Well –

  • Undeserving of their achievements – ✅
  • Feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent – ✅
  • People will discover the truth about them – ✅
  • Have numerous academic degrees – ✅✅✅(Thanks student loans)

I remember a phrase I used to repeat when I was a young designer when talking to much more senior professionals. 

“I don’t even know what I don’t even know to get me to the place where I need to go.” To me, that statement basically sums up my junior career. I didn’t even know what questions to ask to get to the place where I felt other designers were. Maybe that’s when my imposter syndrome started, but it definitely didn’t end there. 

I realized that my imposter syndrome came in waves, or types, as I would soon learn, and I felt like each one of them applied.

What are the 5 Types of Imposter Syndrome

  • The Perfectionist: As a result of this form of imposter syndrome, you may feel as though you could have done better in a given situation unless your performance was flawless. Your perfectionist tendencies lead you to doubt your own abilities and make you feel like a fraud.
  • In-House Guru: Inadequacy in knowledge or skill causes the expert to feel like a fraud. They do not consider themselves “experts” because there is always more to learn.
  • Genius by nature: If you don’t think you’re inherently intelligent or competent, you may suffer from this form of imposter syndrome and constantly doubt your own abilities. You may feel like a fraud if you struggle to master a skill or if you are unable to achieve immediate success.
  • One Man Band. If you had to ask for help to get where you are, you might also feel like an imposter. You doubt your abilities and competence because you couldn’t get there on your own.
  • The Ultimate Human: Feeling like a fraud if you don’t put in the most effort or achieve the most success is a symptom of this form of imposter syndrome.

Again, I felt as though each of these applied: I had an inability to objectively evaluate my own level of skill and competence; I blamed my success on circumstances outside of your control; I was overachieving and self-sabotaging, which led to self-doubt. So how did I overcome it? Well, spoiler alert, I don’t think I have completely. 

Learning to Confront my Imposter

But what I know is that I’m pretty freaking amazing (and you are too). I give everything my all, and even on my worst days, on the days where I feel like crap, I still try, even if it’s not perfect. So I worked on: 

  • I celebrated my achievements big or small. I took some time to reflect on my accomplishments because hey sometimes no one else was going to. 
  • I realized that I have all the skills I need to do this and even if I don’t I can learn them because I am capable. 
  • Designs are a work in process. The way I would design something today is different than how I would have done it 5 years ago or 10 years from now. 
  • I remembered that not everyone will do things the way I would have and that’s ok. 
  • I realized that mentoring others helps me to be clear and concise with how I relayed information.
  • Lastly I gave myself grace. I’m not perfect and I’m not going to be. 

Sometimes we are all fighting to be seen and to grow, and it gets combative. A personal example of my own imposter syndrome clashing with someone else’s is when a coworker and I had a knockdown, dragout argument. I felt that he was walking all over me, and I didn’t feel seen. But when we talked, I realized that my imposter syndrome and his were clashing, and that just like me, he felt insecure about his future in his chosen field, and so did I, and we were working against each other. So I had to remember that I had to give other people grace too. 

Your imposter syndrome isn’t going to go away overnight, and it’s going to take really hard work to feel like you’re crawling your way up and out of it. So to my younger self, I said, “I don’t even know what I don’t even know to get me to the place where I need to go.” We got there. 

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