Jan 21, 2021

Community story: impostor syndrome

Not only people will recognize Gordon with his beanie hats. People who know Gordon will describe him as a confident person. He doesn’t doubt himself very often. After being a freelance designer for about 6 years, he joined Shopify. Which what he would consider as the first “real” job in his life. Shortly after that, Gordon encountered a form of impostor syndrome.

“I have never been a product designer, and I hadn’t worked in teams before. So intense collaboration wasn’t something I had any experience with,” Gordon said.

“This was basically the first time I really felt like I was a fraud and maybe couldn’t live up to the expectations,” He continued.

To manage this, Gordon believes one part of the solution is our own mindset, and the other part is the work environment. He started to accept that he had a lot of new things to learn. Also, recognize that he would be going to make mistakes as part of growing. This is where the work environment comes into play, “You need space where you can make mistakes, say things that make no sense,” He said.

Raisa graduated in business management. In her first job, she felt very different from her peers. While she cares about the user experience, she will see a problem from the business perspective by default. This makes her doubting if she is a real designer.

As she was navigating through this feeling, she started to share it with her teammates. This helped her realize that her background is unique, bringing a unique perspective to solve problems.

“My teammate doesn’t care whether I’m a ‘true designer’ or not, as long as I can be clear on what problem we tried to solve and contribute to it,” Raisa said.

For Raisa, the conversation and her team’s support helped her manage her impostor syndrome over time.

Thanks to Gordon and Raisa for sharing their stories. Many other people have shared their stories too, I just can’t put them all in this blog. But we hope by sharing our story, it helps anyone who is currently trying to manage this feeling.

Research shows that 70% of the general population feel this way at some point in their life. Most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. The important part is not to let that doubt control our actions.

For me, reframing my perspective and proactively seeking constructive feedback plays a significant role as my support system. For Gordon, it’s his mindset to accept he is still learning and the environment that allows him to make mistakes. While for Raisa, her teammates helped her embrace her unique way of thinking and continuously support her.

Dr. Cokley, who conducted a study about Impostorism1 suggested a few techniques you can consider on the individual level:

Celebrate small wins

Keep a daily diary and record every instance in which you receive positive feedback. You can use it to keep track of your own progress and accomplishments.2

Join the affinity group

“People high in impostorism typically struggle alone, silently,” Dr. Cokley said. He recommends joining or creating an affinity network, “a group of people who are similar to you, based on gender or ethnicity, and you can talk about your vulnerabilities and insecurities.”

Further reading

  1. Impostor feelings as a moderator and mediator of the relationship between perceived discrimination and mental health among racial/ethnic minority college students.
  2. Dealing With Impostor Syndrome When You’re Treated as an Impostor - New York Times
  3. Overcome Impostor Syndrome - New York Times
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Jan 26 Business-aware designer - overview
Jan 25 What do product designers do?
Jan 22 Announcement for mentorship program
Jan 21 Community story: impostor syndrome
Jan 20 Should startups build a design system?
Jan 18 How I overcame my impostor syndrome
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Sep 23 Entering product design – Chapter 7: Craft and analysis
Sep 22 Entering product design – Chapter 6: Narrow collaborator
Sep 21 Entering product design – Chapter 5: Soloist product designers
Sep 17 Entering product design – Chapter 4: Product designer key skill areas
Sep 14 Entering product design – Chapter 3: Misunderstanding of business
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