Do you ever feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, that you’re faking it to keep your job, and that any achievements you’re credited with are creating a false ideal of your abilities? Do you ever worry that someone will discover that you aren’t as capable as others believe? That’s your impostor syndrome talking.
But first, let’s talk about why so many of us experience it. The condition was first identified in 1978 by the psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. It has been estimated that 70% of people feel like an impostor at some point in their careers. But, in my opinion, it all starts long before we join the workforce. It may soar to new heights as you advance in your career, but it begins much earlier. Impostor syndrome doesn’t suddenly appear overnight.
It begins in childhood, when we are first told — and begin to believe — that we are in some way insufficient. That what we’re doing or what we’ve done isn’t enough. To fit in, be accepted, and make friends, you would have to be someone different. That in order to be successful, you must act and be perceived in a certain way.
Impostor syndrome is common in technical and academic fields, but women are disproportionately affected. It’s a major career roadblock because, if left unchecked, it prevents them from applying for promotions, submitting papers to conferences, or doing anything else that would draw attention to themselves. That’s not surprising, given that women still face a lot of criticism in these fields, and their achievements are often undervalued.
Impostor syndrome is both good and bad. It’s bad in that it stops many people from progressing and sharing their capacity and talents with the world. On the other hand, impostor syndrome is also a symptom of breaking out of your comfort zone, and that’s where growth happens. Next time you experience this feeling, know that there are plenty of reasons to embrace it.
In the field of UX design, there are actually a lot of people who experience impostor syndrome simply due to the leap from informing design to actually designing. That invisible bridge between the two is filled with the stuff that can make people fear the fail or try and bluff their way to success. UX and “design” are different things. UX is closer to a research project riddled with experiments and design is closer to art and craftsmanship, in my opinion. The research should inform the design.
But UX people get into this weird situation where they’re not only asked to do the research, but they’re asked to basically craft the thing on some level. Why? Because companies might ask the UX guy to also do design and then the UX guy might not actually use fresh real data to support his/her design (after being asked to do that part) because the company doesn’t have the desire to fund him/her to do all that extra work and because of his or her own tunnel visioned bias.
Buttons and widgets will be in places due to seemingly applicable design patterns, an efficiency achieved through someone else’s research, but this approach also carries a risk since every situation has some uniqueness to it. But this risk shouldn’t be where we do UX without buying. Any risk should be brought up to the customer so that they can make the decision about it. There’s also the misconception that business have where they think they can bring in a UX person and s/he will draw pretty pictures and designers will make everything better just from that. And some folks might be pushed into that situation against their better judgement too, which doesn’t help things.
I kind of feel that the only people that don’t feel like an impostor sometimes are the ones that don’t realize how much there is still left to learn. Impostor syndrome is nothing more than your brain saying “you might know more than those that acknowledge you, but you have a long way before you know everything you could/should know”, which is a good thing.
In other words, impostor syndrome is a symptom of a mind willing to learn, which is the best feature someone working on any design or technology field can have. Surround yourself with people smarter than you, and keep learning.