3 Steps to Battle Impostor Syndrome

Sometimes I feel rubbish; like no matter what I’m doing, I’m doing it wrong. A little voice pipes up and as quiet as she is, her words cut through me. “You don’t know what you’re doing. Everyone else is so much better at this than you.” she says, “They all know it.”

“You don’t belong here.” She continues. She criticises my every move and becomes especially vocal when I’m at work. The sad part about this is that the voice is my own. I, like many women, suffer from Impostor Syndrome.Impostor Syndrome refers to the damaging perception that you are not as good at your job as those around you. It makes us feel like we put on a façade of professionalism, when inside we’re hypercritical of our every move; judging ourselves to be ‘not good enough’. Our successes are down to ‘luck’, ‘timing’ or ‘a great team’. We downplay our role in every achievement.
It is only now that I’m perhaps a little older and wiser (and I’ve started to look after myself a little more), that I realise that the voice is not actually saying what other people think at all. Reflecting on my own experience, I realised that I needed to tell people more often when I thought they had done a good job, because we generally don’t hear it from ourselves. And if you, like me have questioned your abilities, here are some things that you can do to reaffirm your faith in yourself.

1. Accept a compliment

This is incredibly hard and you might have to learn this skill but the first step is actually pretty easy; when complimented just say ‘Thanks’. Don’t downplay it, or negate it, just be grateful for it. Someone thinks you’re pretty great!

The more you ignore your inner voice, the quieter she gets…

2. It is ok to be good

We’re taught to be modest and that ego is bad, but sometimes that manifests as self-criticism in the face of success, instead of simply quiet acceptance. I’m not saying to go around telling everyone that you’re amazing (though we need to believe that we are… a little bit at least.) I’m saying that no-one is going to fault you for knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

3. Look realistically at the evidence

We’re all ‘broken combs’ (thanks to Jared Spool for coining the term); that is, we have a broad set of skills, with varying degrees of both passion and aptitude in each. Some of our comb’s teeth are smaller than others indicating areas of potential growth, and others are taller, demonstrating that we’re actually pretty good at it.

Mapping your multitude of skills (be they UX-related or not) onto paper, and really appreciating your level of strength in each, is a great way to prove to yourself that you are more than ‘wireframes’ and ‘user testing’. You might be a planner, a strategist, great with logistics, a natural storyteller, a whiz with dynamic panels, a master negotiator or a born leader.

No two UXers are the same, so let’s stop belittling ourselves and start believing that our perspectives and our ideas truly matter. UX needs diversity, it’s how we can make sure that we innovate and empathise.

Further Reading
* If you’re interested in learning more about Impostor Syndrome, the term came from a study by Clance and Imes (1978). Check out ‘The Impostor Phenomenon in high-achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic interventions’, in the journal Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice.

About Kim

Kim McGuire is an end-to-end User Experience practitioner with over six years experience under her belt. For years she felt like a novice, even when her colleagues and her work told her otherwise. Now, after a couple of years spent learning to appreciate her skills and perspective Kim values her abilities and feels like she’s in the job she was born to do.

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Categories: Blog, London
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