Did you know that 7 out of 10 people experience impostor syndrome at least once in their lifetime? A few months ago, I was chatting with one of my clients who got offered a role to start a User Experience (UX) team in one of the leading regional startups, based in Singapore. He felt uncomfortable saying yes to the role due to certain limiting beliefs. He felt that the experience he has gained was inadequate. So if you too ever felt this way, like an impostor doing what you’re doing, please understand that you’re not alone. In this article, we will discuss imposter syndrome and how to overcome it.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success by an article in the Harvard Business Review.
Who does it affect?
According to Time Magazine, this condition affects people from all backgrounds: both men and women, medical professionals, marketing managers, actors, executives and the list goes on. The cause of this syndrome varies from expert to expert – some believe it’s due to genetics while others believe it could be attributed to one’s childhood memories.
The term Impostor Phenomenon was first introduced by two doctors, Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes in 1978. However, it was Valerie Young, the current famous expert of Impostor Syndrome, who identified the five subgroups this syndrome often falls into.
1. The perfectionist
Because they already set very high goals for themselves, making it easier to fail at reaching these goals. When they do fail, feelings of inadequacy kick in.
2. The superwoman/man
This title is more of the facade this type of person puts on. Beneath this supposed work superhero they seem to be, what they actually are is a workaholic. They compensate for their feelings of inadequacy by working twice or thrice as hard than what’s required of them.
3. The natural genius
These people shy away from challenges they feel they’re not good at because of their unrealistic expectation to be good at everything on the first try. To be a natural genius. And when they fail at that… you guessed it. Cue the feelings of inadequacy.
4. The soloist
“I don’t need anyone’s help” is this person’s mantra. Believing that asking for help is a sign of weakness and setting a self-expectation to complete every task on their own to prove their independence, they often feel inadequate as they struggle to complete what should have been a team task.
5. The expert
This course junkie and certificates-hoarder takes the term “lifelong learning” a little too seriously. They believe that there’s never a limit to how much knowledge they should gain and never feel content or adequate in whatever they have achieved thus far, hence feeling inadequate in their roles.
You can watch her video on this condition below:
Impostor Syndrome Signs
From a 2011 research paper titled “The Impostor Phenomenon”, the signs of this phenomenon are as follows:
- Being filled with self-doubt
- Being unable to realistically assess your skills and competence
- Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short
- Making unreasonably low assessments of your performance
- Attributing your success to external factors
- Fearing that you won’t live up to expectations
- Sabotaging your own success
Now, let me share with you my story which I then shared with my client too.
My Story on Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
I often wonder if I should be a design coach myself. If I should know every single thing about UX before coaching someone on it. And early this year, I did question myself. I mean I don’t have a master’s degree in human computer interaction. I’m not Don Norman. I didn’t write a book about UX. And I’m not this and I’m not that. There was just so much comparison to be made. And there’s this expectation of how I have to be a certain level of great in order to coach someone.
But over time, I reflected and I really thought about this question. Do I really need to be all of these things in order to coach someone effectively? Let’s have the results speak for itself. That’s number one. And number two, I had a realisation that I just need to be one or two steps ahead.
Acknowledging what I’m good at
That’s all I need to be. And in the context of:
- Coaching someone from having zero knowledge, to being a UX designer
- Helping them move as a mid career professional to transition smoothly
- Getting them their new role
That itself is something I know how to do, having done it myself, and also having now gained experience of doing it for others. So I focus on that instead.
Reframing my thoughts
But, it wasn’t always like that. I was once the guy who doubted himself and felt too inexperienced to be doing what I was doing as well. All it took was a very, very simple reframe. All I need was that moment of reflection to realise that, “Hey, I don’t need to be like this guy.” I don’t need to be like this or that person.
Because oftentimes, our limiting beliefs, try to play up our fears and make the situation seem a lot bigger than it actually really is. So here are some tips that I applied, and I used with the coaching client of mine, I hope it will be useful for you as well, if you feel you have an impostor syndrome. And if you like you can do something.
1. Write it down
Write down your fears and your anxieties and your limiting beliefs.
I think when we write something down on something that’s negative, it takes power away from that thing. We put it down and it’s outside of our body right now. It’s not in our head, it’s outside of our body, and we can look at it objectively.
2. Question what you wrote
Now, my coaching client and I then explore what these statements are. And we question the basis and reality of the statements. And I use the following coaching questions to help my coaching client to go through this process of reframing negative limiting beliefs:
- Is it really true?
- Is it something that has occurred before?
- Has that been a situation where it has occurred, but the outcome did not turn out as bad as it used to be?
3. Reflect on your answers
And through this process, my client came to understand that maybe it’s not as bad as what it seemed in their head. And that was helpful to him. It helped him feel more confident to apply for the role and reach out to try and grab the opportunity instead of letting it slip past.
Impostor Syndrome Test
Verywellmind has a great checklist to check if you do indeed have impostor syndrome. Simply ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you agonize over even the smallest mistakes or flaws in your work?
- Do you attribute your success to luck or outside factors?
- Are you very sensitive to even constructive criticism?
- Do you feel like you will inevitably be found out as a phony?
- Do you downplay your own expertise, even in areas where you are genuinely more skilled than others?
You are not alone
If you answered yes to most of these questions, please know this:
“You are not alone in the process of feeling like you are inadequate in doing what you do. Many high performers and leaders like yourself suffer from impostor syndrome as well.”
And I say this, from experience talking to some of these leaders who shared with me in confidence and in a very earnest manner, what they are feeling and what their inner state is. I can tell you, there are many people who feel like they are an impostor despite being in a high flying job. And they look really great on the outside, on their LinkedIn or on profile and things like that.
Lean on your team
So know that you’re not alone in this journey. And you’re not alone in your workplace as well, because there is a team that you work with. In the context of my client and many of you who read our blog, you might be joining a new team as a UX designer or maybe you’re going to lead a team. And because you have a team, you don’t need to be an expert at everything. (Yes, I’m calling out you ‘Soloists’ and ‘Experts’ out there!) And I say that for myself as well.
I have a team of guest instructors whom I work with, therefore I don’t need to be an expert at everything. Because I can always count on my team. I can always refer my students to someone who’s more experienced than I am in certain matters, and just defer my experience and have the humility to actually say, “Hey, I’m not great at this. Maybe someone is better than me, and I can possibly work with that person for this topic.”
Humility & honesty is key
And I think with that, facing that situation with that humility and that honesty, will really help you with the process of actually admitting, “This is the reality that I’m in but I can be better, and I wish to be better and I can grow to be better.”
Us human beings, we have the potential for growth. That’s something I always believe in. And that’s why I really enjoy teaching as well as coaching. And it’s something I feel I will genuinely enjoy doing for many years to come!
If you would like to know more about our 4-Month UX Career Accelerator (i.e. where I coach students in their career transition into UX, together with my team of varied expert coaches), click the button below to visit the course page!