In the spring of 2017, I was a fresh graduate from college and immediately began my first job as a Visual Designer. That morning, as I got out of bed and into the car, I had feelings of excitement and nervousness, but I brushed those inklings of doubt away.
I worked hard in college to build up my skills and land this job! I’m going to kill it in this role! I left my apartment believing I was ready to begin the first day for the rest of my life.
But only, I wasn’t ready—at least, I didn’t feel ready as my responsibilities started to pile up.
I remember one of my first tasks was redesigning a calendar feature for the web app we were building. Okay, no problem, I can quickly design how that looks. I whipped up a mockup and handed it back to the lead designer. He takes a glance at it and nods his head.
“This looks good. You can walk the engineering team through your designs later this afternoon.”
I flinched. Me? Walk the engineering team through the designs? This wasn’t something that was covered in my education; I’ve never done anything like that before in my life!
That was just the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of the first week, I had started to hear many terms for the first time ever, leaving me befuddled. What’s a Scrum of Scrums? A design system? And what the heck is accessibility?!
Suffice to say, my self-doubt came back stronger than ever. I began to feel like I was a fake that somehow conned my way into this role, that I wasn’t competent enough to call myself a designer.
And that, my friends, is a healthy dose of imposter syndrome.
Ways to Combat Imposter Syndrome
After spending more time working in the field, I’ve learned a lot more about this phenomenon that plagues younger designers. Here are some tips to curb imposter syndrome that I wish I was given when I was a junior, and hope that this can help anyone who’s going through an episode of self-doubt:
1. Take a deep breath! Breathe!
Seriously, though. Take long, slow breaths and relax a bit. It’s perfectly understandable that being in positions like this will feel scary, but let’s calm down a bit and dig deeper into why you’re feeling like an imposter.
Do whatever is necessary. Take a walk. Exercise. Watch a movie and eat some ice cream. Once you think you’re in a position to tackle this problem, proceed to the next step.
2. Understand that having imposter syndrome is common and that it is perfectly okay.
If I learned anything over the past few years it’s that EVERYONE will have similar episodes in their lives when they believe they’re not good enough in their current role. Be it a fresh graduate starting a new job or a seasoned designer starting a managerial position, we’ll always realize areas that we’re lacking in that require our attention.
The bright side of imposter syndrome is that you’re self-aware of a skill that needs some sharpening! This is definitely a better perspective because it puts you in a position to learn rather than believing you are the best and know everything…which you don’t.
3. Identify the root cause of what’s bothering you.
Why do you think you’re underqualified? Is it a specific skill that you lack? Little expertise in the particular field of your job? Or are you afraid of failure?
Regardless of the reason, spend some time reflecting on what exactly is causing your imposter syndrome. Doing so will not only help you understand yourself more but will help identify suitable solutions in curbing your anxiety. A good way to dig deeper is using the Five Whys method.
4. Seek out mentorship or advice from others.
After you narrow down the causes of imposter syndrome, I strongly suggest speaking to other people in your field to conduct a sanity check and to potentially get some practical advice that can assist you in growing as a designer.
Speak to your manager to express some concerns and ask if there are opportunities to help you learn. Ask another designer you know if they had similar experiences and what they did to address them. Not sure if you have anyone to ask? Seek out a mentor at ADPList.
Different points of view are great to have since we can only be so aware of all our flaws. Don’t hesitate to ask another individual. The worst thing that can happen is that they’ll give you advice on developing yourself to be a better fit for the role. The best thing that can happen is that you’ll realize your imposter syndrome was nothing to be concerned about at all!
5. Practice, practice, practice.
No matter what your situation is, mitigating episodes of imposter syndrome boils down to the nitty-gritty actions of hard work. The only way to overcome any obstacle set in your professional path is perseverance from within and the motivation to grow continually.
Do you need to be better at communicating with developers? Learn more about the design system/codebase that they’re using to build the product? Want to be better at animation? Take some courses or watch YouTube videos and dedicate time to honing your craft.
Practice makes perfect.
Remember, this is normal!
Seriously you guys, having imposter syndrome is normal. It may not be a comfortable feeling, but being comfortable is not a great way to push yourself to the next level either.
Remember, the first step is accepting you aren’t perfect and you’ll always have opportunities to grow in certain areas. Then, and only then, will you put yourself in a position to become more confident in who you are as a designer.
The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone!
About the Author
Associate Product Designer
University of Michigan, ‘17.
I’m just a guy who designs things. I also like to play the bass guitar.