Insights from the Design Imposter Syndrome Crazy One Conversations.

I recently launched my new Crazy One Conversation series by talking with 60 people from 10 countries and 20 U.S. cities in three different Conversations about Design Imposter Syndrome. In this episode, we will recap the basics of Design Imposter Syndrome and then look at some of the factors that are contributing to the explosion of imposter syndrome and go through the best advice, insights, and resources that came out of the three Conversations.

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Last month I launched Crazy One conversation. These are a new free themed monthly online conversation series to bring a group of strangers together to bond over a topic. We did three sold-out talks with about 20 people each where we spent about two hours talking about design imposter syndrome. I know that 60 people is a pretty small group given the size of some of these problems so when the conversations sell out I will share out what we talked about, the best insights and resources in an episode like this. Given the number of times I have people reach out to me about it, I thought that Design Imposter Syndrome would be a good topic for the first Conversation. This is a continuation of episode 69 which covered the basics of Design Imposter Syndrome.


A quick recap on Imposter Syndrome.

It is a psychological phenomenon where you have a belief that you’re inadequate or frauds despite evidence to the contrary. It manifests in ways like constantly going back to change something in your design, not because you know it can improve, but because you feel like you don’t know what the best choices are and your design is a mess from your lack of trust in yourself. That creates an inner dialog and personal connection to our work which creates anxiety when it is judged, commented on or disliked. It takes various forms, depending on a person’s background, personality, and circumstances. It happens at all levels of your career, it comes in a lot of different forms.

There are 5 types of imposter syndrome
1.) The Perfectionist
2.) The Superwoman/man
3.) The Genius
4.) The Individualist
5.) The Expert


One of the big reasons why it is running rampant is because we rarely ever discuss these insecurities so the internal loop and dialog build up creating our imposter syndrome.

One thing that extremely clear was that everyone has imposter syndrome no matter your level of experience or stage in your career.
• We had everyone from high school students to executives to professors
• People from 10 countries and 20 cities around the U.S.
• Recently read about Tina Fey, Meryl Streep, Ryan Reynolds, Lady Gaga, JLo, Serena Williams and Tom Hanks who have all started to speak out about having it.
• “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out,'” – Maya Angelou

A few other themes also emerged from the conversations that also seem to be adding to the problem for many of us.

Job descriptions are broken and feeding into the problem
• Warning sign words include ninja, unicorn, magic, fast-paced environment, rock star, wear multiple hats, guru, must know (insane list of stuff) and more
• Not having others set your value
• The invisible script we should be following

Companies do not recognize this as a problem so there are no spaces created to be able to discuss it, teach it or deal with it.

Lack of trust in companies and leadership is making everything worse because we have little structure or support.

Imposter syndrome often grows as you go on in your career
• You cant talk to your team
• You boss wants you to be confident
• You network less since you have accomplished more in your career

Techniques and advice

Some of the best advice was
• Know that the feeling is normal
• Remind yourself of all that you’ve accomplished – I suffered from this for years where I would only see what I had not done
• Show up for yourself
• Hear and accept the good things – we too often blow off compliments thinking it is polite talk or isn’t sincere
• Teach – helps you see and appreciate how much you have learned and accomplished
• Get people who will keep you honest and you can check in with – support system
• Be generous to your creative self – mental health days, side projects, hobbies
• Be vulnerable – this was a group of strangers who quickly came together to be astoundingly honest (which was the point of doing these conversation)

• A big theme across all the conversations was the number of people who have taken up meditation

As a leader create a space to discuss imposter syndrome
• I’ve learned it isn’t about telling people what to do or giving them the answers to solve their problems.
• It is about creating the space to have these discussions, take the power out of the fear. let people have their revelations and find their tribe

Spider chart exercise
• Spider chart with the 5 types of imposter syndrome (post in show notes)
• Fill it out yourself
• Have your boss and/or team fill it out
• Have that conversation with yourself and with others to understand the depth reality of your imposter syndrome
• Maybe you beat yourself up too much
• Maybe you don’t give yourself enough credit
• Maybe you have it in places you didn’t know about



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Final thought

If these conversations showed nothing else it is that we all struggle with this so you aren’t alone and having this problem isn’t a problem – unless you don’t work on it. Confidence will come, and it will go.

But believe that you can be a great designer
• do the work
• don’t give up
• question your motives
• and imposter syndrome will be less and less a part of your life and you will have the tools to fight it when it is.

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