January 28, 2019

Imposter Syndrome – will they eventually find me out?

Emily Blandford

Mudano is a company filled with high performers, the best of the best in their field. It would be easy to wonder, given that new joiners are supposed to be better than at least half of the existing team, why on earth did they choose me? What did they see in me? Will they find out I don’t have it?

Does this sound familiar?

This is imposter syndrome – the belief that your achievements are not due to your ability or skills or hard work but down to pure luck. And you will eventually be found out.

The coping strategies we may adopt to avoid this feeling are wide-ranging: over-preparing so we can’t be caught out; procrastinating so that any failure would be down to laziness rather than inability; keeping a low profile so no one notices whether we do a good job or not; making friends with everyone so that any praise can be dismissed as “oh, they just like me, it’s not about my work”. Each of these could have a large effect on our potential to progress.

I recently joined a workshop on imposter syndrome hosted by London Tech Ladies and led by Peter Soer. I’d assumed, based on observations of people at work, that it must be a phenomenon that affects women much more than men. The way we are, as women, encouraged to internalise can force us to believe that any criticism of our work is, in fact, a criticism of our innate abilities instead. It was eye-opening to hear that imposter syndrome is remarkably common, and that most people will feel this way at some point in their career.

Five years ago, when I first started as a freelance graphic designer – with no design qualification and a one-client portfolio amid a sea of talented creatives – I had no idea how I fit in. Though I regularly got interesting work through a network I had built up while working at an equality charity, it was hard to believe that I’d earned it. I constantly felt that other designers were much better than me, and I found the “do what you love, love what you do” philosophy that was flying around design message boards intensely alienating. Is that how I was supposed to feel about work? Am I doing this all wrong?

I studied hard and achieved a distinction in my design for visual communication postgraduate certificate. Finally, I had some proof: someone else thinks I’m good at this. It gave me the confidence to translate this into “I believe I’m good”, resulting in better work for my clients, and an increased understanding of what makes me tick. The imposter within me was shrinking.

To help overcome imposter syndrome, we need to claim our accomplishments on a gut level and understand how our actions contribute towards achievement. Identifying our fears, asking ourselves what’s stopping us, asking for feedback, focusing on what we can learn, reframing nerves into excitement, transforming “why me” into “why not me”, and avoiding internalising comments all contribute towards overcoming the imposter tendencies.

It’s not an easy process and takes a lot of work, though a supportive environment where open conversation is encouraged can help you along the way. This is something Mudano does really well, by encouraging all staff to challenge the status quo, to lead from every position, to make mistakes and learn from them. It helps us all to feel valued for the skills we uniquely bring to the team.

Mudano is the first company I’ve found that truly recognises the need for my skills as an information designer, without requiring me to spread myself out thinly across a spectrum of design specialisms. That’s why I’m so thrilled to work here, with a team of such talented individuals with complementary skillsets, all supporting each other to be the best we can be.

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