UXing the Imposter Syndrome

“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.”

Irish novelist James Stephens knows what’s up.

We try to convince ourselves that we’ve overcome incredible obstacles to get here and yet we feel like imposters in our own environments. Feelings of doubt and fear keep coming by — will I be “found out” for who I really am? A fraud?

There’s good news: you’re not alone and it’s not all you.

Many high-achieving tech professionals worldwide feel out of place, but most of them don’t know that self-acceptance is only a part of the process; taking action and having a say in the environment in which we want to succeed is equally important.

Iterative user experience processes can help anyone looking to make a difference in how they are viewed, even by their own selves. The key is not to take the beaten path to overcome imposter syndrome, but to create a path that is customized to your habits/thinking so that you can feel like a winner on your own terms.

Here’s 5-step UX recipe to kick imposter syndrome in the hiney:

1. Create a Self-Persona

What better way to tackle the imposter syndrome than to focus inward first? Our inner makeover depends on many factors, and the first place to start is creating a road map of your past. Take into account past accomplishments, phases and resources; what did you do to celebrate your successes, to get over failure and to find a buffer when things got tough? Record events, thoughts, feelings, jobs, education, friends, and enemies. With self-reflection comes objectivity; step outside of yourself and look for patterns. What’s worked well in the past when you last felt like a winner? Was it a time when you were doing a challenge for yourself or to meet the requirements for others? We feel fulfilled when we aim to give our best instead of aiming for being the best. There’s a difference; the imposter syndrome takes over a perfectionist’s world and, although it’s great to aim high and commit to your very best, you don’t have to attain perfection to share something with the world.

Now back to the present: what pains are you attempting to overcome? How self-aware do you think you are, and what are some habits you want to evaluate?

Tool(s): Jad Abumrad’s Roadmap is a great template for personal roadmapping! To capture the self-persona, put together all your personal characteristics. Remember to ask yourself why you want to overcome imposter syndrome 5 times; the 5 Why’s approach really get to the root of your motivation and help pave the way of a brand new personal motto!

2. Research Others

How are others coping? What are they doing right and wrong? Looking to how others work through their fears gives us ideas on how to approach our own. It might make feel right to see how the “big names” in the industry conquered personal obstacles but good examples of success come in the most surprising forms — sometimes right in your own backyard.

Instead of just studying Mark Zuckerberg’s Wikipedia to unearth his secret ingredient to success, go to networking events in your city to chat it up with industry professionals about how they became the person they are today. Knowing that people of all walks of life have been in the same boat is encouraging and informative.

Tool(s): Do a self-SWOT analysis; what are your strengths and weaknesses? What threats feed the fear and what opportunities do you currently have available that can help? Another resource is a mentor. If you already have some admirable qualities you’ve found in others, add that to your research. You have the same potential as people you admire!

3. Wireframe Your Game Plan

So, what’s the game plan? It’s time to stop thinking and start designing your life! The first step is to start with the positive — what do you want to accomplish and how will your strengths help you achieve? Be sure to mark your milestones as you go! Remember to have cheat days when you step away from working your mental muscles.

Tool(s): Get your all goals out there, be it on paper or whispering into your dog’s ear. Categorize goals that are worth your time by using Eisenhower’s Box by defining what’s important vs urgent. From those which are considered both important and urgent, aim to have 4–5 of them as your monthly goals; setting them up as SMART goals will allow you to have hard deadlines and measurement for progress. This stage is not only about planning but to act — so GO, GO, GO!

4. Usability: Is it Working?

It’s time to sprint (pun intended)! Assessing yourself at the end of two-week sprints can be useful. Compare your accomplishments against your habits; are you becoming braver by the day? Or, is the plan causing more anxiety than gains? Either way, it’ll be a messy process so don’t be discouraged! Growth mentality involves imperfections. If you are seeing positive outcomes, don’t dismiss it with “I just got lucky”, like most successful women do; own your successes, big or small!

Tool(s): Having a partner to help with your assessment would be more object approach. But if you’re looking to self-assess, audit your game plan (or even your life) using Your Life in Weeks!

5. Make it a Cycle

Let’s be serious — if you could master 100 pushups in 2 minutes, would that be your permanent workout goal, or would you set the bar higher as you move forward? With every obstacle you overcome, your journey needs revision. Life is not static, so keep moving and shaking things up! Iterative actions are part of the design thinking process.

Tool(s): Before taking imposter syndrome by the horns, the focus of your iterations were negative thoughts. It’s time to throw those out the window and give your positive ones a chance! One way is to be a pen pal to your future self. Tell yourself what you’re looking forward to, and how much you’ve done already.