The mindsets I wish I had challenged
Reflecting on my design career path, part I
In January I returned to work after my maternity leave. This break from the normal day-to-day workflow gave me an opportunity to reflect on my career as a designer up until this point. It struck me that I’ve been hiding behind some unconscious mindsets that either delayed or stopped me from growing further. I decided to write them down as a constant reminder for the present and future me, and I hope it can be of a little help to you as well.
I broke down my reflections into two parts: Mindset and Action. In a sentence: believe in yourself, and show everyone what you can achieve.
Part I: Mindset
The fact that you’re learning doesn’t mean you are not good enough
When I joined my current company, what I looked forward to most was learning from the great talent on the team. There was nothing wrong with that mindset in itself, but what was dangerous was that I subconsciously put myself at a lower level than most of the designers on the team, feeling that somehow I was not as good as them. A typical case of imposter syndrome. This was just wrong. If I wasn’t good enough, I wouldn’t have gotten an offer to join the team in the first place.
The danger of thinking you are an imposter is that you will be scared to take risks, to ask for bigger responsibilities. “I might screw this up…”, “What if they think I’m not that good of a designer.” All these “what-ifs” never became reality for me. It probably won’t for you, either.
Changing jobs/managers doesn’t mean you need to start over again
Below are some of the inner monologues I’ve had over the years. Do any of them sound familiar to you?
“I’m new here, it will take me some time to establish myself.”
Wrong. Joining a new team means you might have to take some time to figure out the best way to collaborate with your team, but that’s not going to stop you or even slow you down from contributing. On the contrary, taking initiative and proactively contributing accelerates your becoming part of the team.
“A new manager! I should establish a baseline and show him/her what I can do from now on to get to the next level.”
Wrong. You did just as much, if not more, work before the manager got here. Show him/her what you’ve already accomplished and get acknowledged. Don’t start from the beginning again just because he/she is new to the situation. What happened while I was busy setting a baseline and goals with my new manager? Another designer working on the same project with me proactively showed his achievements and got acknowledged through a promotion. Be him, not the old me.
“Okay, I just got promoted, good. Now I should probably work hard and wait a bit to bring up getting to the next level.”
“Okay, now that I’m pregnant, I should probably wait to talk about a promotion when I get back from maternity leave.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Why wait? Wanting to get promoted is nothing to be embarrassed by. You won’t offend anyone by talking about getting promoted. Don’t wait, start talking and working towards the next level.
You have unique expertise
Suffering from a mixture of my introverted personality and the false belief that people already know what I know, I hesitated in sharing any kind of knowledge in public with my team. Then one day, more than 2 years after I joined my current company, during a 1:1 conversation with someone high level in the team, I realized how small of a presence I had within the bigger design team.
I forced myself to become more visible by searching for something I could share with the team. Eventually I did a show and tell on tech trends in China, all the time worrying about whether people would find it interesting, or whether people would question my knowledge on this area and assume I was just making stuff up. Well, it turned out they all found it super interesting, I got a lot of positive feedback, and people thanked me for sharing things they didn’t know.
Everyone has unique experiences that shapes their unique perspectives. If you don’t feel particularly unique, pick something you are interested in and do a sharing session. I bet you’ll be happily proven wrong.
Having a more proactive mindset is the first step, but following up with actions are just as important. That takes us to Part II: The actions I wish I had taken sooner.