Leading in Design
Published in

Leading in Design

Being Vulnerable and Leaning Into My Fear as a New Manager

As a new manager and leader, I have been feeling a lot of pressure to write an article or contribute to the design community. To be more outspoken. To do the things I see other great leaders doing. Publishing articles, posting on LinkedIn and speaking at conferences. I struggled with the idea of publishing my thoughts or speaking at conferences. I had resistance to the thought of putting myself out there and really going for it.

What really started resonating within me was the fear of putting my thoughts about anything into the world. I had an imaginary bar of what that should look like and it was always going to be out of reach. I kept thinking “This idea is not ground-breaking. Nobody is going to read this. It won’t make sense. Who am I to write about design and leadership?” The feeling of inadequacy was hitting me right in my feels.

Why would I put myself through that stress with the potential of failure and disappointment? The easy path was to run away from the discomfort. To remain small, to avoid being witnessed. I remember these feelings at the beginning of my design career too.

The majority of the time, I would compare myself to others. I would end up second-guessing my design decisions. Maybe I was doing this consciously or subconsciously, but I always felt something was off. I felt an enormous amount of pressure to perform and execute the best designs possible. To the point where it wasn’t fun anymore. To the point where I found myself competing with others instead of collaborating and asking for support. I found myself not able to take feedback well or give constructive criticism.

That imaginary bar I set for myself was looming unobtainable. With the help of some transformative work, focusing on myself, and making sure I was mentally healthy, I was able to overcome those beliefs. I started disconnecting the emotional attachments to my design work. I truly found empathy for people experiencing the products I was building. I took my ego out of the equation and was able to start leading larger bodies of work, and cross-collaborating with different teams. I was able to take the next step in my career and was promoted to Design Manager.

In a way, becoming a new manager was reminiscent of my early experience as a designer. I underestimated the difficulty of managing other designers. I found out quickly that I needed to get to a place where I was comfortable being vulnerable and having patience with myself through this process.

For the second time in my career, I felt fear of not being good enough. I made mistakes and judged myself for failing to be a good manager. The fear of failure and not being good enough started consuming me and driving my behavior. I felt if I wasn’t able to show up fully for myself, how could I expect to show up for the designers I managed.

If I didn’t acknowledge this fear, I would succumb to the very nature of it. I would speak from fear, I would lead from fear. The belief is that fear will protect me, it will hide me away. Do the bare minimum. Wing it. I don’t have to write this article. I won’t have to feel the disappointing sting of failure.

In the face of fear, here I am. I am grateful to have support from family, friends, and colleagues. I’m proud of myself for undergoing this transformative personal work. I’m thankful for my past experiences and the many teachings along the way. I have more power than I care to admit when it comes to what emotions drive my behavior.

I can choose to acknowledge the fear and come to terms with it, replace it or use it for good. I can choose to challenge the beliefs that I am not good enough or I am not deserving of the role and anything good that comes in my life. The power of choice is in my control.

Acknowledging to myself and others that I feel fear is powerful. It’s liberating and courageous to be vulnerable and honest with yourself and others. Leaning into discomfort feels risky but I have never looked back and said to myself “I really regret leaning in.”

The realization I keep coming back to is that I’m okay with writing and sharing my thoughts. I’m okay with the fact that this may not be groundbreaking or a new discovery. This is my experience and I wanted to lean into the discomfort of writing and publishing an article. I wanted to feel vulnerable so maybe those who do read this feel encouraged to feel vulnerable and share their thoughts and feelings with the greater community.

So this is me, leaning in.

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