Why You Get Impostor Syndrome

Posted By Debbie on May 7, 2018

It just hit me. Talking to a former co-worker, now friend, made me figure it out. Maybe this will help you.

From time to time, I’ve had moments of Impostor Syndrome. Most of us non-impostors have gone through moments or periods of it. And I’ve always wondered WHY. Why do I feel like I might be not that great at this? Why do talented, skilled people I know go through it? I think I have an answer.

Our job is a bad match and we question ourselves instead of the job.

I had moments of impostor syndrome at a contract job [name withheld] I worked at in the 2010 decade [not saying who!]. But why? I’ve been doing this 20ish years. I’m usually a confident person who has good self-awareness about my strengths and weaknesses. Why would I doubt myself?

When I look back at that job, they had me doing so little. I left there with nothing to put in my portfolio. What WAS I doing there?

I spent about half my time battling Product and Engineering people to try to stop bad ideas. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes I was magically taken off the project and someone much more junior put on. Hmmmm.

I spent the other half of my time being given projects that were completely prescribed by Product. We’re going to build this, we want it to look like this, here are the two competitors that inspired us, make it like this. Hmmm, that’s not really the best use of my talent, experience, skills, etc…

My fave were the set of meetings where a Product person tried to get ME to come up with use cases (for our customers) so that she could build something she liked on a competitor’s site. Well, what they’re doing isn’t really right for our customers… do you have a use case or user stories? No, she didn’t but she hoped I’d come up with some. No, I don’t back Product ideas into use cases. I start with customer pain points and real needs, preferably supported by real data.

I’m not the phony. This job was the phony.

That’s not a UX job. That job didn’t use me for anything I really shine at (other than talking people out of bad ideas). I do UX research and testing but that was for another team to do at this workplace.

I mentor people. I offered to mentor people. Nobody got back to me on my multiple requests to help our juniors.

I do interaction design and I prototype in Axure. Well, only so much I’m designing when Product expects this to just look like Competitor X.

I solve problems. But with most of what this company did being semi-designed by Product (and some vocal people in Engineering, who openly cheered in large meetings when they found out UX was being circumvented), I’m watching problems get created. I’m watching UX debt being created. I’m not solving things for the customer. I don’t feel like I got that chance.

Feeling like an impostor? Take a good look at your job.

This job had plenty of UX impostors working there, and I’ll be blogging more about that experience (and how to handle it). That too can make you think maybe I’m just one.

But if you are slipping into Impostor Syndrome, take a good look at your job. Are they playing to your strengths and skills? Are they letting you do what you do best? Or are they making you feel like a grunt worker, the official wireframe jockey for another person or team?

OK you might be an impostor (see future blog posts) but as a sanity check, take a good look at your job. It might be them.