February 12, 2023

We all are impostors.

Impostor syndrome is real and affects nearly 7 people out of 10. The fear of being exposed as a fraud, based on our perceived lack of skills or accomplishments can cause pain at work, at school, and at home.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this phenomenon was even more predominant among practitioners across the digital field. Why? Because we are, to a great extent, impostors!

From trailblazing individuals doing everything themselves out of their garage to large teams counting dozens of hyper-specialised experts, our industry has evolved significantly over the past 3 decades.

Since we’ve come such a long way, we tend to forget that for the most part, we are still evolving and figuring things out. The practice of user experience design, for example, is less than 30 years old. Agile delivery is barely of drinking age. Accessibility compliance is still rare across the private sector. New tools and technologies are adopted every few years. Cybersecurity is a growing concern. Research and design ops are just coming out. The list goes on.

Unarguably, junior practitioners have access to an unprecedented amount of resources, templates, guides, frameworks, and best practices to follow to hone their technical skills.

Yet, I argue we have barely reached the industrial age of digital delivery.

Regardless of your skills or the maturity of your team and organisation, we are all facing the same challenges around stakeholder alignment, effective communication, team structure, cross-functional collaboration, handover efficiency, agile velocity, and value for money.

These problems are tough nuts to crack and are as old as the world. Nobody has completely solved them, once and for all. It all depends on the unique circumstances of your organisation and the individuals within it.

Social media in general and LinkedIn in particular let us believe that others have figured everything out. It seems everybody else is out there, achieving amazing things while having fun lying on greener grass than you do. No surprise we then feel like impostors ourselves.

So what can you do about this? The first step is to appreciate that everybody feels this way at some point or another. Impostor syndrome is only a problem to the extent that it lives in our minds and holds us back.

As often with negative thoughts, reframing can also be useful. Perhaps a more productive way to look at this is to see the feeling of being an impostor as the signal that you are simply learning. It tells you that you are out of your comfort zone, tackling some difficult problems, and ultimately growing.

[Illustration by @Tengyart]