March 17, 2016

Embracing Imposter Syndrome

You're not the only one that feels like a fraud

Do you ever feel like a fraud?

No matter how many years of experience you have under your belt, do you still get nervous when sharing your work? Afraid people will judge? Questioning whether it’s good enough? Whether you’re good enough? There are many people ‘better than you’ at what it is you’re doing, or have more experience, so who are you to share your work or story?

All creatives feel like this as some stage or another throughout their lives. Not just you.

Imposter syndrome is a feeling of self doubt – feeling that you’re not good enough to be doing what it is you’re doing. You’re not the only person in the world doing this, there’s hundreds, thousands or millions of others. So why should you? Why does your contribution to the world matter, or does it even matter?

It matters because you have a unique voice and contribution to share.

Even those well known and experienced in their field experience Imposter Syndrome. They too struggle with the quality of their work and whether it’s good enough. Have you considered that the more someone’s following grows, the more that person fears their work isn’t good enough to share? – Have you ever felt that way? Confident to show you work to a group of 3, but when you have to show it to a room of 300 you start doubting yourself and your skill set.

If you’ve asked yourself these questions before, you’ve experience Imposter Syndrome:

It’s that feeling of, what do you have to contribute to the world and will anyone care? There are people out there with more years of experience so why should anyone listen to you?

They should listen because you have a unique voice and perspective. Regardless of your skill level, you have something to contribute to the world.

What is the opportunity?

Imposter Syndrome is not all negative – it provides you with opportunities.

What are you going to do with those feelings of self doubt? You can either let it consume you, crawl back into your cave and never share your work again. Or you can be transparent with your audience. You can use those feelings of self doubt to share your journey and transformations, your progress and failures – to be open and honest. Your audience is going to respect you a lot more if you not only share your failures and mistakes, but share what you’ve learned from them.

Naturally, we want to do our best work. If you often feel like you should be pushing yourself further – this is good thing. It proves that you want to improve and refine your skill or craft. Imposter Syndrome can help motivate and encourage you to push the boundaries, explore outside your comfort zone and criticise your own work.

With so much ‘perfect work’ out there in the world, it can be difficult to feel like you’ve achieved something when all you’ve got is a book full of rough sketches and refining to show for it. But these are the moments that your audience want to see. The opportunity which lies in showing your rough work is the opportunity to be to be transparent and gain people’s respect.

People are going to respect those that bring others along on their journey to success. 

Everyone begins as a fraud

Everyone had to start somewhere. Jessica Hische didn’t wake up one day and suddenly be able to craft an entire typeface. You’re not the creative you were 5 years ago – and if you’ve been refining your craft, your work is not the same as it was 5 years ago either.  

Whenever you start something new you’re going to feel like the newbie amongst a pool of experienced players – because you are the newbie. But remember, that blogger with 10,000 followers on Instagram once started with zero – just like you. The difference between you and them right now is that they showed up consistently for a certain period of time.

If you’re a blogger, I bet you started calling yourself a blogger on the first day you published a post. But were you really a blogger then? You were just a person who had set up a blog and published one post. Does that put you in the same league as those who have been blogging for four years and grown a loyal following?

The truth is, you’re not a blogger on day one of blogging, but you have to act like one from day one – we’ve all heard the expression fake it till you make it. In some sense this is true. This is what you have to do in the beginning. You have to position yourself from day one as what you want to be known for. If that’s as food a blogger, you better start blogging only about food.

Faking it till you make it is not lying – which we know is not going to give you self confidence or help you improve or hone your skill. Faking it till you make it as about positioning and confidence – not cheating yourself out of what or who you are. 

Iterate in public

Naturally, we want to show off our best work. We want to impress people and create a legacy for ourselves – something we want to be known for as we move through life.

In design, many platforms have spawned that now encourage the sharing of your best work (think Dribbble for example). Dribbble was originally means to be a work-in-progress/feedback space for designers to post their rough work for critique. This is has since become a platform for high fidelity work and impressing others with your best pieces.

You can’t blame the designers for feeling this pressure to post their best work. Dribbble released a feature where you can now get ‘hired’ through your Dribbble pages. Of course, designers are going to start putting their best work on there when they realise there’s the opportunity for clients to view their profile and offer them work – not their drafts

Rarely do we see designers or creatives posting behind the scenes or unfinished pieces of work. Probably for fear of being judged that their early stage ideas weren’t good enough, or that their process isn’t ‘the right way’. It’s unfortunate that we’re robbed of learning from their process and seeing the 100 dumb ideas they had and threw away.

However, now, when someone does post behind the scenes or take you on their process or journey, we value that. That’s something valuable and special to share. People respect those that take others under the hood and show them their process from A to Z.

People value others that are open, honest and transparent. Iterating in public is not only going to gain the respect and trust of your audience, but it’s going to make them feel involved in your story. It’s showing that you’re not a fraud – you didn’t just download some UI Kit to put it all together.

Iterating in public means that your current audience will be able to watch you grow, and your future audience will be able to look back at you journey and appreciate what you shared along the way. 

Sharing what you know

If imposter syndrome is holding you back from sharing what you know, you’re holding back the potential for others to learn from your experiences.

Teaching others is a fantastic way to connect with your audience and provide them with value. As you teach, you’ll uncover just how much you do know – and with that comes more respect for yourself.

You don’t need to be a master to teach others. If you know one thing that someone else doesn’t know, it’s worth teaching. Don’t let your imposter syndrome hold you back from helping and teaching others (one of the most rewarding things you could probably ever do).  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional on the subject, have won a medal for it or spoken about it at a conference  – you know more than that one person, so how can you turn what you know, into a learning experience for someone else? How can you help them or provide them with value?

This is what we’ve been doing on the Design Life Podcast. My co-host Charli and I admit that we’re not experienced professionals, but that’s the point of the show. The point is to share our learnings, experiences and growth in the hope that it will help someone else – and growing along the way.

Embrace imperfection

If you’re caught up on what people more advanced than you will think, the truth is that they probably don’t care. It’ll be difficult to find success and confidence if you’re playing out of your league. What you should care about and consider, is how those beneath you – with less experience – can learn or benefit from the work and knowledge that you share.No one is perfect. A lot of the time we respect and value those who we’ve seen stumble along the way to mastery. Those that are open about their mistakes and share how they learn from them, are often the most respected.

Honesty goes a long way – telling people what you did or how you feel, and how that helped you get from point A to point B is going to resonate with a lot of people. Chances are that those people have experienced the same thing but been too afraid to share it. Embrace your imperfection – people are going to feel more connected with you.

As Sean McCabe once said, “If you don’t put out an imperfect version of yourself, you’re not creating a story of how you got better that someone else can benefit from.” People are going to respect you a lot more if they can see the journey of where you came from to where you are now.


If you’re comparing your work to a professional creative who has had 15 years more experience than you and gained a loyal audience – you’re being unfair to yourself and not looking at the whole picture. This is not only a waste of time, but it will prevent you from helping you improve and move forward if it’s your only focus.

If you’re lacking some self confidence and feel like you’re not good enough to be doing what you do, compare your present day work to previous work. This could be work from 5 months ago or 5 years ago. When you do this, it will be clearly visible to you how much progress you’ve made since that point.

Are you showing up every day? If so, you’re improving. Each time you write a word (if you’re a copywriter), put together a wireframe (if you’re a web designer) or sketch out a drawing (if you’re an artist’s) – you’re refining your skill. You’re practicing, and with practice comes experience and refined mastery. You can only go up from here.

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