Guides

How to overcome imposter syndrome

Kully Sumra

The feeling of not being ‘good enough’ is common in designers, and can hold your career back in so many ways. Understanding the causes and effects of imposter syndrome can help put it behind you.

Imposter syndrome. That feeling of inadequacy. A subconscious fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ affects so many of us, especially in the design industry.

It can hinder personal growth, stifle opportunities and perpetuate a cycle of anxiety and insecurity. However, the good news is you’re not alone, and there are effective ways to overcome this self-doubt and unleash your true potential.

Whether it’s starting a new position, preparing for a big presentation or even spending years in the same job, many designers will recognise the symptoms of imposter syndrome, even if we haven’t labelled it. How many of these sound familiar to you?

Perfectionism and fear of failure

It’s no secret that many designers are perfectionists through and through. We relentlessly chase the flawless and often feel like our work is never quite good enough, even when it gets rave reviews from clients and peers. Sometimes design can feel like a perpetual quest for perfection. That’s dangerous when combined with the nagging fear of failure that lurks in the background.

This kind of fear can make us shy away from taking on new challenges, afraid we won’t measure up, or we’ll stumble along the way. To compensate for that fear we tend to overwork things, which can block the path to unleashing our full creative potential.

Modesty and praise

As designers, we often find it hard to accept praise for our work. When someone mentions our creativity or problem solving, we might downplay it, attributing success to luck, our colleagues or external factors, rather than acknowledging our own skills and effort. While modesty can be endearing up to a point, it can also hold us back from recognising and celebrating our achievements.

Perfection may be an enticing goal, but it’s pretty much unattainable in the real world. Instead, see your imperfections as stepping stones on a journey of growth and continuous learning.”

This contributes to a lack of confidence in design decisions. Imposter syndrome makes us second-guess ourselves, constantly looking for validation from others rather than trusting our own judgement. The quest for reassurance can become a never-ending loop, stopping us from pursuing our creative vision and taking risks in our work.

Comparison and self-doubt

The design industry seems particularly prone to playing the comparison game. We constantly check out work to benchmark against. But this is unfair, especially if we’re up against designers with much more experience. Rather than learning from them, we focus on the gulf between us and become disheartened.

This creates a vicious cycle of self-doubt, which gnaws away at our ability to grow. Cue more second-guessing, which undermines our creativity and makes us retreat further.

How do we escape? Understanding imposter syndrome exists is half the battle. And there are many ways you can deal with it. We’re all different so find what works for you.

Acknowledge it and be open

To tackle imposter syndrome head-on, it’s crucial to start by acknowledging its presence. Remember, you’re not alone in this struggle. Many accomplished designers (including the ones you’re comparing yourself to) have wrestled with the same feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.

Simply recognising that imposter syndrome is a common hurdle can be a liberating first step toward overcoming it. Engage with your colleagues, classmates and peers to discuss your work openly. Seeking their feedback and constructive criticism not only helps you refine your skills but also provides a much-needed confidence boost.

Embrace imperfection

It’s essential to set realistic expectations for your work. Perfection may be an enticing goal, but it’s pretty much unattainable in the real world. Instead, see your imperfections as stepping stones on a journey of growth and continuous learning.

Take a moment to reflect upon your achievements, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant they may appear. These moments of recognition serve as essential reminders of your capabilities.”

Keep in mind that design, like art, is subjective. Your work won’t resonate with everyone, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s the diversity of opinions and tastes that makes the creative world vibrant. You can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t strive to. Focus on solving your clients’ needs and don’t be disheartened by their opinion on certain aspects of your work.

Celebrate your achievements

Take a moment to reflect upon your achievements, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant they may appear. These moments of recognition serve as essential reminders of your capabilities and can effectively counterbalance any lingering feelings of imposter syndrome that may creep in.

Don’t hesitate to open up and engage with your peers. Discussing your experiences, the challenges you’ve faced, and the feelings you’ve had in the industry can provide valuable insights and solutions. In these chats with fellow designers, you’ll discover some awesome support, a sense of camaraderie and a load of knowledge to navigate the ever-evolving world of design.

Imposter syndrome may be a persistent foe for many, but it’s not invincible. And you’re not alone with these thoughts. By recognising its existence, understanding its roots and implementing practical strategies, you can take significant strides toward overcoming self-doubt.

Remember, you possess unique talents, experiences, and qualities that contribute to your success. Embrace your journey.

Kully Samra

Kully (he/him) discovered the appeal of digital design and systems thinking while working in Stockholm. He returned to London as a Digital Designer at Output, where he wrote these articles exploring career progression, inclusivity and mental health in design. He moved to Saffron in November 2023, and we wish him all the best.