My relationship with Impostor Syndrome

For years I didn’t try to achieve my goals. After all, if I reached for the stars, what if I failed? It’s sometimes easier to have the desire to succeed rather than take the actual chance. This left me completely unfulfilled, however. I wanted more. I knew I could make a difference and feel good about the work I was doing. I had demonstrated a string of successes with my work and had earned respect. I was ready to branch out, yet I stayed exactly where I was. I was immobilized by fear. It was easier to think I could achieve and be all that I knew I could be without taking the chance that I would fail.  I believed that people would find out that I was an impostor and really didn’t know what I was doing and everything would change for the worse.

At one point, it became obvious to me that I was ready to make that leap. I wanted to, but knew that feeling how I was, I couldn’t do this on my own. It was at that point, I took advantage of my membership as an IAI member and found a mentor. Even though she said we were co-mentoring, I needed to believe that she was guiding me with her caring hand, as she was much more accomplished and smarter than me. At some point in the process, I felt comfortable accepting what she called it, co-mentoring. At this time, I began to believe that I too, was smart and accomplished. I attribute where I am today, and the fact that I don’t experience the pervasiveness of Impostor Syndrome to this mentoring. I was given “assignments”, such as: finish your portfolio, update your LinkedIn profile, finish the site where your portfolio is going to live, etc. I *needed* someone to push me to do this. Was the fear still there? Hell, yes. That fear and feelings that people would find out that I truly was an impostor grew during this time, but I also trusted my mentor completely and respected her and the time she gave me enough to follow through with the assignments. It didn’t hurt that I am an overachiever and wanted to please her.  With each success, the feelings dissipated bit by bit.  Once I was ready, I applied for positions that only months earlier, I wanted, but wouldn’t have pursued because I didn’t feel qualified (no matter that my degrees or past experiences said otherwise). Guess what? Surprise! I applied and was called in for interviews. This helped build my confidence somewhat, enough that I could sell myself and the past work I did. From the successful interviews, I received offers.

There are still times where I fear that everyone will find out I am an impostor. I am not sure these feelings will ever completely go away. They tend to cluster around those times where I haven’t achieved what I have hoped to or even been expected to, and where I have indeed, failed. With those professional failures, the overwhelming anxious feelings of being an Impostor surface, fast and furious. Each success that follows however, tends to tame my Impostor Syndrome. Additionally, by paying close attention to patterns and understanding why or how these happened, I have been able to learn and refine the direction I should head in.

When I hear nice things about how people in the UX community view me, I think, “Really? Me? Yeah, right!” But, then I pull myself together and allow the wave of confidence to rush over me as I try to push my impostor Syndrome down where she belongs so I don’t feel paralyzed by these feelings ever again.

So, here’s a taste as to why this subject is near and dear to my heart and how these experiences and feelings have plagued me throughout both my career and my life, as I get closer to making this presentation with Amy Silvers at the IA Summit in San Diego next month.

 

4 Comments

  1. xian
    February 20, 2014

    you do know everyone experiences this, I hope! (feeling underqualified, expecting to be “found out” from time to time, no matter how accomplished or “successful”).

    Reply
    • Lori Widelitz-Cavallucci
      February 20, 2014

      So I’m finding out, Xian! I hope that the more we talk about this, it helps others to open up and know we are all in this together.

      Reply
  2. niklasw
    February 24, 2014

    Thank you for giving me a name to it, “Impostor syndrome”, love it. Sometimes when I too go through these kind of thoughts, after a brief period of anxeity :) , I tell myself it is to stay humble and honest to myself and to my tasks. And usually the next thought is something like: “If I don’t step out of my comfort zone now and then, I won’t learn anything new”.

    Reply
    • Lori Widelitz-Cavallucci
      February 24, 2014

      I think that once we know there is a name for this and that we are not alone with our Impostor Syndrome, it feels a bit better. Nicklas, your perspective on dealing with this is wonderful. I think that Impostor Syndrome certainly has a place to drive us forward, if we allow it :-)

      Reply

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