Have you ever felt like you're wearing a mask and only you know who’s behind it?
Have you ever felt like you lied after a job interview even though you were completely honest?
Have you ever felt that at any time people will discover you’re not as great as you seem?
If your answer was YES to any of the questions above, guess what? ding ding ding! You’ve experienced what’s called The Impostor Syndrome.
The impostor syndrome: <insert dramatic background music> a term I didn’t even know existed until last year, but a feeling I’ve been familiar with for a long time. It isn’t exactly a mental illness, but a psychological pattern in which you’re overwhelmed by the feeling that at any moment you’ll be exposed as a fraud; doubting your own experience and accomplishments.
This syndrome was given a name in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They described it as “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”
Being in an industry that exists mainly to please others (I’m not a prostitute, just a graphic designer) it sounds a little redundant to even experience the feeling of being an impostor. If people like your work, it is because you’re good at it. But, surprisingly, it’s very common around creative people. I guess the feeling of being an impostor in the graphic design world stems from everyone thinking they can do what you do because it’s as easy as opening Photoshop -> File -> Make design pop -> Save, right? But what if everyone can actually do it and I’m just better at faking it and I do it at a professional level?!
As a designer your work is meant to be liked by others. Its value comes from having a positive impact on the target: it means you did good. But then there comes this feeling that maybe it’s because they don’t have great taste in design. Maybe it was a lucky strike. Maybe I copied a design by accident made by someone else while looking at references? Maybe, by accident, I sent a design made by Stefan Sagmeister instead? Maybe they think I’m Stefan Sagmeister? Maybe, maybe, maybe…
Before knowing that what I was feeling had a name, I truly believed all my accomplishments and goals were achieved by a matter of luck and fooling others into thinking I knew what I was doing. From time to time I thought “Am I the only one that feels this way?” Then I remembered all those stupid posts I see on social media saying (please read this with your basic pumpkin spice voice) “Am I the only that that loves fall?, Am I the only one that hates waking up early?” No, you’re not the only one at anything. You’re a human being and if you have a certain thought or you're feeling a certain way, chances are you share this feeling with a few million people in this world.
The opposite face of the Impostor Syndrome is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability.
Then, where should I be?
You’re not alone
The feeling of being an impostor psychologically comes from a lack of self confidence, fear of success/failure and self sabotage, but then, who hasn’t had those feelings once in a while? It's only human. I guess impostor syndrome has many faces. Haven’t you felt that you’re an impostor even at pretending to be an adult?
We see ourselves from the inside and we perfectly know our flaws, but we see everyone else from the outside. As human beings we rarely expose ourselves and our flaws to others; that’s the root of the impostor syndrome. With the use of social media where everyone shares the best parts of their life, we tend to forget we’re all full of doubt. Doubt doesn’t make you an impostor, it makes you a normal person.
This syndrome, just like any other syndrome, should be treated. The first step to overcome the impostor syndrome is to accept it exists in you. To put a name to your monster. According to several articles on the internet the next steps could be resumed to:
Make a list of all your achievements (big, small, in between it all adds up)
Having these accomplishments written can give you the big picture of everything you’ve done. Actually being able to read these points one by one helps your mind to notice all of this wasn’t made up inside your brain, but they’re facts of your experience.
Start talking to yourself in a positive way
Change the “I can’t” to “I will” the “I don’t know” to “I’ll learn to do it” This will help to boost your confidence.
Talk about it with others (friends, co-workers, mentors)
When you talk about how you’re feeling with other people, you realize that what you’re feeling is not uncommon; especially talking with someone you admire or see as a mentor who knows how hard you’ve worked.
Keep in mind these feelings will come and go
Like happiness and sadness the feeling of not deserving what you have will come once in a while, but it can lose its impact if you are aware that this is just your own mind playing games with you. The information it’s using to make you feel like an impostor can also be used to make you feel like you’re doing just fine.
In case this feeling grows and starts interfering in your life. Asking for professional help does not mean you’re giving up, actually quite the opposite. It means that you want to get better.
In conclusion, the impostor syndrome is just your mind playing tricks on you and our mind is the most powerful thing we own. So, shouldn’t we use this in our favor instead of consciously sabotaging ourselves? Of course, is it as easy to put in practice as it sounds? Not at all. But to even find out there exists a term for this feeling is a step in the right direction to overcome it. We’re doing the best we can with what we have.
For me to even do the research to write this post made me realize that what I was feeling is normal and that there are several ways to overcome it. I hope this post helps you to boost a little confidence in yourself and trust in your knowledge.
Oh! by the way, you can follow my not-so-good work (jk) on instagram @denissealvidrez