The Syndrome is Real
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome, otherwise known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome, or impostor experience (fun, light names), is a “psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud,’ despite external evidence of their knowledge.”
What does this feel like? Essentially, impostor syndrome feels the same way as it sounds and is defined: in many situations, you are constantly questioning whether you have enough knowledge to successfully accomplish what is needed for your job (or, even, hobby). Unsurprisingly, it is a terrible feeling. You go through days and meetings filled with uncertainty, unsure if you can live up to the expectations of others, or yourself. You don’t know if you can properly fulfill the roles and responsibilities. Sometimes this can seep into your personal life, and you question if you can even hold an interesting conversation with others, or if they just find you plain boring.
Great news though, impostor syndrome is super common! So, hi impostors! You aren’t alone! About 80% of people will encounter this feeling at least once in their lifetime. Hurrah! However, this is not an emotion that can necessarily be solved by “strength in numbers.” In fact, it is generally a feeling you keep to yourself, or only share with people closest to you who then proceed to say: “but you’re so smart, that isn’t true at all!” Don’t get me wrong, really nice, but also not the solution.
What does this have to do with UX?
The field of user experience is extremely dynamic and ever-changing. It is an exciting and thrilling area to be in right now; everyday feels it like there is a new trend to be tried or read about. The options and potential are limitless. This same fact is also terrifying and exhausting, especially for those newer in the field (and, by new, I mean less than 5 years in).
There are a lot of innovative ideas being born into the field of user experience every week, every day actually. There are a plethora of ways to approach a problem (which, to be fair, is essentially the point of UX), hundreds of methodologies, thousands of books to read and millions of opinions to listen to. There are countless articles on best practices for design patterns and research processes (some of which I have written).
With this constant overload of information, of which it is impossible to be privy to all, it is no wonder we trip up our sentences and second guess ourselves. Someone may have recently read an article you didn’t have a chance to glance at yet, which completely debunks your rationale behind a research methodology or design decision. For every UX opinion or trend, you can find an an equal and opposing view. It’s Isaac Newton’s law of UX.
As UX’ers, we are being hit with many contradicting views: use NPS, NPS is useless; you only need to conduct 7 1×1 interviews, you need over 25 interviews for statistical significance; qualitative data versus quantitative data; autoplay audio media to get user’s attention, don’t ever autoplay audio media; hamburger menus for minimalism, hamburger menus have been eaten. UX trends are as fickle as a child.
What I’m trying to say is there is no perfect answer or solution when it comes to UX. There are many different options to try, and, one trend may be out of style as quickly as avocado toast (have you heard of sweet potato toast) or bell bottom jeans, so don’t grasp too tightly. Go through the life of a UX’er with an open-mind and willingness to try and fail, that is what we desperately need, more so than endless lists of UX trends. If you do it “wrong,” do it again. Try not to doubt yourself. Many of us are feeling like impostors, while swimming in the same fish bowl, attempting to puzzle out the best approach without drowning in this information influx.
Keep your head up and follow the golden rule of UX: iterate, fail, iterate, fail, iterate, win for a bit, iterate, fail, iterate, win a little bit more. By doing this, you are absolutely not an impostor.