Designing Through Imposter Syndrome: Using a Goal-based Framework to Navigate Career Growth in Design
Loriah Pope presented “Designing Through Imposter Syndrome: Using a Goal-based Framework to Navigate Career Growth in Design” at UX Camp Spring 2021. Enjoy!
Product Designer, Hubspot
After graduating with a degree in Computer Science from New York University, people, puzzles, and problem-solving brought Loriah to the world of design in 2015. A self-described what-iffer, Loriah is passionate about working across disciplines and teams to clarify complex problem spaces. She finds everything endlessly fascinating, asks way too many questions, and writes about those questions sometimes on Medium.
The following transcript very likely contains typographical errors. Please forgive any mistakes!
Hello everyone. I am super excited to be here today. My name is where… My pronouns are she and her. I’m a product designer at HubSpot. You can find me anywhere on the internet at the IHOP and say, I’m super excited to talk about something that I think a lot of us struggle with at some point in our careers, and that is impostor syndrome. What would you take some time today to talk through a little bit of my story and how I felt imposter syndrome throughout my career so far, and she are some of the tips and goals that I set for myself with you, and I hope that they’re helpful.
So I’ll start out with kind of a bold claim, I have no idea what I’m doing, or at least that’s what my imposter syndrome tells me. And if you’ve ever thought to yourself that, I don’t know what I’m doing, or I don’t know enough community designer, or you don’t have the skills. You’re in good company. I have talked to a lot of people therefore had similar sentiments as this one, and warning that they are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, or are really not out to be a designer.
And I’ve got this a lot to myself throughout my career as well, my back to design is a little bit I… I’ve always been really interested in people and understanding problems and building really cool things that culturally solve some problems for people, and on that journey in school, that brought me to the neuroscience and psychology, I got my minor in business. And my degree is actually in Computer Science. And when I graduated, it also brought me a lot of different titles, so I’ve been a software developer, a front-end web developer, a US Analyst, and now as I find my spending and product design, I realize that I brought a lot of package on with me
A lot of my impostor syndrome comes from this feeling that because I don’t have a formal design background or really a traditional design education, I’m not root to be a designer, and it makes it really difficult for some time to be able to trust my instincts and this hit really hard when I first started learning more about design and learning more about what it meant to be a product designer, and really in typical typing fashion, I made a list, I listen to podcasts and I read articles, and I went to meet-ups and conferences and trying to piece together kind of what I thought I didn’t know and to build out my own education for what it meant to be a designer.
And this is kind of what that is like from what I learned and from what I have seen. A designer is so close to me and expert in research and should always know when to ask the right questions and the best way to synthesize and share results, ’cause I know I should be experts in graphic design. They should know of the nano typography and color theory, and I always make the right choice because I know I should understand interaction patterns and be able to explain them really well to anyone on their team.
They should also understand the business and depending on where you’re working, you should also have a really solid understanding of the larger industry as well, and how design cases into that.
Devine should be expert facilitators and communicators, and my personal favorite designer should always be experts at making it pretty, and that’s really just kind of in the day-to-day 9 to 5 outside of your job. Designers are also expected from what I learned, or what I had observed to write articles and evangelized design across your organization and across a larger industry. Here is this question of whether or not designers should learn to code. I had asked myself many times, should I be posting Entebbe, I don’t even know how to get invited to trouble, and dinner should also can keep up with the latest design trends. So this is a lot, and this is really not even the full list, but when I was first starting out, these are the kind of things that I started to internalize, and my imposter symptom told me that if I didn’t know all of this, or if I wasn’t an expert and all the things that made someone a perfect designer, and I was not supposed to be there. And my goal when I set for myself to kind of overcome that was to become an expert in all of these things, and what that meant is that I basically had no boundaries.
I would check my phone when I first get up in the morning and find classes or courses to take or things to learn, or just try to work harder and harder because I believe that one day I could finally master my imposter syndrome and it would just disappear.
And in reality, kind of the exact opposite happens.
I started out with this kind of bubble of the things that I knew, and this kind of slightly larger bubble of the things that I thought I didn’t know, but as I learned more and more, I found out that there was this whole world of things that I just had no idea that I didn’t even know all of my non-unknowns and unknown unknowns, and the result of that was really my imposter syndrome kind of digging itself deeper and deeper into me. I stopped speaking at the meetings, I stopped sharing information, and they stopped volunteering for projects that I really wanted to work on because it was so obvious to me all the things that I didn’t know, and I was terrified of other people kind of finding us out of anti
Came to a head one day, I had gone into work even though I wasn’t feeling really well, because my brain told me that if I didn’t go to work and everyone would such wake up and realize that I wasn’t supposed to be there. So I’ve been to work in Michael colleague at the time told me very rightfully so, if you’re not feeling well, you should go home. So I did, I took their advice. And while I was on the train home, I noticed as I was kind of thinking about how to make up for the fact that I wasn’t there. My heart started pounding and my chest was changing, and I was having a really hard time breathing. I got off the train and descended to just walk the rest of the way home, and I ended up sitting on this prevention, I just breaking down and crying and just… I realized at the time that I could… I got myself or impostor syndrome to myself into a panic attack about just not being on engineer, being in enough. And the funny thing at the time, if you can call it funny is my main bout was that not that I need to stop and focus on my health, but how do I kind of keep going, how do I learn the skills to get over this and make it seem like I can definitely handle all of the things in my plate, so people don’t realize that I actually can’t handle this, and that really is what started me on the path of learning skills or trying to learn a little bit more about myself to be able to reflect on my impostor syndrome and to be able to change the way that I was approaching some of these thought patterns.
And that really was kind of the basis for forming these three goals, so I hope that I can kind of share these with you, these are the three goals that I set for myself, whenever I’m feeling like I’m not good enough or I don’t know enough for my imposter syndrome is showing up to reflect on it and find a path forward.
So the goals that I set for myself are really to try to change my narrative, I stop and check my mindset, and then I stop and think about my values. So the first one here is when you talk about how to change the narrative, so one of the things that I did after series nine, my imposter syndrome, is that a problem was I signed up for a course and it was about positive typology and resilient skills, and one of the first things that I learned was this idea of attribution theory or explain or styles, which is really how you explain things to yourself, either in profit or negative situations, so the in the pea definition here is that explanatory style is a psychological attribute that indicates how people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, either positive or negative, and there are really three dimensions of explanatory style, and that is personalization, permanent and pervasiveness. So personalization is really a measure of the… The cause at the event or the blame that you’re placing on the event, so that can be really internal or external, where an internal explanation might sound a lot more like, this is because of me, this is because of something that I did, where an external explanation, it sounds a little bit more like there are other things going on, other factors at play that isn’t entirely something that had to do with me, premises red, whether you think an event as stable or unstable, and in a stable explanation, it might sound a little bit more permanent where you might think that this made it happened and it’s going to happen, this is going to kind of set the President for how we were going to go in the future, whereas
An unstable explanation is a little more temporary, so maybe this was just a moment in time, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to happen over and over again. And then finally, promises, this is a measure of how widespread do you think the effects of this event are going to be for a more global explanation, that sounds like this is going to affect all of the areas of my life, or it is going to affect much larger than the current situation, where a more local explanation sounds like his only on MOKA this one particular area of Mali. And those dimensions come together to form either a pessimistic or an optimistic explanatory style, where in a pessimistic pinafore style might say that this thing is my fault or this negative moment happened just because of something that I did, it’s going to happen over and over again, and I can… To expect that to continue. And it’s going to have wide-reaching effects on other areas of life, where
An optimistic explained or file in the face of a negative event, I might say that this is due to extra clauses or this is something that was gonna be automatic. It doesn’t necessarily mean that this is going to happen over and over and over again, and it really is localized to this moment in time or this event, and what… Really having to face that. So if we take a scenario that has 100% happened to me is I might be facilitating a research session or I might be conducting some research and I start to realize that it’s not going well, or maybe it’s finished and I realized that it didn’t go very well, the way that I typically explain these events to myself is definitely calls with a more of a pessimistic on-Pepin or the pessimistic mandatory style, where I might say the session, is it going well because I didn’t prepare enough or maybe because I didn’t think I’ve got enough questions and I ask for help on it, whatever happened. It was totally my fault. I might expand them that and say that all of these sessions are going to go bad because I’m a really bad facilitator, This is something that’s going to continue for every single session in the future, and then I might go even one step beyond that and say, because is it gonna happen forever and ever and ever, everyone’s gonna think that I’m a really bad facilitator and we’re really bad the designer, and no one’s gonna wanna work with me, and you can start to see how this might perpetuate the idea of impostor syndrome, and this is really where I was falling into that trap of getting into the cycle of saying that things were my fault and they were going to happen over and over and over again, where if I had a case in the situation to think about how I could change the narrative I might try to adopt a bit more of an optimistic explanatory style, so instead I might say, maybe the connection was really bad and the participant didn’t hear me, or maybe we’ve been in a global pandemic for a full year, and there are other things on people’s minds.
I might try to pause and recognize that this is a single situation, this is one research session of potentially many, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that all of them are going to go this way, emissions the ten things about ways to improve it or what I think didn’t go well, to make sure that future sessions do go off, and then instead of thinking, this is going to affect all areas in my life, I can kind of stop and say, Well, maybe it’s this one research sounder one research project. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s gonna think that I’m a terrible designer, or I’m really bad at Duryea, and this is kind of just localized to this one event, so really that’s to the first fall that I set for myself. Whenever I find myself on these moments of feeling like an imposter, feeling like I’m not putouts designer, I try to think about the event that occurred and ask myself if there’s a way for me to change the narrative in my head and try to explain it in a more external, unstable and local way, and try to get out of that pessimistic explanatory style in favor of a more optimistic on…
The second goal, what I try to set for myself is to check my mindset, so this is from another psychological principle, more social psychology, Carol… We was a social psychologist, I did a lot of research into intelligence theory, and she came up with this idea of implicit theories of intelligence, and there are really two metric success where when talking about how much do you think that your abilities can grow… So an implicit ARY of intelligence means that everyone has a different opinion on how much do you think that their intelligence or abilities or capacity for growth can evolve.
So you might have a fixed mindset where you view your abilities or capacity for growth is more static, or you might have a growth mindset where you might think that your beliefs and abilities can be developed over time, so that might sound like… Let’s say I failed a math test. If I had a fixed mindset, I might say, I felt this math has to be found is bad at math, and there wasn’t really too much that they can do about that. Where as with a growth mindset, I might say, I feel this Mastaba SE, I don’t understand long division, and I can get help and ask questions and go through some tutoring to grow in that area. So when I think about my own path or kind of my own Imposter Syndrome, I believed that I had a growth mindset, this was kind of the picture that I was looking at, the things that I knew and the things that I didn’t know, and I believe that we harder and worked, or the more I tried or the more contact, Allison or book Ariola as I talk, I go from this to this, where the things that I knew in a far outweigh the things that I didn’t know, I believe that I could work myself into growth Evie, in a later interview with The Atlantic, you don’t have to read all of this, I’ll give you the highlights, Carlota-led about something called the false growth mindset, and those interview talks a lot about more effective praise on the student-teacher relationship, but if there was a lot that I could tie to my understanding of what it meant to grow as well.
So do her, is that it’s not really an either or situation… Everyone kind of has areas or situations in your life where they have these fixed mindset triggers or the things that make them think that they’re unable to grow or unable to learn, and
Part of having a growth mindset is to really try to understand what those triggers are. And think of ways that you can improve. You talked about how having a fast growth mindset is really when people put a lot more emphasis on the effort, intergroup rather than the process of both itself. So if I apply this to my situation and the way that I thought about my own growth, I was falling into this false growth mindset, I was putting a lot more pressure on myself about the effort of growth and just trying parter rather than stopping and kinda strategically thinking about what isn’t working for me, where am I struggling, we’re gonna ask for help, and how can I grow beyond the mindset that I’m currently in.
So really, this is the second goal that I set for myself to… In these moments of feeling like, I’m not gonna… Not for a attach designer where I know that my trigger is kind of not knowing everything, for my instinct is to try harder and learn more and try to go from… To make the things that I don’t know or the main things that I know outweigh the things that I don’t know, to take a step back and ask myself, Am I falling into this false for mindset? And one of the things that I could do to ask for help or to focus more on the process of book itself… The
Last goal that I set for myself is to think more values-based around the time that all of this was happening, and I was really in my head about not being a good enough designer or not really knowing where I was supposed to land. And conversation with my manager at the time, which she was amazing, and she asked me a question that on the surface might sound simple, but totally changed my perspective on growth and what it meant to grow as a designer, and she asked me, Well, into designer… Do you want to be? And that totally shocked me for a couple of reasons, one, I… Mostly that I didn’t know that that was an option. I was kind of looking externally to build this mental model of what a perfect designer was supposed to be, and I was holding myself to that standard, and any time I didn’t check something off the box or see where I can neatly fit into that box of all the things that the internet and to Cineplex designers to be my imposter syndrome told me that I wasn’t good enough and that I wasn’t supposed to be here
And there aare on it kind of talked to me is that… I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. I was thinking a lot more putting a lot more pressure on what I was supposed to be or what a designer were supposed to be rather than what I wanted to be as a designer, and I felt to think about that for a while and try to think about the reasons that I was really interested in design and the things that gravitated me towards is an industry in the first place.
And again, it’s because I love people, I love understanding people on the problem to be these, and I love building really cool things and along the way my impostor Center was separating me from that design presented an person when I was first starting out to explore that and to understand people and solve relate problems, and I needed to be able to reconnect back to that, to the altar left of my imposter aging a little bit more around the same time, a little bit later, as I was a kind of thinking about the kind of designer that I wanted to be.
I was scrolling through tiktok as I’ve done in what… During the last 12 months, and I found this post from this career cherry emoji for, and she was talking about advice of her therapist had given her, and the advice was at when you live a goal-based life, you’re setting yourself up for failure as long as you’re not age, keeping those goals, whereas in a value-based life, you’re focusing much more on the present moment and whether your actions are aligning with your mortar purposes. So my impostor syndrome had caused me to create these impossible goals to set, every time I tattered something that I didn’t know, or every time I kind of saw a new expectation of what a designer was supposed to be, that became a new goal of mine to become an expert in this thing. Or to grow in this way. And because of that, I was constantly setting myself up for air disappointment, because there was always gonna be more to learn, what I needed to do was take us, go back and think about why and be a designer in the first place and how I could live in my values to measure my growth against, so to do that, these are his steps that I took, I needed to really come up with that my values were in the first place, so I started with a personal retested, if you haven’t done a retrospective before, I highly encourage them, I think they’re super fun.
I should really good way for teams to kind of openly talk about and reflect on the things that are working or not working, or ways to improve, when I get this with myself… So over an hour and a half on a Saturday, I do ask myself, what’s been going well?
What am I really proud of? What are things that I wanna continue? One of the things that I should celebrate, I ask myself, what is not going well? And I tried really hard to make sure that my impostor syndrome wasn’t speaking for me at this moment, and really try to fix off of what of the things that I’m really unhappy with, and what are things that I could try to improve… I
Asked myself What things have I learned recently, and what am I really glad that I’ve learned, and that can be something that is more related to the craft of design or things just about myself that I started to learn.
And then I also ask myself, What do I want to learn? One of the things that I think have been really interesting and I maybe haven’t been prioritizing when it comes to growth, after that, I went through that list and I started to find themes or things that were coming out pretty frequently, and
Those themes for me became what my values would be, these are things that came up again and again that I clearly had been thinking about or have been affecting me in some way that I wanted to take the time to focus on a little bit more, so my values from the exercise or the things that came up for me, or curiosity, health, introspection, authenticity and gratitude. The
Next step that I took, and I think one of the most important ones, is to make sure that you are defining those values. So the goal for me here is that I really wanted to be able to look back in six months or a year or at any time really, and be able to say that I am following with value, that I recognize that this thing was really important to me. And I’m paying attention to it, I’m still in living by it.
So if I take curiosity, for example, curiosity to me is finding things or giving myself the space on the permission to pull on threads that I think are really interesting and look for things to learn, not just because I think I’m supposed to learn it or because it… Fits this definition that I’ve seen for what it means to be a designer, but because it fits the definition of how I wanna grow as a designer.
And also for me means learning more about people and sharing my knowledge with others as well. So there’s a little bit of transparency in that too, and trying to make sure that I’m sharing knowledge, and finally, I revisit your values. So the goal here is really in these times where I may see something that I don’t know or you see something that I feel like I’m supposed to know to get this of what a designer is supposed to be, I can replace that conversation I’m having with myself.
And these questions I’m asking myself of, Am I good designer? Am I supposed to be here? Am I good enough with my meniscus? Am I showing up as my authentic self, Am I reflecting on things that are going well, am I showing gratitude and being grateful for all opportunities that I have, and this really helped me a lot in terms of reflecting on my impostor syndrome and making sure that I’m not trying to live up to what I think I’m supposed to be more trying to grow into the desire that I really wanna be
In in to close or to end the third value is when I am in the moment it Impostor Syndrome. And I think value-based, I stopped myself and constant reflect on this question of, Am I following my values?
So the final thing that I wanna say is that, unfortunately, I don’t think impostor syndrome ever really goes away, and feel free to force your perspective on this, but I think what happens is that we really just learn ways to reflect on our imposter syndrome where it comes up and we start to learn how to deal with it, or to be able to cope with it or talk to ourselves a little bit differently. These tips, changing my narrative by asking myself, Is there a way that I could… The situation in a more external, unstable and local way, can I talk to myself in a way that is much more optimistic than pessimistic? Checking my mindset. Am I falling into a false birth mindset? And how can I recognize the things that make me feel like I can’t grow? Or the things that are holding you back.
And asking myself if I’m following my values, he steps on with help from amazing mentors and co-workers and friends, and the partner have helped me a lot to get out of that kind of panic attack inducing method… Potato me here, and respect in my impostor syndrome a lot more.
I hope these tips are helpful for you. That’s all I have for today. Thank you so much for your time, and I’m happy to continue the conversation or answer any questions.