EP 010 - Imposter Syndrome: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Ignorance

    Imposter Syndrome is an often felt, not often talked about feeling that plagues the minds of so many people. But it's time we start talking about it, and furthermore, taking steps toward battling it.


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    Howdy friends and welcome to the XD Podcast - as always I’m your host, Tony Daussat.

    First of all – beautiful people, if you are enjoying the XD Podcast so far, I would just be giddy if you shared this episode with your friends. And a giddy Tony is a good thing.

    Now then, it's time to discuss something...

    If you are unfamiliar with the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ then you are either one of two types of people. The first being the lucky few that do not suffer from this plague of the mind, OR you are suffering from imposter syndrome and just haven’t heard of the term before. Regardless, let’s level-set with the definition, shall we?

    Imposter Syndrome is a term coined by the clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 1970s. Although the study was originally done with a group of women…it’s a condition that infiltrates the minds of all genders. In a nutshell, the syndrome is a belief or continuous feeling that regardless of academic or professional accomplishment, you’re inadequate or incompetent in your field of work, a fraud. Faking it, not till you make it, but simply faking it all the way.

    It’s a nagging thought that’s even more harmful than you may realize. Researchers at the University of Salzburg found that those experiencing imposter syndrome tend to be paid less, and are less likely to be promoted.

    And its effects reach far beyond our office walls. Imposter Syndrome is an infectious vine that entwines itself in and among our day-to-day lives, choking out success and joy. Whether it’s the parents who think they aren’t raising their kids correctly, the athlete who doesn’t believe she has what it takes it cut it on the field, the healthy body that is consistently pinched and poked in front of the mirror, or the spouse who lives in constant fear they aren’t enough for their counterpart. It all stems from a deep seeded doubt we’ve planted in our heads and hearts, and unfortunately, we tend to water it every day--allowing it to become overgrown and weed our wellbeing.

    Professionally, and anecdotally, I’ve noticed imposter syndrome firmly planting its roots in the design world.

    But--why? Is it because we treat our craft as an art and constantly feel the burden of needing to be a creative genius? Maybe it’s the battle of trying to change the perception that all designers do is “make things pretty”? Or, perhaps it’s the way we always have to fight our way into a seat at the table? Maybe it's because our field is constantly and rapidly changing, and it seems like it's becoming harder and harder to keep up?

    Personally, I think the genesis of my imposter syndrome came from having no background in this field. I am a trained actor pursuing a career in User Experience without any formal education in design or UX. I have constantly doubted myself and my capabilities---questioning whether or not I was just acting like a user experience professional, or if I actually had what it took to find success doing this. I would leave interviews thinking, “there’s no way they should hire me” or better yet, landing the job and then immediately thinking, “I’m going to be in way over my head,” or “they’re going to discover that I’m a fraud.” This fertilized the false narrative of my inadequacies—ultimately serving no one.

    But...This all changed--to borrow the title from the movie Dr. Strangelove--when I learned to stop worrying and love the ignorance. Now, of course the saying “Knowledge is Power” is true, but understanding that didn’t cure me completely. In fact, the biggest change in my life came when I realized the ultimate power wasn’t in having to always know everything...but the opposite. I gained infinite strength by being humble enough, and brave enough, to say these three simple words: “I. Don’t. Know.”

    “I don’t know” has become one of the most powerful phrases in my vocabulary--and meaningful statements for my mind. It’s an incredibly freeing feeling once you realize it’s safe to say. It’s a phrase that takes a lot of moxie and it took me awhile to feel comfortable with it. In the past, I convinced myself I always needed to show clients, or my bosses, that I knew every answer and had a response to everything--otherwise they’d surely discover I was a fraud. But, on the contrary, I’ve learned people appreciate the honesty, vulnerability and candor of those three words more than a know-it-all. Know-it-alls tend to suck creativity out of a room. Most of the time, they are trying to mask the fact that they actually don’t know the answers, but because they are stuck in the mindset of needing to be the expert in the room—they’re forced to play the part.

    That is one of the toughest hurdles to climb: Overcoming the idea that you have to always be the expert in the room. Now, I understand this is probably a little controversial, but--I would submit, there are no experts in the room. I believe the concept of being the whole, “expert in the room” thing is actually really dangerous and counter-productive for two main reasons:

    1.) It puts insurmountable pressure on that person, or persons--creating unrealistic expectations of being all-knowing, or always having the right thing to say. And--

    2.) It immediately “others” everyone else in the room, silencing their voice and providing no space for creativity or differing opinions and insights…feeding their imposter syndrome.

    Of course, some might have more learned experiences than others, but it doesn’t mean that what they say is the end-all-be-all. And I have found that the people that do have these vast learned experiences, are typically the ones that would agree, and even preach that their word is in-fact not scripture.

    As I mentioned in my last episode with Greg Flory--when he interviewed me for my current position here at Bottle Rocket, in the interview, to his face, I said, “I don’t know shit...but...I love failing my way to knowledge.” You see--Everything after the “but” is my day-to-day recipe for beating imposter syndrome...failing my way to knowledge. And a lot of people think all failure leads to knowledge--but you can fail at failure. Failing-failure is ignorance without action. But winning-failure is understanding your ignorance, which then allows you to do something about it. Because at the end of the day, self-awareness beats out self-confidence all day long. I’ve discovered that through embracing what I don’t know, using my shortcomings as didactic opportunities, and constantly trying to learn and grow through the ignorance—has truly helped me transform my little inner demons into my little helpers. We all have them—they aren’t going anywhere—so, we may as well learn to channel their energy for good.

    That--in the words of Harry from ‘Home Alone’--is the silver tuna.

    Okay friends. So here is your call to action this week--If you don’t subscribe or review or share any other episode of the podcast, I would ask you—share this one. Imposter Syndrome is something that needs to be talked about. I’m just one person talking about how I’ve battled mine. But I know there are a lot of you out there that don’t talk about it, but suffer from it. So let’s start the dialog. Let’s help lift each other up.

    At any rate – I can’t wait to have you back next week, but until then friends—stay curious.


    The XD Podcast is part of XD Media, LLC.

    This week’s episode was produced and mixed by, me, Tony Daussat.

    Written and edited in partnership with the Continuo Group.

    Hosting and publication for the XD Podcast is through Buzzsprot.