How to deal with imposter syndrome: Four strategies and case studies inside

Navigate self-doubt in your career by exploring real-life examples from seasoned designers.

How to deal with imposter syndrome_Readymag blog

It's easy to believe that successful people never doubt themselves, but that's not always the case. At a TED talk, Mike Cannon-Brookes, who started Atlassian, revealed that despite all of his company’s big wins, he often feels like he's just winging it, getting lucky rather than actually deserving his success. By the way, Atlassian isn't just any company—it's huge! Their software is used by all the big names out there, and even used in exploring space. 

Imposter syndrome can hit anyone, and even mess up careers. Yet, there are well-tried strategies to help you overcome it.

How to spot imposter syndrome

What is the definition of imposter syndrome? In a nutshell, it's when you feel like you're not as competent as others think you are. Even when you do well, you believe it's just luck or a mistake, and you worry about being exposed as a fraud. It's like you're wearing a mask of success that you're afraid will slip off at any moment.

Wondering if this is you? Taking this quick imposter syndrome test, or spotting these telltale signs might help you figure it out:

  1. Feeling like a fraud. No matter how much you achieve, you can't shake off the feeling that you don't truly belong or deserve your success.
  2. Fear of being exposed. You're scared that any moment now, someone will figure out you're not as talented as they think.
  3. Attributing success to luck. Instead of owning your achievements, you chalk them up to luck, timing, or anything but your hard work and talent.

Thoughts that may bother you:

“Everyone thinks I'm so accomplished, but if they only knew how much I doubt myself. I just got lucky, that's all. I don't really belong here among these real talents”. 

“What if someone asks me a question I can't answer? They'll realize I've been faking it this whole time. I'm not as skilled as they think. It's only a matter of time before I'm found out”.

“Sure, that project turned out great, but it wasn't really because of me. It was just good timing, or the team carried it. It was all just luck, not my talent or effort”.

These thoughts aren't just annoying background noise—they can seriously mess with your career. They might stop you from going after a big project, sharing your innovative ideas, or even cause you to burn out in an attempt to prove your worth.

How to deal with imposter syndrome

There are four practical strategies to use. 

Own your success

Keep a record of all the cool stuff you've done and the compliments you've received. When you're doubting yourself, take a look at that list. It's solid proof that you're not just making it up—you've actually got skills and have put in the effort. 

How to implement: at the end of each day, write down 1-3 good things you did. It could be anything from handling a tough client call well to learning from a mistake.

“In my first manager role, I disagreed with my VP on a product’s design direction. I was expected to just listen and execute his vision. But I pushed back respectfully, proposing that we test my approach, review data in a few weeks, and reevaluate.

This was the biggest moment that built my confidence as a leader who was comfortable challenging superiors. I have tenacity and integrity, which can be problematic when I feel like going a certain way is unacceptable. I went over my superior’s head to get approval from the CTO to proceed.”—Kaycee Collins, Design Leader, Product Strategy and Design Consultant.

Check negative self-talk

Notice when you're being too hard on yourself and pause. Write down that harsh thought, then next to it, write something kinder and more truthful. Over time, this helps you be more positive about yourself. 

How to implement: if you catch yourself thinking “I'm a terrible design lead”, write this down, then next to it, add, “I'm constantly learning and growing as a design lead. Every challenge is an opportunity to improve and lead my team more effectively”. This helps you recognize your growth and potential, rather than focusing solely on the negatives.

“At first, when someone quit, I took it personally, wondering what I did wrong. It was a small studio then. Now, with experience, I’m happy for people when they move on because it’s normal to leave eventually. I understand that no one is irreplaceable, including me. When it happens now, it’s often because people want to start their own project—that feels like an award for me!”—Verònica Fuerte, Speaker, Lecturer, and Mentor; Founder & Creative Directress of Hey studio.

Set realistic goals

You're past the point of proving you can design: now, it's about refining and expanding your skills. Set goals that stretch your abilities but are achievable. Celebrate these milestones with a little victory dance or a special gift to remind yourself of your growth.

How to implement: let's say you're into graphic design but suck at using a new AI tool. You set a goal of completing an online tutorial series by the end of the week. You stick to it, and by week's end, you're creating stuff you couldn't before.

“We’ve gotten really efficient at building products, but there are other parts of the business where I still feel like an imposter. As a founder, I have to deal with fundraising and marketing, and I’m not necessarily great at those things. So, for me, running a company means constantly trying to figure out how to improve on the things you’re not so good at while continuing to make sure every other part of the business operates correctly.”—Andy Chang, Founder and Designer at

Seek support

Surround yourself with peers who understand the industry's unique pressures. Whether it's a mentor in a higher position or peers who've been through the same struggles, having support can provide perspective and validation. 

How to implement: from time to time, grab coffee with a friend who's also a designer. You can share your latest work, talk about what's tough, and give each other advice. 

“My internship manager helped me transition to UX research. We’re still friends 15 years later, though we’ve lost touch. Relationships have been key to my career success, and I’ve built a network by working closely with people, listening actively, and understanding how to apply my skills.”—Kaycee Collins, Design Leader, Product Strategy and Design Consultant.

Design mentors dwell on how mentoring others improved their careers and gave them extra managerial qualities.

For more case studies, check out our editorial, “Navigating career: Designers’ milestones”, which won’t leave you cold-hearted.