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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome for Product Development

by Dan Kelly , 12.09.2023

As a product manager, I'm constantly learning and growing. There's always something new to learn, and I'm always trying to improve my skills. Some days, I feel I can take on the world. A proposed new idea has been tested brilliantly with clients, maybe a newly shipped feature has seen usage rocket.  Or you feel as a broader team you’re all in flow with a clear goal and great momentum. The breadth of the role can be invigorating and inspiring.

But at times, I've often felt like an imposter. I worry that I’m not good enough, and not meeting expectations. I worry that I don’t understand my customers, my stakeholders, or my competitors as well as I should. I worry that I’m going to be found out. I read books to try and improve my knowledge and it makes me worry some more – another demonstration that I’m not doing product right, and I must be failing somehow. I worry about speaking up in some meetings in case what I say just demonstrates my lack of skills.

I worry, full stop. This is called imposter syndrome. And at its worst, it can be extremely debilitating. It stifles productivity and creativity, and can severely impact your mental well-being.

My top tips for overcoming imposter syndrome

Firstly, I've come to realize that imposter syndrome is a common experience for product managers. I remember distinctly the first time I said this out loud to someone else on my team, slightly nervous and insecure. Their response: “Thank goodness. I thought it was just me.”

Since then, I’ve made a point of asking other people about this, and in my experience, it’s an incredibly common feeling. Search LinkedIn and you can see a lot of similar discussions.

And actually, it’s incredibly affirming and positive to hear other people share your worries. They seem much less, well worrisome, when you realize you’re not alone in feeling this way. Maybe they are in fact, just a sign that you’re a human being. And not such a failure after all!

I’ve also found a few other things have helped me cope:

  • First, try to be aware of your thoughts and feelings. When I start to feel like I'm not good enough, I take a step back and try to identify the source of my anxiety. Once you know what's triggering your feelings of inadequacy, you can start to challenge them.
  • Celebrate your successes. Write them down, or ask others to do this and share them with you. It’s all too easy to focus on the negatives and forget what you’ve achieved. Document it, reflect on it, realize what you’ve accomplished, and your sense of perspective returns quickly
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself. It's important to remember that you're not going to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. It's okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.
  • Remember that books describe an ideal, and generally not a reality. There is no one right or wrong way to do product. Take inspiration from these to try and improve and be better, but don’t judge yourself against an impossible ideal.

These are just a few of the things I’ve found most helpful in coping with this. If you're struggling with imposter syndrome, don't be afraid to seek help. There are many resources available to help you cope with this issue.

As more and more businesses introduce or evolve their product teams and processes, the importance of recognizing imposter syndrome, and applying strategies to overcome the negative impacts associated with it, has never been more important.

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