I have moments of extreme fear - fear of being exposed as a complete fraud.
Those close to me know I am quite the anxious over-thinker. I think its due to the fact that I am keenly aware of how much i don't know (it may also be my terrible inability to hide any and all emotions from my face. which makes it completely difficult to play anything cool - but, I digress). In fact, when people try to associate me to my accomplishments, I freeze. I panic. I get so uncomfortable.
Lately, that feeling has been paying visits all too often. And it all began with LinkedIn.
On LinkedIn, people can endorse you for skills that you have (or ones that they think you have). My recent activity on the social network has apparently spurred others to endorse me for my perceived skills. While I truly am so grateful that others would take the time to acknowledge my efforts, the legitimacy of my endorsed skills really concern me.
When I was in university, I switched programs 3 times. I was going through a phase (or maybe it's not a phase, seeing as this seems to be a pattern in my life) where I just wanted to find a program that felt "right". I dabbled in media, economics, marketing and psychology. In those different stages of my life, I also introduced myself to people differently. I was the MIT (media, information, technoculture) girl, I was the marketing girl, and then I was the psychology girl. Yet, even now, I can't mentally associate myself to any one of them.
When someone endorses me for Digital Marketing, I start a mental countdown for when someone might subsequently leave a review on my profile along the lines of "THIS GIRL IS A FRAUD. SHE CAN'T MARKET. DO NOT BELIEVE A WORD OF THIS." Yes, I admit, I was deeply infatuated with the idea of being a kickass digital marketer. Yes, I still truly believe marketing is one of the most important business functions (although you'll soon find I say this about every business function) -without marketers, customers may never even consider trying your product, and no customers = no business. So why then, am I not in digital marketing? I soon discovered, to my dismay, that marketers are business people (i know, duh), and the job was to sell the business/product to the paying customers. I feel the need to explain the distinction between customers, and users... but more on that later. For now, just kindly understand that my people-pleasing-self was not satisfied with a career where the group of people I directed my efforts to may not benefit from it at all.
It was in my last year of university that I had my first taste of fulfillment. I was alive; I had co-founded a startup that solved a real problem for someone. Never-mind that I wasn't the target market, never-mind that I wasn't nearly as passionate about the problem as I should have been. It was all okay, because I was an entrepreneur and I had found my calling. This is one point that I still stand by, unashamedly. I still love attending entrepreneurial events, and I'm still fascinated by everything startup and innovation. But again, my recent activity on LinkedIn prompted acquaintances and old friends to congratulate me on the startup. I freeze, I panic, I'm uncomfortable- almost every time. While I have no problem accepting and talking about entrepreneurship (it's a lifestyle, a mindset, a career), I feel like a complete fraud talking about the mom industry (our primary market). Our product's most bare-bone description is a digital baby-book. I remember going into meetings with mommy entrepreneurs and feeling so out of my element because not only am I not a mom, I'm almost sure I don't like kids. Aside from the glaringly obvious flaw, my first foray into entrepreneurship was unbelievable. I had learned so much personally and professionally and so fast that i shocked even myself.
My first adventure with photoshop happened accidentally in 2003. I had to google to confirm the year because at the time, it wasn't a big deal and I didn't care to remember the date. I learned to photoshop because I was obsessed with Hilary Duff's Metamorphosis album. I would go home after school and log onto a Hilary Duff forum where other fans were. This particular forum was highly organized and had different perks for different user rankings. The details are fuzzy but I believe you got more points for being a graphic designer (a person that makes 'siggys'; remember when people would put huge banners in their forum signatures? yea, unashamed is also a pattern in my life.) Anyway, to my surprise and excitement, I could use my photoshop knowledge in my startup and even learned much more!
From the beginning, I discounted most encouragements to explore a career in design. My ignorance perpetuated beliefs that design is all about artistic abilities. Let me make this very clear, design is about solving problems creatively. Some designers never even take up adobe photoshop or illustrator skills, and are extremely successful. I find myself falling more and more in love with UX design the more I learn about it. Having been the only non-technical co-founder of my startup, I have always felt it my duty to be able to empathize for our users, and advocate for them in every business decision we make. I love UX design because it deals directly with the users, the people I want to delight. I love UX design because it is everything I love about everything I've ever outgrown - media, information, technoculture, psychology, field research, interface design, visual design, copywriting, strategy, product design - I could really go on for a very long time. But remember when I realized I didn't like marketing because it deals with only customers? UX design is the exact complement. See, sometimes the people who pay you (your customers) aren't the same people who use your products (your users). Sometimes it's so removed that you forget the cause or you forget to make money.* Both are risky for a business.
But back to my point, UX design is sticking. I don't really feel like a fraud anymore. My journey to find something that feels "right" feels, well... right. UX is such a diverse discipline that I can really challenge myself and use the skills- both soft and hard- I've picked up along the way effectively. My moonshot employer is BNOTIONS, but it's a process and I think I can work my way there eventually. Who knows if I won't get tempted by something else again? The only thing I know with absolute certainty, the one thing you should take away from this, if nothing else, is that:
Things always, always, work out as long as you are learning, growing and challenging yourself.
*To paint a clearer picture, lets use our startup, FamilyTales. If you ask 10 moms, I am willing to bet at least 7 of them were gifted their baby-book by relatives or friends (at the baby shower, perhaps). This, then, makes the relatives and friends our customers. The people who actually have to open their browser, navigate through our website, log-in to our web app, post pictures, stories and videos, get prompts at the right milestones- these are our users. I love that I get to interact and empathize for the users because I feel more compelled to make a product that delights them - in my opinion, the people that use your product is king.
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