Julie Zhuo Reveals Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome on Lenny's Podcast


Imagine you accomplished the goal of being an IC designer at Facebook, one of the best companies in our field: would you be brave enough to leave it all behind and start a new adventure with your start-up? 

That’s what happened to Julie Zhuo, the co-founder of Sundial and one of the most influential thought-leaders in product design and product thinking. 

In this episode of “Lenny’s Podcast”, Julie shares her insights and experiences with the host Lenny Rachitsky, delving into every detail of her incredible journey. 

But her story is not just about her passion and the difference she made in her field, it’s also about overcoming obstacles and expectations, as well as her own imposter syndrome.

Keep on reading to know how she overcame all these challenges!

Julie’s Journey: from designer to Leader and Founder

Julie, a first-generation immigrant with Asian parents, had limited career options because of cultural expectations in the US. However, while studying computer science as a young student, her deep love for drawing and digital art opened a new path. 

She learned web development and was able to mix it with her artistic pursuits to explore the captivating world of design, and that’s when her adventure really began. 

Julie even started to dream about joining Silicon Valley's tech scene, building experience and being driven by her entrepreneurial spirit…eventually, she joined Facebook as an IC designer!

But when Julie's journey led her to Facebook, it was just a startup down the street from her university. There, recognizing her lack of formal training in design, she embarked on a journey of learning and growth during her initial three years. In such a dynamic context, Julie actually developed a lot of new skills, like developing User-Centric designs, Team management, Scaling and Strategic thinking. 

These new abilities shaped the user experience on one of the largest social media platforms in the world, and during this incredible 13-year journey, she also achieved the position of VP of Design for the Facebook app. But this was not enough, she wanted to try something new.

 "All right, I do not want to work for a big company.
I want to figure out if I can do this startup thing and make something small into something big."

The decision was final: two years ago, Julie bidding farewell to Facebook embraced her long-held dream of being a startup founder. 

She co-founded Sundial, where she works on product and product analytics. 

Julie's passion now lies in democratizing access to data and leveraging its power to drive better product decisions. Having witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of data at Facebook, she aims to empower every company, big or small, with the ability to interpret and utilise data effectively. 

By reducing bias and informing roadmap strategies, Julie envisions a world where businesses can make data-informed decisions to create meaningful impact.

Moreover, as a prominent figure in product design and thinking, Julie wrote her first best-selling book "The Making of a Manager", earning acclaim for her insights into management and leadership.

She also showcased her amazing talent as a writer in her newsletter, “The Looking Glass”, which also became a source of inspiration worldwide, resonating with readers on technology, design, and leadership. Lenny too, our podcast host, found her work inspiring to write his own newsletter!

Overcoming the imposter within

Week after week, at Facebook she had found herself blocked in the clutches of self-doubt, questioning her place in the company. Doubts flooded her mind like an endless torrent: Did she truly deserve to be there? Was she prepared for the challenges that lay ahead? 

But as Julie looked back on those early years, a remarkable revelation emerged. It took nearly a decade of grappling with imposter syndrome for her to realize that discomfort and growth go hand in hand. The moments that pushed her beyond her comfort zone were the push she needed for rapid personal and professional development.

Now armed with this hard-won wisdom, Julie has powerful insights to share for conquering imposter syndrome:

  • Firstly, she revealed the secret of being in the right place at the right time, taking every opportunity for growth. It was within the dynamic environment of a scaling company, like Facebook, that she discovered a wealth of opportunities to try new things, seize responsibilities, and leap headfirst into the unknown. It was the perfect recipe for growth, offering her a chance to prove herself and overcome the imposter within.

  • Secondly, Julie unveils a truth that often remains hidden behind the facade of success: everyone experiences imposter syndrome. From the highest-ranking executives to the most seasoned professionals, feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt lurk beneath their polished exteriors. In an industry characterized by relentless change and uncharted territories, it is only natural to grapple with the unknown. By embracing this shared experience, Julie found solace and a renewed sense of confidence.

  • Acknowledge the power of seeking support. In her earlier days, she tried to conceal her insecurities, fearing that admitting vulnerability would expose her as a fraud. But she soon discovered the immense value of reaching out for help. By connecting with others who had experienced or overcome similar challenges, she unearthed a wellspring of empathy and invaluable advice that propelled her on her quest for growth.

  • Then, Julie champions the art of vulnerability and open communication. In an age of masks, she realized that the most meaningful connections were forged when she let down her guard. Sharing her struggles and challenges not only fostered deeper connections with colleagues and mentors but also paved the way for collective problem-solving. Through collaboration and open dialogue, the heavy burden of imposter syndrome was lightened, and innovative solutions emerged.

If you find yourself in the grip of imposter syndrome, remember Julie's remarkable journey. Embrace discomfort as the catalyst for growth, seek support from those who understand, and let vulnerability be your guiding light. 

Even as a renowned manager and author, Julie said that despite her accomplishments she still faces the same challenges as everyone else. 

Readers might perceive her as an expert due to her book and managerial success. However, she swiftly emphasized that she is far from flawless and strives to manage expectations. She still is in her ongoing journey to become a better manager, learning and evolving.

Lenny too, caught in the grip of impostor syndrome, related to Julie's sentiments and experience. He admitted feeling the weight of others' high expectations, fearing that he has unintentionally created an unrealistic image of himself and that the hype surrounding him might exceed reality. 

Lenny really showed his vulnerability, reminding us that even those who appear to have it all figured out may grapple with self-doubt and the pressure to live up to others' perceptions.

Final Thoughts

This enlightening conversation leaves us with a profound realization: those who inspire us and provide guidance are on their own continuous journey of self-improvement. Julie and Lenny's vulnerability and willingness to share their insecurities dismantle the myth of unwavering expertise. They remind us that writing serves as a tool for personal reflection and growth, creating a connection between the author and their own insights.

Ultimately, this dialogue between two experts urges us to be compassionate with ourselves, to acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses, and to embrace the ongoing process of learning and development. It highlights the power of vulnerability and the importance of recognizing that even those we admire wrestle with doubts and uncertainties. 

In a world often dominated by facades of competence, Julie and Lenny's conversation provides a refreshing reminder that we are all on a continuous journey of self-discovery and improvement.

If you're curious about the topic, delve into the compelling story of our consultant, Alexia. Having grappled with imposter syndrome herself, Alexia candidly shares her experiences and reveals the transformative journey she undertook to vanquish this debilitating sensation. Don't miss it!

Stay curious and get inspired as you continue to explore the dynamic world of product management!

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