The dreaded Imposter Syndrome, those two words strike fear in the hearts of every creative. You know you’ve felt it before – you hit a bump in the road, and next thing you know, your brain and all of its wisdom have taken you on this wild goose chase of self-doubt and worthlessness.
Fear not, for I have some solutions to ease this blasphemous feeling because, like you, I’ve been overwhelmed by similar emotions, time and time again, until I told myself, enough is enough.
You, sir, are an expert and mastermind in your field, and you deserve to feel as such.
Also directed at you, in case you didn’t get that, reader
1) Accept that nothing has to be or ever will be perfect
A slightly dramatic title (apologies), but I’m hoping you get where I’m coming from with this. Perfectionism is something we all strive for as creatives, which in most cases, can be quite damaging (particularly to our egos).
Once we accept that perfection (although a lovely sentiment) is unattainable, a matter of opinion, and in my opinion, a complete fantasy – we can start to let go of the perfectionism mindset and focus on something far more powerful, efficiency.
See, when you are trying to aim for perfection every time you work on something, you are only hindering your process. You spend hours working on minute details that, more often than not, will go unnoticed, and rather than share your work, you decide to sit on it until it gets lost somewhere in the abyss.
Does this sound efficient to you? No, of course not. It’s better to put something out there (whether it meets your unreasonable expectations or not) and potentially grow from it than to forever live in your echo chamber of niceties.
2) As a designer, you’re always learning – take pride in that
If you’re like me, someone who started Graphic Design at an early age learning through the likes of YouTube videos, you should be proud of how far you’ve come and continue to progress.
With every new project you take on, you’ll always be learning, and that’s one of the great things about being a designer. As software, processes, and trends evolve, so do you.
One of the best things I could have done for my personal growth is to store a back-up of every single project. I have an archive that dates back to around 2015, which, from time to time, I look back at to remind myself just how much I’ve learned in that time-frame.
If you’re telling yourself that you’re “bad” at your craft, having something like this in place is a well-deserved kick up the rear that you need. Take a look at your younger, less experienced self, and pat yourself on the back, knowing that you have a basic comprehension of layout, grid systems, and how to organise layer styles.
I spent the best part of 2015 not knowing that guides existed.
3) Share Share Share!
Whether you’re willing to accept it or not, you have an eye for design that only you share. A level of creativity that only you see, and that’s worth sharing.
Each of us has a particular style that’s distinguishable, and if you don’t believe you do, I’m sorry but, (as the wise Gordon Ramsay would say) you’re an idiot sandwich.
Think about it like this, you admire and follow hundreds of designers, probably because you saw a post somewhere that took your interest for one reason or another. I’m guessing it’s because their style speaks to you in some sense, right?
Well, what if there are people out there that follow you and your work for the same reason? Or, better yet, an ideal client ready to reach out because they’ve been following your work and love what you put out.
Both scenarios are never going to play out if you’re always in your head, contemplating whether to post something rather than just putting it out there for the world to see.
So, for the love of all that is holy, please share your work – or we won’t ever know that you exist.
4) You’re hired for your expertise, you know that, right?
When a client hires you to work on their project, do you think it’s out of pity, or more so that out of the thousands of potential candidates, you are someone that outshines the rest?
I’ll give you a hint it’s not out of pity…
From a client’s perspective, they want someone reliable, reputable, hard-working, and above all else, has a talent that they deem worthy enough to entrust with meeting their business goals/objectives.
You’re that person, so when self-doubt starts to kick in, remember why you’re here in the first place and the value that you bring to the table.
In instances where you maybe aren’t getting the traction you need or clients you’d hoped for, your last resort should be to allow an unfortunate circumstance to eat you up.
It’s all circumstantial, and as a designer, you’ll go through spikes in momentum where you are super busy, and then all activity drops off the face of the earth. A reality you have to familiarise yourself with as a freelancer.
Instead of using the free time to indulge in negative thoughts, do what you do best, and create.
5) Learn to take criticism better
With experience, taking criticism comes much more naturally – as a creative, you’ve probably had a moment in your career where fight or flight is on auto-pilot, and you haven’t taken criticism so well.
My insecurities and unwillingness to accept criticism for what it is, an opportunity to improve, could have easily (but thankfully didn’t) sour relationships during the early stages of my career. I pray that you don’t make the same mistake.
By letting your insecurities and sentimental value for your work take over, you’ll only cloud your judgment, misconstruing criticism as a personal attack. Take yourself out of the equation. It’s never about you.
Decipher between actual respectable feedback and personal attacks. There is a clear distinction, and the only one you should feasibly respond to is that which will allow you to improve.
I found that opening up a discussion around criticism and asking questions removes the vulnerability entirely. You’re putting yourself in a position to learn, and that is a power move, my friend.
Understand the fact that you can learn a lot from an outside perspective as well. Something that correlates to this point and has stuck with me for a long time is an excerpt I read from the book Know Your Onions.
“When a brief comes into our office, we have a ten-minute chat and go through the requirements with the team. We make sure we understand what the client wants, which isn’t always what they need. We include everybody in this chat. Not just the designers, everybody! (Our accounts assistant came up with a name and identity for a company in an hour). Everybody has good ideas”. – Drew De Soto, Know Your Onions
Everybody has good ideas.
6) Stop comparing yourself to others
We’re in an age where content is as instantly accessible as ever. You spend your days engaging and interacting with people from across the world instantaneously, and sometimes, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of social media.
Come on, don’t be shy. I know you’re guilty of doing this.
You scroll through your feed, see a post from a designer, and instantly compare what you’re doing. Thoughts of “why do I suck” and “why is their life so perfect” race through your mind. You’re looking at it from such a skewed perspective, and I’m here to try and correct that.
Regardless of what your peers are doing, you are on a journey unique to you, and only you. Use what others are putting out there as inspiration instead of being envious. What are they doing that piques your interest? What can you take from their process to improve your own?
How can you be a better you?
- Aim for efficiency > perfectionism
- Understand and evaluate your progression – celebrate your wins!
- Proactively share work on social media with friends/family or peers.
- Your clients love you, and so you should love yourself.
- Take criticism on the chin, champ. You’ve got a granite jaw.
- Stop. Comparing. Yourself. Be confident in who YOU are.