Combatting Self Doubt

Hello.

This is a fairly vague, moany one. Not sure what forum to ask this question on so I’m just going to ask it here.

I’ve been a designer for nearly 16 years and yet I still don’t regard myself as anywhere near as confident as most designers I meet. To be fair, I’m sure most of it is bravado but I often wonder if any of them are plagued by the same self doubt that I so frequently feel crippled by.

Call it ‘imposter syndrome’ or whatever, but it feels as if I’m constantly seeking approval for work I undertake and I very rarely get that approval. I mean, obviously I get paid for the jobs I do but I constantly fear that I’ll be replaced and I wonder what my actual qualities are.

I don’t get criticised much either I should say, but I sometimes get the feeling that this is more a case of people not wishing to say anything to my face than anything else.

I guess I’m just wondering if any of you have ever felt like this and what you did to combat it. And to the designers who have total self-belief - how do you maintain that?

Thanks, and sorry for the whine.

JM

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Do you have any way of capturing statistics? Did your designs bring in more clicks, increase sales, increase foot traffic, create interest in the product? That goes a long way toward showing whether or not your design work was a success.

Do your clients recommend you to others? They wouldn’t do that if they didn’t like your work.

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reading this pretty much sounded like me talking to myself :speak_no_evil:

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That’s good advice actually. Very practical, thank you. There are ways to quantify it I suppose. I think I’d just love to be able to instinctively know that what I’m producing is ‘good’.

You have no idea how encouraging it is to hear that others feel the same! Thank you.

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Time and experience are the best change agents. You’ll be all right.

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I think we all experience this to some degree. Part of it however is our drive to improve - Having absolute confidence and certainty in your work is probably more detrimental than this self doubt you might be having. Assuming of course, this doubt is not all consuming and affecting your daily life. As long as you feel you have room to learn, grow and improve, you may one day find your work besting those over confident artists one day. Hell, your work may already be better, and your humility will gain you more business.

If your self doubt carries over into all parts of your life, then maybe you have a psychological issue at hand. There’s no shame in it. I suffer from type 2 Bipolar disorder, I spend most of my time in terrible self doubt, (and the remaining part in a manic state), but it’s never a death sentence, not for me anyway. You need to develop some tools to override those negative thoughts.

Anyway, I give you credit for your bravery and self confidence for being able to admit your self doubt. You essentially just took the first step in getting rid of those feelings. And I wish you the best of luck in doing so.

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I have been doing this design lark for for pushing three decades now and there’s still so much to learn that others seem to know. I have never met anyone good at what they do, who doesn’t think they’re a little bit shit. You do get more objective with experience and have a better understanding of your worth, but you still don’t ever think you’re as good as you should be.

I have a friend who is a Hollywood producer and has worked on some really high profile stuff who told me a few weeks back that he was surprised he hadn’t been caught out yet. He is also one of the most talented photographers I know.

I think we all think we’re a bit crap. Keeps us eager to learn.

I also play in a band and I think I’m a fairly average bassist. Our guitarist also thinks he’s rubbish and that he’s winging it. He most definitely is not winging it. Equally, I have sometimes caught him smiling to himself whenever I’ve been unthinkingly noodling around off-piste on some run or other as a song builds. At that point you have to accept that you’re not completely rubbish, but then if ego starts to slip in there, even a bit, you just have to listen to people like Victor Wooten, Geddy Lee, Stanley Clarke, Pino Palladino (take your pick) and you’ll bump back down to Earth with a bang. What that means though is you always aim higher. The minute you think you’re good, you stop learning.

There is a guy local to me thinks he’s a fantastic photographer. He isn’t. Really! He is always holding exhibitions of badly seen, badly composed, badly lit, bucolic scenes printed on canvas (don’t get me started. There is just no justification for photographs printed on canvas – ever) that tell nothing of the place they are taken of. Oversized snapshots. I think his mum told him he had a gift and he believed her.

Self-doubt is a good thing, unless it’s crushing. It leads to self-betterment. It makes you hone your craft and that can only lead to improvement.

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Same here - 35+ years doing this and of course I have produced some shite in my time, but there are jobs I have done that I am proud of. Mostly, though, a sense of achievement comes from overcoming the ‘I’ve never been good at that’ feeling by learning new skills.

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It is normal and even healthy to have this feeling. Good artists never complete their education. Unless you’re full of yourself, you will always feel like you have more learning to do, which is indeed the case. This is especially the case when you see the work of other designers and you get inspired by their work. No matter how long you have been in the industry there is always something new you can incorporate into your creative arsenal.

If you read the autobiography of artists, most of them struggled with such self doubt. In some cases, even world fame didn’t make an artist comfortable. They will still feel like they just fooled a bunch of people.

So, embrace the feeling of uncertainty, let it inspire you to become an ever better creative professional, and enjoy becoming better with every job you do.

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I think every creative feels this to some degree. It’s part of what drives us to improve. Something that helped me is to pick up meditation. It teaches you to let go of thoughts and feelings and not get caught up in them so much. If you want to give it a go, I found the Headspace app to be a great way to learn it.

Aside from that, I find it helpful to have social contact. Hanging out with friends helps me get a different impression of myself because the person they reflect back to me is usually a better person than the one I make out in my mind. I think, generally, the more socially adjusted you are in life, the easier it is to not get caught up in this kind of thinking.

Hope this helps!

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Some of the regulars here are familiar with my history, but for you some contextual highlights:

  • Mostly self-taught after (technical) document design became part of an unrelated position I held
  • Over 20+ years, worked my way into a Director (of Marketing Communications) position
  • Became unemployed (due to downsizing) for the first time in my life in my late 40’s
  • Couldn’t get hired to a designer position despite extensive experience and solid portfolio, due to lack of formal education

Now, for the last 7 years, I’ve been back to designing technical materials—under contract for a manufacturing company. I am the sole graphic designer working in one of their Engineering departments with and for Engineers, brought in on an “experimental” basis. Because I am not a direct employee, there is no mechanism in place for performance evaluations or anything or that kind. The reviews of my work are regular, structured, extensive, and often brutal by typical graphic design standards. Most designers would run from this job and bever look back. The company can sever the contract (with notice) at any time. Under these circumstances, I doubt myself almost constantly, but perhaps weirdly, that has become part of my process; questioning everything, including my own judgement. In that way, my positition has become very Engineering-influenced—everything is questioned and tested, ‘peer’ reviewed, iterated and reiterated until the boundaries of reason have pushed and broken in an effort to identify and implement the best possible outcome. After a while, the humbling effects of this confidence-crushing environment turned back on themselves in a way that has ultimately built self-assurance, and given me methods for finding the poise to defend my design decisions and actually become a policy-setter among these ruthless scrutineers. Seven years on, although it’s never been directly stated, the ‘experiment’ is apparently considered a success . . . on both sides of the contract.

Embrace your self-doubt. Use it as a pivot to turn your process toward positive design solutions.

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The five stages of a new design project:

  1. This is awesome!

  2. This is harder than it looks.

  3. I suck.

  4. This isn’t too bad.

  5. This is awesome!

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Thank you all so much for your responses. Its reassuring to know that I’m not alone in feeling like this.

I suspect I’m doubting myself because I’ve recently worked in a bit of a bullying environment with quite difficult people. I find it difficult to work in an unsupportive environment - I envy the drive and perseverance of people like HotButton (above). I mean, I’m not lacking in backbone exactly but I find it a little unsettling when people are deliberately difficult to work with.

Anyway, again, thank you all. It’s been a great help hearing from you.

Once you realize you’re surrounded by idiots, you’ll find your predicament a lot easier to explain.

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Hah! That reminds me of something I’ve been heard saying: “It’s hard to avoid seeming aggressive when everone around you is listless.”

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Thanks Eriskay. It’s becoming increasingly more evident that people who tend to delight in making life tough for their colleagues are idiots and arseholes.

Idiots/morons – People who do stupid/inconsiderate things unknowingly

Arseholes – People who do stupid/inconsiderate things wilfully

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For me, a lot of the self doubt disappeared once I had the ability to fire clients without inflicting financial damage on myself. Being able to walk away from toxic relationships is empowering.

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I suffer from self-doubt constantly. I’m always comparing my work to others and then feel disheartened as I then think “I’ll never be that good.” After nearly 13 years I still get overwhelmed by doubt and fear about my abilities.

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