I've completely lost faith in myself

Hi all, apologies in advance for a very morose topic.

I’ve been a professional graphic designer for three years now, and I’ve felt my faith in my abilities decline steadily the entire time. When I was in school, I was pretty confident in my design work. I understood my strengths and weaknesses and I produced work that I was proud of. Now, it seems like I’m ashamed of every project I finish. I’m constantly afraid that my work isn’t good enough and I’m waiting for someone to point out how terrible it is. I’ve become paralyzed by self doubt and it’s making it incredibly difficult to start and finish projects. I was just assigned a project to work with an outside client and I’m terrified that they’re going to hate everything I present.

It seems like every single design I present to my boss is picked apart and sneered at, often with little justification or helpful feedback. The final designs still get approved so the work must be good enough, but I can’t help but feel that I’m just barely scraping by. I took the place of a more senior designer when I joined this company, and it seems that everything she designed was fawned over and adored while everything I design just gets crickets.

I really love what I do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but lately I’ve started to wonder if it’s time to jump ship and find a new career. I don’t want to keep hitting my head wondering if I’m any good at what I do. I know all about imposter syndrome, but I’ve struggled with these feelings for over a year and I’m at my wit’s end. How do I reclaim my confidence and keep going? How do I stop these doubts and focus on putting out my best work? I’m sure there must be someone here who has been down this road before.

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I’m not a therapist … but it sounds like one wouldn’t hurt. I don’t know any other way to say it that doesn’t end up sounding flat and harsh.

I’ve struggled many times over the years with thinking my creations haven’t been up to snuff. As creative people, we tend to be our own worse critics. But, in all honesty it sounds like you are really dealing with some serious issues here. I strongly suggest you talk with your personal doctor and ask who they might suggest you talk to. You need to get some relief from these feelings. I can only imagine how draining they can be. Unfortunately if you keep feeling this way it will suck up all feelings of creativity you have and your work will begin to suffer.

There is no shame in asking for help. :heart: I wish you well.

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I’m going to suggest something similar to RKK but a slightly different track.

It seems to me that you would benefit from a mentor – someone that you can sit down with over a cup of coffee, get honest feedback on your work, talk about your job, talk about the industry, etc. From what I can glean, you have a crapy boss – to the point that it almost sounds like an abusive relationship. He very well could be the one that’s shaking your confidence. I looked back at some of your other posts, and you do nice work. Get a resume and portfolio together and start looking for a new gig. I know; it’s a terrible time to look for a job, but I still wouldn’t put it off. In the mean time, look for some freelance work to breathe some new creative life into your young career.

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Your description of a boss who picks apart and sneers at others is a pretty good indication that this never-warranted behavior has nothing to do with your abilities and everything to do with this person’s toxic personality.

Good bosses build people up. Bad ones tear them down. I’ve had both and I’m familiar with the symptoms. When I was leading creative teams, I tried to do my best to praise good work, encourage confidence and ownership, be an advocate for them and help them in positive ways, as an ally, to build up their skills. Seemingly, your boss doesn’t do that or, more likely, is incapable of doing that.

I don’t know anything about your abilities, but I have met plenty of people who fit the description you gave of your boss. This leads me to believe that this person’s behavior isn’t about you; it’s about an incompetent boss.

Sometimes these kinds of bosses are insecure about themselves and try to build their own self-esteem by putting others down and micromanaging. Some people are just psychopaths who enjoy being a bully. Other times, these bosses socially clueless.

More often that not, the best bosses I’ve had have been really good, confident designers themselves or, at least, appreciated good design. More often than not, the bad, most critical bosses I’ve had wouldn’t know good design if it bit them on the butt.

In normal times, most of us spend around eight or nine hours, five days a week surrounded by co-workers. it’s all but impossible not to get sucked into the work environment. If it’s fun, challenging, supportive and full of good team members, everyone benefits and everyone grows. When it’s toxic and full of anxiety, everyone suffers and the work goes downhill.

This takes a personal toll on those feeling the brunt of the abuse and toxicity — especially sensitive people who might not be quite sure of themselves. In all seriousness, this can be traumatic when it happens day after day over a long period of time. It’s like slowly being poisoned in a way that seeps into all the cracks of one’s self-image and begins to destroy a person from the inside out.

What makes it even worse is the abuse comes from the very person in authority who should be building you up, championing your abilities and helping you achieve your goals.

Unfortunately, you can’t change these people — they’re typically dealing with their own issues that cause them to behave the way they do. All you can really do is be aware that it’s them and not you. You might even feel sorry for them, but the very best course of action is to put distance between them and yourself.

In your case, this might not be easy given that you need to work with this person. What you can do, though, is start looking for another job. Just the simple fact that you’re taking charge and actively looking for better alternatives can help. The other choice is to settle into the role of the subordinate victim, and honestly, that’s the wrong choice.

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A good leader sets you up to succeed, not to fail. It makes him/her look good, if nothing else. I do not believe the problem lies with you, but the erosion of your confidence has a lot to do with your own doing, I must say.

As soon as I read your post, the thing that jumped out at me was the way your boss reacts. Sadly, it is all to common a scenario.

I had a job for almost five years when I was fresh out of college. The boss/partner was very skilful at undermining his staff. He had his favourites (usually mates he’d given jobs to), but for the rest, he employed a series of slow, attritional put-downs, often not just work-related and sometimes very personal, especially to women (unsurprisingly, he was a huge mysogynist). He would peck away at until all self-worth was shot to pieces and people believed they were fairly mediocre or, in some cases, even bad designers.

Why did he do it? Because it saved him money – a lot of money. You don’t have to give a raise to designers that haven’t earned it or don’t deserve it. No need to pay bonuses either. I took it for almost five years, until I had learned enough to go it alone.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was one particular project that had constantly changing goal posts. This month-long project consisted of days that lasted from a strict 9am, until the work was finished – typically anywhere between 9pm and 2am. The only concession made was that we were put in a cab home if the underground had stopped running for the day. If we were really lucky, on the odd occasion, food was provided. We were absolutely exhausted by the end of it all.

Anyway a few weeks after that, I found out that he had charged the client a little over £40k just for my overtime hours. Bear in mind this was back in the 90s and £40k was around double what a junior designer earned in a year and about three times what I was earning. I saw nothing by way of a bonus or even a thank you for any of it.

I quit that very day and within a month I was earning considerably more than I had been, working on a freelance consultancy basis. Moreover, I was doing work in the music industry that was both valued and was work that I absolutely loved doing. Of course, it too had its periods of crazy deadlines. It’s the nature of the game, but it makes a whole world of difference when you are both financially compensated and appreciated.

I am not advocating that you go in on Monday and quit your job, but as Steve_O says, you need feedback from others and, as he says, perhaps find a mentor. You could post a link to your work here for honest evaluation.

Does this boss do the same to other people?

If this is what is happening to you, It has to be called out for what it is, workplace bullying.

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Spend sometime with your friends, share your problems with them because right now you need a friend’s advice more than a designer’s advice. Remember those times when you were appreciated for your work these small things will help you to regain your confidence. Most important thing try to find a job somewhere else because the kind people you’re surrounded with will totally destroy you, which will have a long lasting impact on your mind.

What stood out to me was that you said you love what you do and can’t imagine doing anything else, and as others have already said it sounds like your boss is the problem, not your work. I’ve had the same issues before but getting another (very good) designer’s feedback was very helpful. If you can’t get that at your current company you should probably look for another job where they appreciate your work. I saw a logo that you posted in another thread and it looked great!

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