Thanks to the glorious world of twitter, I came across an article in Fast Company recently that was all about “imposter syndrome.” It’s not a word that comes up all that frequently and piqued my interest. When I was a young graphic designer, I was absolutely certain that the first studio that I got a job after graduating was going to fire me shortly after I had been hired. I hadn’t done anything terribly wrong, but secretly struggled with being a creative. As a young designer with very little practical experience, my first job in the real world had me feeling anxious.
I would go into work early every day, and leave late—running off of a level of anxiety that felt like my survival depended upon it. Was it insecurity? Maybe. However, I think it felt more akin to the idea of being an imposter. All through art school I felt like a wanna be artist. That I didn’t possess the same degree of talent that many of my peers did. Talent that was acquired through the blessings of artsy generational DNA, granted at random or through years of training leading up to art school—none of which I felt applied to me.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, I told the owner of the design studio that had hired me, that she didn’t need to pay me and that I would work for free for some time until she felt my skills were adequate to warrant compensation. Luckily she replied, “It would be illegal for us to hire you without paying you.” As you might imagine, I was more than likely the most underpaid designer that ever walked the corridors of that studio. I had set the bar of my self-esteem so low, that it was nothing short of ridiculous. Note to all young designers, don’t EVER tell your boss or a client not to pay you! It will set you on the quickest path to poverty, as well as a devaluation of your craft in the context of your trade. Just don’t do it! Promise me and promise you!
So what exactly is this imposter syndrome all about? According to the Harvard Business Review, “folks who always feel like they’re imposters are often also perfectionists, people who set “excessively high, unrealistic goals and then experience self-defeating thoughts and behaviors when they can’t reach those goals …perfectionism often turns neurotic imposters into workaholics.” Wow, can you believe it? Some of what’s described is in fact needed to be a good designer. An unwavering attention to detail and hard work but when distorted, turns ugly and makes you feel like a pretender.
I can tell you that the way I finally dealt with imposter syndrome was to show up for the work day after day, until days turned into years and finally I lived and breathed design with so much of my being, that it felt more like who I knew myself to be, versus the artist that I aspired to become. Kinda like practicing your craft, versus dreaming or thinking about it. If you are willing to put in the time and work hard with a certain love of what you’re doing, there’s no need to feel like an imposter. In fact, you’re really just a creative in process.