Conquer imposter syndrome: 4 ways to free yourself from fear and doubt as a designer

How to silence the scripts in your head and push past the fear and stagnation keeping you from doing the work you were meant to do!

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I know the scripts you play in your head when insecurity sets in… because I play them too.

  • I’m not a strategic enough designer to do this project.
  • I don’t know which tools to use.
  • I’m self-taught.
  • I can’t charge that much.

The insecurity that makes your stomach hurt and causes you to doubt yourself when you thought you “had it” just a moment ago.

  • When projects start out great and then turn into a mess.
  • When you work for way too many hours for not enough money.
  • When the design you poured your creative energy into gets the wrong response.
  • When what your potential client is asking for feels outside of your current abilities.

I’m not a coach or a pro on this subject. I know what I know from my own 25+ years of experience. Avoiding your fear creates a stagnant environment for your work. You can’t go forward or you find your business in the same place year after year.

Stagnation kills creativity and avoiding what you fear undermines your confidence because it says this thing you fear is bigger than you can handle.

I’ve learned that the more I push through the fear, the less ability it has to take hold. Rather than freezing me in place – I use that fear as a sign that I’m pushing myself in a good way.

Embrace projects that will improve your skills

In the past, I’ve committed to projects that involved skills I didn’t have yet. Have you done this? One of those yes, I can do that,enthusiastic moments that disintegrates into crap, what did I just commit to? I’ve done this quite a bit over my career. The right scary projects can be a good thing. They can force us to uplevel and push us through the fear of doing something new (because we have to finish).

Scary? Yes. Be strategic about which projects you use to stretch your skills. Have a mentor or colleague standing by if you need guidance. Make sure that the return of time and energy produces something that draws you closer to working the clients you love.

After 25+ years, I’m working on a project like this right now. Why? because I want more projects like it. I want to take my pricing and projects to the next level and that’s not going to happen if I passively accept everything inside my current comfort zone. I’m feeling challenged and slightly frightened. That is not a bad thing… !

Stop comparing yourself to others

This one took a long time to sink in for me and I still struggle with it.

Social media makes this comparison beast a hard thing to conquer. While we have more resources available to us than ever before, we also see only small polished pieces and not the whole picture (ever) in someone else’s business. We don’t know what it took to get them where they are.

When comparison gets the better of me, I look to the insecurity I feel as a sign. In my experience, comparison happens because I’m not honoring the way I work best and something needs to change (it’s not really about them).

What do I mean by this?

  • Comparing packages » I’m not happy with what I offer or I’m working too much, too little or on the wrong things.
  • Comparing pricing » I don’t know how to communicate or market my value.
  • Comparing clients » I’m not working with clients I enjoy.
  • Comparing branding » I’m not happy with how I show up.

Conquer imposter syndrome by fixing the real issue and create a plan to get you to the place you want to be.

If you don’t know how to create a plan to the place where you really want to be, stay tuned…  Designing Success Bootcamp is coming soon (like within weeks!). If you want to be notified when it opens, make sure you are on the waitlist.

Firm up your design process

Documenting processes is boring. I think of all pieces of the project puzzle, this can be the hardest to nail down. Design itself is subjective, so at times it can feel like the process is unstable. Your process should be fluid – in that you should be regularly assessing where you can improve – but there are milestones and conversations you can identify that are consistent from project to project. Start writing them down.

Signs you need to improve your process:

  • Clients don’t understand what’s coming next.
  • Clients don’t read your messages.
  • You have to repeat yourself or backtrack.
  • You have to circle back and make changes after approval checkpoints.
  • You are missing pieces of content you need to move on to the next step.

How to start documenting your process:

  • Copy/paste common messages or conversations into one location, like answers to hosting questions, photography questions or process questions.
  • Copy/paste milestone conversations, like the feedback you ask for when you send a logo, concepts, or flowchart to review.
  • Make a master list of common milestones.
  • Make a master list of tasks the client needs to perform prior to the start of the project.

When projects go sideways, it’s usually a break in the process (assuming you are working with a reasonable person/company). Clients micromanage and freak out when we don’t proactively guide them and these freakouts undermine our confidence. A well-documented process will give you the structure you need in guiding your client (especially as this process feels nebulous and complex to them).

The subjective nature of the design process makes designers and freelancers easy targets for self-doubt. Click through to learn 3 ways to fight & conquer imposter syndrome as a designer.

Lead with confidence, even if you don’t feel it

This is the irony of imposter syndrome – you don’t have the confidence, or you wouldn’t feel like an imposter, so how can you lead with it? But to get to the other side, you need to push through this false fear. While you may not feel confident in the moment, you can exude confidence indirectly with the rest of your brand experience. Let your positioning, branding and marketing do the talking for you.

Here’s a few small things you can do to get started:

  • When you are just starting out (or creating a new offering), offer short free consultations so you can practice talking about what you do.
  • Your website is an opportunity to put your best foot forward. If your website is well-done clients will forgive a small portfolio.
  • Avoid passive language and messaging on your website and in general communication.
  • Invest in a headshot – I swear this is like wearing your most flattering power outfit on your website – you can change your client’s perception of your personal ability with a warm, confident headshot.
  • Demonstrate expertise with solution-based blog posts, tutorials and trainings targeted to your ideal client.
  • Approach new projects as an opportunity to partner with your clients in finding the best outcome. It’s a puzzle with a solution. There’s an outcome there and both parties are responsible for providing the right pieces.
  • Ask for help from a more experienced designer or invest in a mentor. It’s worth the investment if you can catapult past all the mistakes they have made.

As I mentioned before, you will never have all the answers going in (you really shouldn’t assume that you do!). Imposter syndrome strikes because we think other designers have all the answers (they don’t). It strikes because we think our skills aren’t strong enough (we can improve these). It strikes because our clients sometimes knock us off track (this is fixable).

The next time you feel that insecurity taking hold, ask yourself – are you too stuck in your comfort zone? are you comparing yourself to someone else? are you needing to revisit your design process? are you needing to make a small change that will make YOU feel more confident?

Want to talk with me about the stinker that is imposter syndrome? I love talking about this stuff. Tag me in the Drama-Free Design Collective on Facebook and start a conversation.

Author: Christine Thatcher

Christine Thatcher is the founder of Christine Marie Studio, a boutique design agency dedicated to helping visionary entrepreneurs infuse their personalities into profitable virtual platforms. She combines 27 years of design experience to guide her clients through the web design process. Also the creator of Designing to Delight, a brand dedicated to teaching designers how to build collaborative client relationships so they can charge more for their work.

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