Coping with imposter syndrome as a creative person

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Imposter Syndrome. The bane of my career so far. It’s the feeling that you are an ‘imposter’, someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. The real definition posed by Wikipedia is ‘Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”’.

It might be different for you in which case, I envy you.  Imposter Syndrome is something that continues to eat away at you even after praise and constructive critique. In my previous Junior Designer role, the thought of being found out and fired was an almost weekly occurrence. It’s crippling and many of my peers and creative people I have met, suffer from the same problem.

So how do you solve it? Personally, I haven’t yet, and I have accepted it. Will it take a while? Of course. Here are several tips that may help if you’re struggling too.

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Critique is related to the job, not you

An important one. One that I only accepted recently. It’s so easy for someone to give constructive criticism and yet why is it so hard to take it? I have had plenty of good critiques in my time, but the bad critique are the ones I remember. I would recommend thinking back to a time when you gave someone you know constructive criticism. I hazard a guess that you were genuinely giving them good advice to improve the work, but you still respect them as creative. It is most definitely the same situation with someone else.

Another point to remember too is that if you have been hired for a job, you’re there because your skills are up-to-scratch and you are capable of fitting into the team etc. Would they hire you if you weren’t good enough?

Social media (probably) does not help

This a personal point that has helped me. Creative social media has the same problems as normal social media. Everyone is posting their highlights. Creative social media is wonderful to champion your peers work as well as see some amazing work done by creatives worldwide but are you gaining anything by trawling Instagram at 1am?

This activity was a real problem for me. You are constantly bombarded by work, not only on Instagram but on Dribbble, Behance, Artstation, Pinterest and the list goes on. There are plenty of bonuses I admit. Quick inspiration. Community feedback. Recognition of your work. But if you’re like me, it all pales to the pressure of not keeping up with them. You can’t just ditch social media unless you’re a hermit. What I would recommend is to keep off it and only use it when you are getting inspiration for a job or maybe set a Sunday morning to catch up with it. As I said, it’s a wonderful tool but try to use it in moderation.

Keep a positivity journal

A helpful tip for everyday life. Write three positive things every day and you’ll see a (slight) change in mindset as you become more mindful of the positive things in your life. In order to beat Imposter Syndrome, why don’t you keep a folder or journal of creative work you are proud of?

It doesn’t have to be daily like a journal but why not remind yourself that you are entirely capable of being brilliantly creative? Plus, it’s a good record of progress and ultimately, gives you some extra choice for your portfolio.

Who told you that?

Another helpful tip, I picked up at the start of lockdown. I believe it was from a reddit post* originally. During therapy, someone said they were getting terrible intrusive thoughts about what people thought of him. The therapist said ‘whenever this happens why not ask yourself ‘who told you that?’’.

It’s a helpful tip, especially when approaching creativity. ‘Who told you that your work wasn’t good?’. ‘Who told you that you’re not suited for this role?’. ‘Who told you that the client doesn’t seem happy?’. Regardless of what you think, what is actually true? If you’re struggling, why not get an outside opinion from a peer, 99% of the time I am sure they will say ‘it’s all in your head’ and provide a positive outlook.

*If you find the Reddit post, please let me know!

You do what you’re interested in

I remember a brilliant lecturer from my first year of university saying this to me in a workshop. You do what you’re interested in. I constantly beat myself for not doing art at GCSE as that has helped many of my peers foster a visual style I believed I could not match. In fact, I am just different. When they were drawing in school, I was writing. That has helped me improve my copywriting skills compared to my illustration skills but still has a place on my CV and in my creative arsenal.

You must remember everyone is in the same boat and only occasionally will you find someone who purely does illustration for example. I am sure they are brilliant, but will they be well-rounded, and can they adapt to a rapidly-changing job role? It’s all subjective but just remember, you put the time into the things you care about and that all helps. I may never do a bit of horror branding or develop a scary VR experience but I still love horror movies and maybe one day, it’ll come in useful.

Dealing with imposter syndrome is a learning process

The most important note to end on. If this helps anyone straight away then great! But it’s a process. It takes time, just like learning illustration, graphic design, 3D, motion, anything. I play Squash for Brunel University and I used to be useless at it.

Only now, after a year and a half of practice (and a rather long lockdown) am I getting anywhere close to winning a single game, let alone an entire match. It’s been helpful as it has given me reference and shown how with enough practice and dedication, you can learn whatever you want, even positivity about your creative work.


Guest Author:

Name: James Wilson
Age: 26
Status: 2nd-year Digital Design BSc (Hons) Student

University: Brunel University London

Instagram: @digitaljimjam
Website: www.jimjam.design/

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