There are times when this photo sums up my feelings walking into a room to present, pitch, or start a project…if I’m not careful I’ll be discovered for a fraud!

Eight ways I handle negative comparisons and imposter syndrome

Zoolander is much deeper than you think

Movies teach lessons…like Zoolander.

I really like movies…alot. If you ask my wife she’ll tell you that I’m “obsessed” (I am). A silly favorite of mine is the movie Zoolander which features a male model (Ben Stiller) who has been mind controlled to assassinate the prime rib of Micronesia (spoiler alert). There’s one scene where Derek’s love interest Matilda confesses that she was bulimic as a child due to the fashion world’s portrayal of beauty, of course, Derek and Hansel fail to understand the gravity of the situation and hilarity quickly ensues.

No, bulimic people can’t read minds. However if you watch Scott Pilgrim vs The World…vegans do have super powers
Being vegan just makes you better than everyone else.

We Suffer From An Over-saturation of Beauty

I would never want to downplay the real issue that bulimia is for many people but in some way I can relate to those feelings of inadequacy. I find myself browsing through the pages of dribbble or photos on instagram wishing that I had the ability, or talent, to create some of the amazing work I see in-front of me. Salivating at the colors, lines, shapes, patterns, logos, etc that were carefully crafted with time and attention that I can’t see, I only see the end result. It’s very easy to get down on yourself when you’re surrounded by all the “happy posts.” I think to myself, “If I just had the time” or “if only that client had come to me.” In my efforts to be the best I find that I belittle people or projects in an attempt to make myself seem better to myself. That, my friends, is a quick road to nowhere. Seth Godin said that one of the best ways to build your own following was to reach out to someone you respect and do something for them to build their career. One of his keys to finding success was actually helping others find it before yourself. I love this idea. The act of turning negative energy into positive energy. When the feelings are negative do you have the courage to respond positively?

Seek for the success of someone else other than yourself. —Seth Godin

If You’re Anything Like Me…

Heres what I do to defeat my creative blues and keep carrying on.

  1. There are no such thing as excuses — Excuses are a dark spiral that will keep you from achieving your goals. From now on there is no such thing as an excuse. I heard Dan Mall say once that we should replace the phrase “I dont have time for” to “Its not a priority.” It will change your perspective.
  2. Keep your head down and create—Work through your insecurities. The only way to improve your abilities and grow as a designer is to create, create, create. A teacher once told me, “if you don't eat and breathe this stuff you wont make.” A little dramatic? Perhaps, but if you don’t have passion you wont be motivated to progress. This point needs to be carefully paired with points 5,6, and 7. Burnout is real and common in our industry. Stay grounded.
  3. Great artists steal—If you haven’t read the book by Austin Kleon “Steal Like An Artist” then you are missing out. Go find your favorite shots and copy them. Re-create them. Use bits and pieces. A color here, a tree there. DONT EVER RE-MAKE THEM AND TAKE CREDIT. Dribbble, Pinterest, Behance, are all places where people are generously sharing their work in unprecedented ways. Respect it but take a page from T.S. Eliot (though some say Picasso said something similar which I did a broad internet search to no conclusion):

T. S. Eliot once wrote that the immature poet imitates and the mature poet plagiarizes. Goethe to Eckermann, before Eliot, said: “If you see a great master, you will always find that he used what was good in his predecessors, and that it was this which made him great.”

4. Personal project, personal project, personal project—I’m building a skillshare class all about personal projects. I am a huuuge believer in them and their ability to bring out experimentation, creative renewal, and just plain ol’ fun. If you need more work to improve then make your own. I have a whole journal full of silly, fun personal project I want to get started on.

I’m not saying that these are all golden ideas but each one would provide hours of fun to create an identity, website, and just general mayhem with.

5. At the end of the day…its just design—I have to remind myself of this everyday. Listen, I live and breathe this stuff. I can talk about it for hours non-stop…to myself…in the shower if need be. However, a happy life isn’t built on the pile of websites, illustrations, posters, and stuff I have. Its with my family. Its the experiences I have with them, helping others, my faith, etc. You wont find happiness in success alone, at least not long-term happiness. Your abilities will fade, your designs will go away. That other stuff will still stick with you.

6. Most important, turn off all your screens — This should probably be at the top of all of these. Designers, shut off the screen. Invest in some personal time. Make something with your hands. Draw freehand with no inspiration. Be completely creative free of others constraints. It is truly invigorating.

7. Take your time I hate this one. I am very much a rush to finish kind of guy. I love the close deadline and the adrenaline rush…but its a terrible idea. The more I work the more I realize its those hours of slight detailing that makes all the difference in the end. Take your time, work out the details, and post when its ready (For example I do not noodle on my articles…I just write and post…I need to learn my own lessons).

8. Use your negative energy, positively — As I mentioned above, Seth Godin encourages us to expend energy on building others up. There’s no better time to do that than when you’re feeling low on yourself. I know I know. It sounds counter intuitive but acts of kindness and service are stronger forces than your negative energy. If you are feeling it and its consuming you channel it into something. If a post makes your anger boil, if your jealousy is consuming you…build someone else up. Make their day. Act in the way that you hope someone will soon treat you. Your heart will feel it and sometimes thats more rewarding than anything else.

Know thyself

As I’ve matured as a designer I’ve become more aware of my own strengths and weaknesses. This act of comparison stems from a desire to be the best at what I do. Its both a motivator and a paralyzer. Overcoming those moments of defeat and redoubling my efforts has allowed me to grow in leaps and bounds over the years. I’ve learned to slowly work on myself and compare against my own boundaries. Do I still have those moments of despair when I look at what I’ve accomplished to others of similar age and position? Yes. Weekly at times. I’m learning how to turn it in to a fuel and feed my goals. I had an art teacher who had had a lot of success in his career. We asked him once who his favorite modern day artists were? He looked at us and simply said, “I don’t look at anyone elses artwork as much as possible. I don’t want to see it or think about it.” I thought this was pretty arrogant and it bothered me for a long time. That was until I sat back to write this post and had the exact thought he did. “Maybe I just shouldn’t look at what everyone else is doing and focus on myself?” I probably wont go to that extreme but I do have a new appreciation for how others might handle similar issues.

Feel free to follow me on my journey. I’d love to hear your struggles, what you fight with and how you overcome them. #thestruggleisreal

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Experience Designer @slalom. Founder, designer, and Illustrator @wattle_n_daub. Boring people to death with UX, illustration, typography, and identity design.

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