Start believing in yourself

Overcoming self doubt

Four years ago, I never would have thought that I’d be a professional designer, leading and mentoring other designers. After all, what did I know about anything?

My beginnings in the design industry were filled with self-doubt, confusion, and angst about my future — worrying too much about what others thought and how they said it. The little voice in my head was screaming that I just wasn’t good enough to turn this into a career.

I “started” my career in design an internship at an online company. Although I enjoyed design, it was never a strong focus for me. I barely knew how to use Photoshop. I never learned about color theory, the pen tool, or typography. The only thing I’d done was create a few flyers for school clubs based on internet tutorials and what I thought kind of looked good.

When I was offered the chance to design a greeting card for Grandparent’s Day before I finished my internship, I was pretty excited. How cool was it that I’d get to design something that would be sold and purchased by real people around the world? Having a close relationship with my grandparents throughout my entire life, I was easily inspired with a few ideas. I sketched out some layouts and quickly started to search online for tutorials on how to use Adobe Illustrator. My illustrating skills were non-existent at the time, but I wasn’t discouraged. I chugged along as best I could, composing my piece until it resembled the idea I had sketched.

The idea was not complicated by any means, but having no exposure to illustration in the past, I did my best to represent it with what little skills I had. I mustered up the courage to set up a design review, eager to get some feedback on my very first illustration.

I wasn’t really prepared for what would come next.

During the design review, I was told that it was highly unlikely my design would sell successfully on the website, that it was childish, and too primitive. It didn’t fit into the collection they were curating, which was focused on scrapbook-themed designs.

I was given a few pointers on how I could improve the design along with this tidbit:

You’ll learn that some people just aren’t meant to be designers. Some people are just better at executing their vision and they’re the ones that succeed as designers.

I left that design review feeling incredibly discouraged — like I’d been told that I didn’t have the ability to execute on my vision as a successful designer should. Self-doubt overcame me and I wondered what I could do with my career next.

You are your own worst enemy

Whether you know it or not, you’re your own worst enemy. Although we like to externalize doubt and cite those who critique us as evidence for our shortcomings, our own selves are often the ones perpetuating the cycle and continuing to doubt our own abilities long after tangible evidence has manifested.

That moment during my internship unlocked a voice in my head that started a cycle of self-doubt. I worried too much about what others thought, whether people would like what I was doing, and how I could make others happy with my work. My idea of success became defined by how others perceived my work.

Although parts of my success are still defined by how others perceive my work — I now understand that an even bigger, more important part of my success is measured by the goals I’ve set for myself and what I want to accomplish as a designer. Even though I received feedback that I didn’t have the chops to become a designer, that internship was still successful because I fulfilled goals and learned skills that were valuable to my own career growth.

Amongst them, I:

  1. Learned how to use Illustrator, which has really become one of the cornerstones of my career
  2. Gained experience working in industry, not just in the classroom
  3. Learned valuable communication skills for the workplace

Also, the design ended up performing pretty well, and people did actually buy it!

Realizing I’d accomplished all of these things amongst receiving some tough-to-swallow feedback helped me quiet the voice in my head. I could still be successful, even if it didn’t seem “successful” by others’ books, as long as I was able to pull out some learnings and accomplishments that were valuable to me.

Of course, we don’t live in a vacuum. It’s still important to be mindful of what others think, valuing feedback and satisfying requests where you can and are need to. But do so through the lens of your own goals and priorities, allowing yourself to define what success means to you. Find value in the things that you do, and empower yourself to overcome self-doubt.