6 ways to keep from getting too attached to your work

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When you’ve spent weeks putting your heart and soul into a design, it’s pretty tough to not get attached to it. But sometimes, clients just don’t see what you see and feel what you feel. They may ask for revisions, offer suggestions, or just straight up reject your design. It happens to the best of us.

The key to not taking rejection personally? Don’t get emotionally attached to your work. Easier said than done, I know, and that’s why I’ve put together this list of six ways to distance yourself from your designs.

1. See your design as a solution to a problem

Designers work towards solving a problem, and feedback can only help us get there. We pay a great deal of attention to the aesthetics of the project, but the client has the functional, technical, and marketing aspects to worry about as well. You are more than an artist — you are a problem solver.

Going into the design process with a problem-solving mindset is one way to keep yourself from getting too emotionally attached to your work. You’ll be more open to incorporating ideas that can help solve the problem better, faster, or cheaper.

2. Redefine your idea of perfection

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Perfection is overrated. Instead of making perfectionism a way to bring out our best work, we end up using it as a tool to evade disapproval. In truth, however, everyone’s idea of perfection is different—and as such, there can be no logical way of achieving it. No matter how hard you sweat the details, there will always be someone tossing a “what if…” your way. You can’t please everyone, so stop trying.

Perfection is the enemy of collaboration. Unless you’re working on a personal project, you have to collaborate—and that demands working with a team. In a results-driven design thinking environment, perfection translates into developing a product that gets the job done.

Don’t be afraid to let your team members or clients suggest changes. They may even see something you didn’t. Think of them as a way to make your work even better.

3. Bring in your team early on

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When you work in isolation and build a design alone all the way through, you become too emotionally invested in it to be able to take any feedback objectively. You’ve gone on too long doing what you feel is right and now it’s too late to become flexible.

So be flexible from the start. This is possible if you put out low-fidelity prototypes and simple sketches to your team, and get a feel of the initial feedback. This will tell you if you’re headed in the right direction or you could use a little detour. Since the stakes are low and you haven’t yet spent much time with the design, adapting at this stage will be far easier that putting too many hours into the design and then being faced with a critique session.

4. Don’t associate your self-worth with your work

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When a client rejects a design you worked really hard on, do you feel like they have, in some way, rejected you?

“Taking rejections personally is the biggest enemy of a creative professional. Don’t let your work become your whole identity.”

When a client doesn’t love your design as much as you love it, feeling defensive may be your instinct—but you must learn to keep it in check. Do not feel that their opinion of your design amounts to their opinion of you as a person. Try to cultivate a sense of objectivity towards other people’s opinion of your work.

You created that design under a limited premise, you were told what you had to do, and you did your best. This client-defined premise of a design does not and cannot reflect what your true potential is. This is your job, and as long as you’re being paid for it, just let it go.

Maybe the last part sounds a bit harsh, but in this profession, you may need that mindset sometimes.

5. Have a personal project to invest yourself in

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At the end of the day, you’ll want to let your creativity flow. You’ll want a way to express all your thoughts and emotions, and you’ll need an outlet that lets you fly free.

That’s why it’s a good idea to work on a personal project on the side, where you’re the boss and you’re free to do as you please. It could be art, music, or illustrations. It could be a personal website you’re building for yourself.

6. Question yourself along the way

We tend to be attached to things we create, even if they aren’t necessarily the best. So ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, every step of the way. Not only will this help you put forward only your best ideas but also, you will have the right answers when others ask you those questions.

Have reasons for everything you do, and put some effort into phrasing those reasons in a compelling manner. So at the time of the critique, you will be able to present your case strongly and not feel shot down.

Design is a team sport

In the end, you, the developers and the stakeholders are all working to impress just one person — the end user. Keeping that bigger picture in view will help you go through the design process objectively and not feel too emotionally attached to your designs. Stay open minded about the outcome and just focus on doing your best.

Artists have it easy. They aren’t bound by project briefs and business goals. You, on the other hand, are on a loftier mission to create a sustainable business product.

Be proud and keep at it.

How do you keep from taking rejection and criticism personal? Tell me in the comments.