Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

You don’t suffer from self doubt? I doubt it.

Self doubt can cripple a business. Learning to deal with it can help build a better one.

You cannot help but self doubt. If you don’t, and live in a state of such confidence and assurance that you are incapable of any self doubt, you must be a billionaire. Or some kind of T-800 robot. Or both. For most of the world, it is a common threat to creative output, and something that rears its ugly head far too often.

I am not a billionaire, and not of robotic form last time I checked, and thus I am also susceptible to self doubting. Constantly. What if nobody likes it? What if no one buys it? Does anybody think I am doing the right thing? Today I lost an Instagram follower… why? Am I fucking up?

It is endless. It consumes every process I undertake, right from client meetings, through the design process, through the building / manufacturing, to the finishing photos posted on social media, and the final handover. Why did they meet me when they could have got this made by someone better? Have I built it as they imagined it? What if it falls apart tomorrow? What if it falls apart right in front of me this very second? Why did I not just get a ‘real’ job?

I know I am not alone.

But rather than sit at home and cry about it, waiting for the day I turn robotic, I have instead laid out some thoughts on my shitty self doubt. This is to help me deal with mine and to help others come to terms with their own. And for the sake of a healthy, slightly agro rant.

Where does this shitty doubt come from?
Doubt is in part born from fear of failure. (Or from a previous experience of failure, becoming a go to self defence mechanism.) It is also partly a basic human instinct, ingrained in the genetic make up of every single individual. To attempt to prevent failure, you adopt a critical view of your own work, and self. The effects of this can cripple your creative process, and at worst perhaps even end it.

Doubt is also there as a survival instinct. I understand the benefit of that, if I find myself in an environment or situation that requires such instincts to be active. A situation of danger perhaps. Or life and death. In normal day to day life, this survival instinct can hold you back, effect your decision making, and further harm your creative output.

An on/off switch would have been ideal to prevent it from interfering with building a startup business.

Some reasons behind my shitty self doubt.
I have a lack of confidence that I am ready for the ‘real world’, partly due to the university learning experience I underwent. I am slowly developing this day by day, project by project, but the lack of confidence always invites doubts. Is my work the same standard as others? How do I compete with them in the big bad world ?

Without that foundation of assertion, and ego, for lack of a better word, building trust and self belief is a process that has only started recently, and it seems destined to go on for a long time yet.

Another reason is social media. It is a ruthless place full of naysayers and trolls. Its also full of your potential clients and audience. It is easy to obsess over page likes, post likes and comments, and even easier to get down when they are not arriving in mass numbers. Nobody liked my post since I put it up two minutes ago… it must be terrible. I’m taking it down. I’m never going to post again.

The quality of work in the market is exceptional, and it is everywhere. This makes it competitive, difficult to stand out from the crowd, and breeds the daily question — why me and not them?

There is a fear, that as myself and many others continue to make ‘luxury’ products, consumers will stop buying. As austerity measures clamp down further and further, do luxury products become non viable, losing out to cheaper alternatives? Is my product too expensive? Is my industry on the edge of collapse as consumers become more and more money savvy? When will IKEA stop being so damn affordable?

The bad days always seem to impact more than the good days, and they can leave a lasting effect on your work and belief. It did not work last time, why would it this time? The client did not like my final product, what if nobody else does, ever again? It can be a tough job to pick yourself up, and even when you do, the experience can linger long in the memory.

Attempting to deal with shitty self doubt.
The internet would have you believe beating self doubt is as easy as reading articles such as ’10 ways to beat self doubt’ or ‘5 steps to overcoming your creative doubt’, and adding the recommended steps to your daily creative routine. Job done. Hmm, that seems like…

…Bollocks. Being part of the human mental build, a natural instinct, it cannot be beaten. You cannot rid yourself of doubts, and banish them to a dungeon at the back of mind, tied up in chains, feeding it occasional sips of water and scraps of bread until it eventually dies and leaves you free for the rest of your existence. It is a case of dealing with them, day to day, project to project. And that is difficult enough.

An important step is to ignore anyone else’s self doubts, and tackle your own first. Your work will always come under scrutiny (except from your mother — she will always love your work), but you have to realise that other people’s doubt will only further your own — you have to block them out.

Producing any kind of work for the public eye takes balls, and these balls can only grow if you stand by your work, and truly believe in it. When faced with the haters, shake it off, and be sure to remind yourself why you love your work, why the piece is right for it’s purpose, and why you will continue to prove them all wrong.

Social media is a great platform, especially for start ups. There are so many factors that determine how many hits your posts get, such as restricted views, declining organic reach, time of day etc, that in the end it is not a reflection on the quality of your work. When judging the quality of your output, or the success of your project, put more focus on client feedback and user response, and by ensuring they are delighted, you will in turn delight yourself.

The quality of the market IS exceptional — but use this as a motivator. Join them! Use other people’s projects, materials, visions as inspiration, as a tool to push your work to greater standards. The trick is to know when you are comparing work, and when you are using it to put your own down. Rather than the theirs is better than mine attitude, why not whoa, that is amazing, I should try something like that next time.

Self doubt can cripple a business, but learning to deal with it can help build a better one. By winning each small battle, and overcoming each challenge it presents you, you will learn to deal with it. Once you are on top of it, you will find it becomes a manageable issue, and your work will rest easy, knowing it is not constantly under the scrutiny of your own doubt. You will stop shying away from projects and clients. You will talk glowingly about your work to others. Once you are in control of your self doubt, you can push on, full of confidence and belief, and achieve all of your goals.

I hope some of that made sense. I doubt it did.

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