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How To Build Self Confidence & Overcome Imposter Syndrome As A Designer?

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Imposter Syndrome

Last updated on September 15th, 2020

As a graphic designer, do you often doubt that you never deserved the success you’ve achieved in your career? If so, then you are just one of the many thousands of people who experience this false sense of guilt. You think that you’ve cheated or acted fraud, and, therefore, never deserved the success. It is a psychological hitch known as imposter syndrome that needs to be treated. In this article, one of the experts has shared his experiences on how to overcome the impact of imposter syndrome.

Graphic design is a creative job. Like most creative people, a majority of the designers have self-doubts about their abilities. While having doubts to some extent about one’s creative ability enriches the creative process, but when it crosses the limit, it impedes the growth of the designer. Today, many designers are suffering from such imposter syndrome.

If these negative thoughts about their own ability to persist, it ultimately has an adverse impact on the career growth of the artists and designer. This lack of confidence in oneself persists for many years without the designer having a clear awareness of it. Only timely steps taken towards resolving the issue can rescue the professional out of this wilderness.

Designhill Conducted A Webinar To Address Imposter Syndrome For Designer Community

Considering that imposter syndrome is a big issue with the designer community, Designhill thought of taking the help of experts to overcome the issue. Therefore, we conducted a webinar on the topic – “HOW TO DEAL WITH IMPOSTER SYNDROME AS A DESIGNER & ARTIST?” on 29th January 2020 where the guest speaker Tony Daussat talked about how to build self confidence and overcome imposter syndrome.

Here Is The Video Of The Webinar

About Tony Daussat

Tony Daussat is a loving father and husband who works as a Design Strategist and Host of Podcast – Experience Design. As a strategist, he’s responsible for the vision of all types of design projects. His design journey started at a very young age where he used to spend his hours at the local office depot playing with the photo settings and filters in the digital cameras and create fake logos in Microsoft Paint ’95.

Later, he began his photography studio in NYC and started loving the design concepts. He even started working on branding, websites and UI / UX for the past 8 years.

Tony was a victim of imposter syndrome to an extent but got rid of it with his own efforts soon. During the webinar, he shared his first-hand experience of this syndrome and how to come out of it as a winner. He answered questions asked by designers and artists at the same time and conveyed his views on imposter syndrome, its causes, and remedies.

In this article, we’ve summorized the webinar and shared how to revive your self confidence and overcome imposter syndrome easily. During the webinar, we’ve discussed:

  • What is Imposter Syndrome?
  • Various symptoms of imposter syndrome
  • What are the long term consequences of imposter syndrome?
  • How to get rid of imposter syndrome?

Here We Go

Designhill: In Your Opinion, What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Tony: In layman’s terms, despite anything going good in your life, any success, a raise, a job – it’s an insecurity where you don’t feel like you deserve it. You feel like you are only getting that because you’re faking it and that you will soon be found out by your peers by your colleagues, that is imposter syndrome. Now, a lot of people have morphed imposter syndrome into just having low self-esteem or not being able to take feedback well, and I would submit that it has evolved.

No matter what is your education, accomplishments, successes, what you’ve done that looks like it’s going in the right direction, you basically can’t feel happy about it. This is because you feel like a fraud, you feel like you have faked your way into making those successes happen, or that you don’t deserve those successes. So that’s technically imposter syndrome.

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It’s About Self-Doubt

Now, term imposter syndrome has morphed over the time and its overall meaning is self-doubt. Am I going to be good at this job? Like, for example, every single time, I would get hired at a job. I would leave the interview and go there’s no way that they would hire me. I would be way over my head. And then once they would offer the job, I would feel like they had made a mistake. It generally happens.

Let’s talk about its history. Imposter syndrome was originally coined in the 1970s by clinical psychologists women Suzanne IMEs and Pauline Clance . During the time, the term was an Imposter Phenomenon . And it’s later evolved into imposter syndrome and what we know today, and I also feel like the feelings of imposter syndrome had evolved as well.

imposter phenomenon

We started grouping a lot of different low self esteem feelings in with imposter syndrome, especially within the design community. I think that’s fair to do because of a lot of the tactics that I use to address all of those things and not just the technical definition of imposter syndrome.

Around 70% of people have feelings of immense unworthiness and self-doubt. If we look at the entire planet, 70% is 5 billion people, unworthy or inadequate.

Celebrities Too Have Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is not only common to designers or artists, even brilliant and succesful celebrities get drawn to it. So, I kept seeing imposter syndrome in the design community. You know, that’s the community that I was in professionally, and I realized I wasn’t alone.

And as you can see, look at these faces. Some of the most talented, brilliant, successful people like Tom Hanks, Maya Angelou, Howard Schultz, who’s the former CEO of Starbucks, Meryl Streep, etc. had gone same insecure feeling. Meryl Streep is a three-time Oscar winner in 21 times Oscar nominee, and she had feelings of imposter syndrome.

Even Albert Einstein was one of them too. The term was coinded in the 1970s, at the same time when he used to write journals. All of the them are affected by imposter syndrome.

Lastly, Debbie Millman named one of the most influential designers of today has suffered from imposter syndrome. And the former president of the IGA. Like I said, imposter syndrome has its roots firmly, firmly planted in the design community.

Celebrities Too Have Imposter Syndrome

Designhill: What Are The Symptoms Of Imposter Syndrome?

Tony: So, before I explain, let me just say, I’m not in psychiatry. I’m a psychologist. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a physician. I’m a life coach. I haven’t studied these things. I’ve felt it. These are a few symptoms of imposter syndrome that I felt during my days.

Feeling Of Unworthiness

Throughout a career in the design field, I fought with the feelings of immense unworthiness, or like I’m a fraud. Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy, an inadequacy that persists despite evidence of success, or accomplishment.

Chronic Self-Doubt

Another symptom of imposter syndrome is that you are constantly doubting your abilities. This symptom later becomes chronic.

You Feel You Are A Fraud

Self doubt then turns into a sense of intellectual fraudulence. You may find out that you are just faking creativity and that you are a fraud. This feeling supersedes all the feelings.

I experienced these feelings of imposter syndrome for the first time as a beginner, I was surrounded by the most talented people in New York City. Now, let’s fast forward, I moved to LA, I quit acting, and my friend and I started an online company. And in two years’ time, we took that company from the two of us in a basement to 200 of us in an office in Hollywood, and then back down to zero.

So, in that time, I went from nothing to tonne of success and then to nothing. And in that time, my imposter syndrome sort of swelling even more. I had no idea what I was doing. But, I had to essentially fake like I did because people were depended on us.

And then I moved back here to Texas, so high here in Dallas, Texas, and I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do with my life and my career. I was an actor and I stopped.

I had an online media company and I stopped, and I knew I wanted to pursue digital design. But I felt like such a fraud, applying to places all over town, which I’m sure a lot of you feel like a fraud.

This is because I actually would hide the fact that I went to college to act on my resume. I would just put BFA, which BFA stands for Bachelor of Fine Arts, if it’s different around the world, hoping that the hiring manager would think that I had my degree that I had my BFA in digital design or UX or art.

Deep And Nagging Feeling Of Inadequacy

So that’s sort of my life story and how imposter syndrome started injecting itself into my life at a youngish age. So, as we said, imposter syndrome is a deep and nagging feeling of inadequacy that persists despite evidence of success. Imposters, excuse me, suffer from chronic self-doubt in the sense of intellectual fraudulence that supersedes any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.

Designhill: You’ve Shared The Symption That You Felt When You Were Suffering From Imposter Syndrome. But Why Do We Feel This Way?

Tony: It’s an interesting question to ask. Because it’s like asking, why do we feel anything? I think we feel this way because of the design, industry, and technology and the way that this industry is so rapidly changing.

We’re at this intersection of art and science and design. In that intersection, we are expected to be a creative genius, which is a great burden. Also, we constantly feel like everyone around us is doing well and is so smart.

It just makes us want to take a nap. I think that is the reason why imposter syndrome is so prevalent in the design industry, tech, and online space.

When I worked hard and presented the work to the client. And they ignore it. So first of all, I would have to back up a little bit. And I have know how you got a client and what that communication is like.

And if it’s a remote job, when you’re doing presentations, are you doing it live? Or are you just emailing it crossing your fingers? So that expands the question a bit. Now, if you’re just emailing the work over and crossing your fingers, then that’s not the way to do it.

You should present the work live to a human being. So I would recommend looking at your workflow and your presentation flow because a client ignoring work is not a common thing. So, I would assume it is a situation where the work has just emailed out, or a link is shared. And you keep pinging them for feedback.

Social Media Is The Culprit

I believe there’s nothing more beautiful and dangerous than social media. I find myself constantly comparing myself to others. Not only where I am in my career, but I compare how my podcast is doing as compared to theirs, how my likes, my physique like my weight, my design work, etc. stand as compared to the others.

How many followers I have on Instagram, how many likes each thing gets, and then at work, I look at other people’s wireframes and designs and how they conduct meetings, and so on.

Designhill: What Are The Long Term Consequences Of Imposter Syndrome

Tony: The long term effects are varied. If you do have these feelings of imposter syndrome, that is feeling like a fraud, and it can affect getting raises and jobs. It can affect your personal life, your marriages, the way that you raise and treat your children, and even affect all of the relationships in your life.

I’m not going to say that it affected my career because I was good enough to fake it early on really well. But it has definitely affected other aspects of my life. I would submit that a form of imposter syndrome has a long-lasting effect.

Now here’s the thing 70% of design leaders are in therapy. I think it’s high time that we start really celebrating when people decide to go to therapy or see psychiatry or psychologist.

Designhill: Wow, This Is Serious. Then, What Should We Do? How To Get Rid Of Imposter Syndrome?

Tony: It may seem difficult in the beginning but with determination, you can get rid of it.

First, Build Self-Awareness

And it’s this weird thing. I would say you don’t want to stop comparing yourself to others completely. This is because sometimes it does inspire you to change and sometimes it does inspire you to dig in a little deeper. But, I think until you have built up a self-awareness of why you’re feeling those things, you should not compare yourself to others.

And then the work suffers. If you’re a designer on Instagram right now, obviously the big designer thing to do is the carousel post. So a lot of people get a tonne of likes and a lot of engagement.

Be Honest And Humble

A piece of common advice to come out of the imposter syndrome is to give yourself credit when it is due and celebrate small victories. You should have the confidence to believe in your accomplishments. This all looks fine, dandy, and well. But the problem is I couldn’t do any of these things. How do I build confidence in something when I don’t know why I’m not confident about it?

For me, it all changed when I realized that if I stopped worrying and started loving my ignorance, my life would completely change. And like I said, loving ignorance is a very strange thing to say because knowledge is power, and it, of course, is true.

But, that understanding didn’t cure me completely. In fact, the biggest change in my life came when I realized that I should know everything, but be honest. I gained infinite strength by being humble enough.

Most importantly, I was brave enough to say these three simple words – I don’t know. In the past, I convinced myself that I always needed to show clients and my bosses that I knew every answer.

I had a response to everything, regardless of whether or not I actually knew. Otherwise, they would find out that I was a fraud. So, on the contrary, I have found that people actually appreciate the honesty, the vulnerability, and the transparency of those three words – I don’t know- more than someone who acts like a ‘know it all’.

I Don't Know

Therefore, Start With ‘I Don’t Know’

People think that failure leads to knowledge. However, you can fail at failure. Failing failure is ignorance without action, you fail, and you do nothing about it. But winning failure, understanding your ignorance, falling in love with it because it then inspires action.

Now, make no mistake, I know that loving your ignorance sounds weird. And many might think that because they hate their ignorance, then I would actually say, of your ignorance is more powerful for a few reasons. In the words of Elie Wiesel, the opposite of love is not hate.

Imposter syndrome is already rife with negativity. So why do we want to add fuel to the fire by saying that we hate our ignorance, we’re already a lot of the time saying that we hate ourselves.

When you finally can admit to yourself or sit across from your boss, or the person you want to hire you, or your spouse or client and have the self-awareness to embrace your ignorance and say, I don’t know, suddenly you feel freedom. That’s Braveheart. Right there. That’s a little, I guess that dates me a little bit.

How To Exercise I Don’t Know

Alright, let’s plug on through love your ignorance enough to change it. Here’s how you do it. Okay, it’s an exercise I do call ‘I Don’t Know’ statements. I know it’s very original, I don’t know statements. I’m just dripping with originality.

So here’s what you do. You go on a whiteboard, you go on a piece of paper, and you write all of those things that spark your imposter syndrome feelings. Write the things you don’t know the things that are standing in your way.

Then, you pick the one thing that you want to love enough to change. Treat it like an ideation session. So write all the things down, such as I don’t know why I’m not getting an interview.

But I Don't Know

I don’t know how to ask for a raise. I don’t know how to pitch this concept. I don’t know how to lose weight, how to make this project successful, how to ask for help. I don’t know how to find a mentor and how to get work. Pick one of them.

So, I don’t know why I’m not getting an interview, but I will get those actions that you were going to do tangibly. Write as many things as you can think of.

So, for example, I don’t know why I’m not getting the interview. Actions I’ll take will be like these: I will get five people to help me with my resume portfolio etc. I will go to three meetups per quarter and two conferences per year. I will try to make atleast 1 to 3 genuine connections each time.

I’m going to find the place I want to work and connect with the people from that company on LinkedIn. I will start meaningful dialogues and relationships with them, read, watch, listen to as many things as possible, etc.

Now, this whole exercise is about looking deep inside and discovering a deep self-awareness. Notice during this entire webinar, I didn’t say building self-confidence, which if you look at the promotion materials, it’s all about how to build self-confidence.

Deliberate Practice Does Not Help

Malcolm Gladwell asserted that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice would make you an expert in your field. I don’t think this is true. There was a Princeton study done that revealed 12% difference in performance in various domains.

When you break it down, then in games, deliberate practice only made up for 26% difference and in music it was 21%. In sports, it was 10%, in education, it was 4%. And in the design industry that’s ever-evolving and ever-changing, only a 1% difference was realized.

So, practice makes the difference only in the fields such as football, chess, and classical music that are very stable. The rules in these fields never change so that the deliberate practice rule applies.

But design is a constantly evolving field and, therefore, a field that 10,000-hour rule of deliberate practice doesn’t apply. So, I believe that being an expert is more about the journey than it is the attribute. If you do lead with that attribute, I think that is harmful and can be counterproductive.

So, imposter syndrome emerges when it puts insurmountable pressure on that person, creating unrealistic expectations of being all-knowing or always having the right to say.

This provides no space for creativity or differing opinions or insights, thus feeding their imposter syndrome. How many times have you heard someone say that I’m not the expert? I think we should have the humility to create spaces.

I think the most extraordinary ideas have come from people that claim not to be those experts. Now, I will say it is vital that you bring your expertise, your experience to the table. But the real expert in the room, to me, is perspective, listening, humility, diversity, and self-awareness of everyone’s fallibility.

Increase Self-Awareness

So this is ironic. Self Confidence is the byproduct of self-awareness. You can do so many things that manufacture self-confidence. You can talk louder. You can buy fancy cars. You can make a list of things like I’ve done.

You should celebrate the small wins and all those things on social media. That’s a great way to fake self-confidence. You can filter your face five freaking times before you post it. And then you get all the likes, and everyone’s saying, Oh my gosh, she looks so great.

Self Awareness

All of these things fake self-confidence, but you cannot fake self-awareness. Once you become self-aware, you become self competent. Now, this is not easy to do. And then I don’t know statements, and embracing your ignorance is only one or two things you can do.

It’s going to take a lot of practice. But, embracing what you don’t know and restlessness for knowledge can finally start beating out imposter syndrome. And at least to me, that’s how I did it.

You use the challenges as didactic opportunities, and you verbalize your challenges to people. You have to communicate. It’s a lot easier to climb a mountain with a group of Sherpas than it is to do it alone. So learn and grow through your ignorance. Not in spite of it.

Designhill: How To Deal With Issues In Confidence?

Tony: Oh, this is a great question. Listen, I struggle with this. The podcast, for me, is a passion project, so I don’t get paid to do it. So when I started doing a Patreon for the podcast, which is patreon.com XD podcast, I felt like I was stealing people’s money, asking for money, and asking for contributions to the content.

When you want to do side gigs or freelance or whatever it is, asking for money makes you feel odd. And part of it could be imposter syndrome, like you’re a fraud or you don’t deserve to get paid for the work that you do. Because you’re scared, you have a fear or that your work isn’t good enough to get paid for it.

Listen, here’s the thing. It’s a value exchange. If they’ve seen your work, and they said yes, I want to hire you for the work, then they are providing a value exchange, and no one has a higher risk than the other. I’m so tired of people saying that whoever puts in the money holds the risk. Because if you put in the money, and I put in my work.

What if you hate the work? And I don’t get a client after you or what if I can’t use this for my portfolio and It slows down me getting another job because I don’t have something else to show. We both have risks in this situation. So it’s that value exchange.

I was doing freelance work. I’m totally candid here. When I was a freelance designer, I said I’m gonna double my prices. And guess what happened? I started getting better clients.

I started getting paid well and more work. Wow, I just asked for double my usual amount. And it’s gonna inspire you to work harder to inspire, to learn more things, and to get better clients. I hope that helped.

Designhill: How to Draw The Line Between Being An Inspiration And A Real Artist?

Tony: For me the question should be, what is the difference between drawing inspiration and plagiarism?

Plagiarism is like a copy. It’s one for one. It’s pulling something, not changing it, and publishing something and not giving attribution to the originator. That, to me, is plagiarism. Inspiration is a fine line.

What is the original? I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that is truly original.

I think inspiration is an amazing thing. And I think if you can take something, flip it and make it your own or repurpose it, then it’s just inspiration. It’s not plagiarism. When you use someone’s content, just say, hey, this person really inspired me, here’s what it is.

Designhill: We Have Come Across One Of The Behaviours Of Designers. When Designers See Their Work The Next Day, They reject It Mostly. Is That The Right Thing To Do?

Tony: I also used to do that. I will create a design, and the next day, I’ll look at the damn thing. And I’ll want to rip it up. And I’ll want to tear it apart and throw it in the trash.

Now, you could chalk that up to the artist dilemma and all artists think that way. But here’s what I say now. I say that’s actually really freaking good. If you were to go to your design the next day, say yeah, I nailed it. That’s it.

By rejecting your work outrightly, you’re doing a disservice not only to the users, but you’re also doing a disservice to yourself because nothing is ever perfect.

In fact, getting it even close to perfect is pretty damn rare. So, instead of worrying about it being great or not liking it, I would say, great. Keep iterating and get it in front of people, because you’re not designing for yourself. And, the more people can say, it sucks, the better. Whenever you go into a testing session, your mentality should not be that I hope they prove me right.

Your mentality should be, dear God, please prove me wrong. Then the work starts to shine, and the thing starts to get incredibly usable. This is because you’re not designing for yourself, you’re designing for human beings that are using it.

So please, dear God, prove me wrong in this design. Break this thing, poke holes in it. And so we detach ourselves from it. So we start to take things less personally. And the feedback we get has nothing to do with me and with my design.

Designhill: How Do You Build A New Team?

Tony: A lot of organizations, design leaders, team members all day long preach that willingness to let you fail. But at the end of the day, they don’t really want you to fail. This is because when you’re a leader, or you’re a manager, etc. failure more often than not, it means the project went south, and you may have lost money.

However, I think it’s how you define failure, meaning the project went south, and we lost a butt tonne of money. Yes, technically, that just sucks. No design leader in the right mind if they really dig down deep wants that to happen. But, in hindsight, when they are finally able to recoup and breathe, and the dust settles, and they go, ah, that was actually a huge learning opportunity and experience for us.

Then, they start to proselytize about giving space to fail. I think you know, there’s going to be a give and take, and it’s going to be all about communication. And, the more you can communicate, the more you get things in front of people on your team or the client faster.

You can have those little tiny failures that become just opportunity, in bettering the design or how you communicate with your colleagues or how you are talking to your design leadership.

Like there’s only so much you can do. You have to use it. It’s exactly what I was saying. There’s winning failure, and there’s a failing failure. Winning failure is doing something about it and using it as an opportunity. Losing or failing failure is when you don’t do anything about it, and the dust settles, and then you look under the dust, and there’s more dust.

Wrapping Up

So, the above discussion from Tony Daussat clearly identifies imposter syndrome as a big hurdle in the way to move forward in life with a purpose. The design community at Designhill should find out if they are suffering from any symptoms, even minor ones, of the syndrome. If so, then nip those syndrome right at the budding stage by taking the right measures that Tony suggested. You can also view presentation he has shared for our fellow designers.

Get the Keynotes as a PDF:

Imposter syndrome is perhaps the biggest hurdle in the way of many graphic designers who do not take their achievements seriously. Instead, they feel as if they cheated someone and that they are fraud. Because of this unwanted guilt, many such designers fail to make further progress in their career. Tony Daussat thinks that social media is the culprit for the syndrome. He advises designs to build self-confidence and self-awareness.

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