As creative professionals, and especially for freelancers, it can be difficult to continually put your work ‘out there’, particularly when you have a career that doesn’t always have perfect formulas that equate to guaranteed success. There is no scientific equation to make a logo look better or a book cover more successful – what will work for one client will not work for another. Although some may swear by their tried and tested methods, their work is still up to the scrutiny of every Tom, Dick or Carrie – some people will love it and some will hate it, that’s the nature of the game.
Of course we know this – we readily tell other creatives not to be so hard on themselves when they face criticism or disappointment, yet meanwhile we wince over negative feedback or at the pitch we just lost. We are our own worst enemies. But if you have never battled with self doubt then I would suggest you’re not pushing your work enough. If, like me, you have, I think you’re on to something. It means you have goals that you haven’t yet reached. It means you want to produce better work. Still, it often clouds our thinking and stops us finding fulfilment in our work. So, here are ten ways to help overcome self doubt:
1. Put yourself forward
It’s the weirdest thing when someone says to me, "I wish I could do *insert whatever great/different/weird thing I’ve done here*. I’d just feel too nervous,” they say, and I think, "well, I felt pretty nervous too, actually". Okay, so there will be people who are completely laid back about everything and are unfazed, but don’t be fooled into thinking that confident people don’t have self doubts – they just do stuff anyway. Apply for the job you thought you hadn’t a chance in hell of getting, try contacting people you never expect to reply and put your work out there even though it’s not perfect. Putting half finished projects out there is better than nothing, stop waiting for the perfect day when you’ll have confidence nailed – you won’t. Just do it anyway and you’ll realise that’s what confidence is really all about: take on that challenge, start that creative project, write that blog post... (okay, okay, I’m on it...).
2. Know when to stop
Although I’ve just told you to sign up for stuff, confidence is about knowing your boundaries. Know when to say no when things aren’t right – try not to be a people pleaser. It helps to determine your boundaries beforehand so you're not put on the spot – for example, though it may sound obvious, work out what the minimum amount you’re willing to work for is and don’t go below it, no matter how much people sweet talk you. In this industry people expect you to work for free all too often. If you are prepared to work for free what is the criteria? Put boundaries on it and make that clear. Don’t take on too many tasks at once and learn to live with the discomfort of turning work down occasionally. Wince.
3. Stop listening to ‘well-intentioned pessimists'
That's the polite name for them. You know the ones: they tell you your dreams are too big or your goals are unachievable. They’re the ones who kindly ask you whether you’d be best doing something else, and then act like they’re on a par with Mother Theresa when you question their integrity. Trust the people who know you or your profession well enough to give you advice.
4. Surround yourself with good people
Following on from point number three, if you realise you’re actually sat in a room full of well intentioned pessimists, get out. Now. Surround yourself with good people - people who will encourage you and people who know you well enough to tell you when you’re barking up the wrong tree.
5. Don’t let your past determine who you are
It’s weird how things stay with us – negative experiences, illnesses, people who’ve mistreated us, past failures. It’s easy to think that because something has always been a certain way that it will always be that way or that life will always result in those things. Do not let fear rob you of your goals. Nothing is set in stone.
6. List your achievements
When you question whether you’re good enough, look back at what you’ve already achieved. I can guarantee it will be more than you think. Today, for example, I got the go ahead for an amazing job. AND I put the bins out. #winning
7. Stop talking yourself down
For some reason, women in particular are trained in this from an early age. When someone offers a compliment, it’s the norm to play it down. I have no idea why this exists in our culture, but it sucks. You probably don’t even realise you’re doing it. When someone offers you a compliment, say thank you. Now shut up. Zip it. Don’t give anyone reason to question you, most of all yourself.
Your hair looks great by the way.
8. Be less negotiable
That doesn't mean be non-negotiable but choose wisely when you negotiate. A friend who is an art director told me he once had to get several quotes from illustrators for a job. All of them except one offered some sort of discount or told him they were open to negotiation without even being pushed. I almost felt a big virtual pie splat in my face. Ouch. I’m not suggesting you become inflexible, but I've realised that giving away too much can make you look cheap and desperate for work. People would rather work with those who have good boundaries and say no sometimes – they feel in better hands and are more trusting of you. And those that don't are just after a quick fix or cheap job. If you genuinely want the best outcomes for your client and don’t want to cut corners, you have to say no on occasion.
9. Stop comparing
Sure, Mr Super Illustrator just posted some amazeballs work on Instagram – and yes, it’s better than yours, but he can’t do everything that you do. Yes, you may not be as good as some people, but isn’t that true for everyone? Think about it, can Mr Super Illustrator design his own typefaces? Can he animate them in 3D? Can he carve a portrait of his head into marble? He can? Sh*t, you have some work to do. Okay, so even if he can, he is not you. You approach clients in a completely unique way, your ideas are entirely individual and you tackle jobs totally differently. Not better, different. There is room for us all, stop trying to be like everyone else.
10. Go sit on a mountain
Seriously. Go sit on top of a mountain and feel ridiculously unimportant. Embrace your smallness. It feels strangely good.
Then run back down singing The Hills Are Alive.