Whether you’re a waiter, an athlete, or–in my case–a graphic designer, you’re never immune to criticism. If a server takes too long to bring your drinks, a quarterback throws three interceptions, or a designer creates designs that just don’t move the needle, there will always be critics waiting to share their two cents. How you absorb the criticism builds confidence.
I always thought I took criticism well until I stumbled upon a podcast called “Adventures In Design” with Mark Brickey. Mark is an illustrator, designer, and now well-respected podcaster who specializes in poster work for concerts and events.
As a designer, I’m constantly researching design work from other industries. Out in the Design-o-sphere, it’s easy to realize how many great designers there are. Once you do, questions surface like, “Am I good enough? Can I do what they do?” When that happens, it’s common to fall prey to mimicking their work, which sounds like a great idea at first; but then haunts you because it’s always different when you have different applications for different clients. Going through this drives me crazy and causes me to doubt myself as a designer.
In his keynote, Mark Brickey turns this idea of copycat on it’s head. He argues that you are good because you are not them. You have your own style. Clients hired you because they like your work, not theirs. It is good to be inspired by other designers, but don’t be afraid to put your own spin on things and use the talents and points of view that you have to make great work.
Brickey goes on to explain how a designer’s work is not complete after merely sending his work. As a designer, we must also be a salesperson when presenting our work. And the most important thing any designer can do when presenting their work is to sell with a confidence that resembles that of the undisputed, most confident person on the planet, Kanye West.
No one human should ever be 100% Kanye
Kanye’s confidence, misplaced or not, is off the charts. Mark says that Kanye is a full, 100% Kanye, most of us going through confidence struggles average out to about 20% Kanye. He agrees with most of the world that no one human should ever be 100% Kanye, as it is unrealistic and oftentimes downright offensive. But if we can get to 50% Kanye, he argues, we can make huge strides in our work.
As someone who has struggled with confidence in my work from time to time, I decided to put this into practice in my career. In doing so, I’ve discovered a few things myself. Professionally, I have been in two completely different work environments in the last five years. One of those was more of a “get-it-done” system, which was productive at times, but far from ideal for developing quality work. Little, if anything, was thought through and executed efficiently. Success looked like things getting checked off the list for the sake of checking them off the list, rather than getting the right things done for the right reasons. So the confidence I found in this environment was built on false achievements.
Once I stepped out of that world, I was instantly humbled by joining a group of people who were motivated by being the best they could be. They measured success in getting the right things done the right way. Because I had been acclimated to the other environment, I looked at this as a “boot camp-like” opportunity to better myself quickly. I was determined to break down the false confidence and build it back up the right way–with purpose.
Knowing that everyone around me is doing everything they can to deliver their best work has inspired me to make sure I show up ready to go on a daily basis. When others rely on us to produce great work, preparation and focus empowers me to be confident in what we deliver as a team. This teamwork leads to more self-confidence. At the end of the day, not everybody is going to love your work. That’s okay. It’s not for everybody. Nothing is. But don’t let insecurities about what others might think keep you from sharing your work with the world. And if you’re still struggling, try to surround yourself with people that make you (and your work) better.