The Solution to Post-Graduation Impostor Syndrome

Overcoming the feeling of failure

As a young design student I didn’t think much about finding a job upon graduation — I just assumed it would eventually happen. But as I approached my senior year of college I realized my portfolio was not nearly good enough to get a job. I had been to design reviews and I had taken the necessary courses that were supposed to prepare me for a career in design, but I felt like a fraud.

In school I thought I was good enough because I got A’s, but in the real world you’re graded on your talent and skill. Arguably, I lacked one of the most essential skills a designer should have — beyond basic shapes, I didn’t know how to draw.

I thought I could get by in the design world without knowing how to draw. While I was in school, I did get by without knowing how to draw. I chose to focus in user experience (UX) design, meaning the most I had to do was draw squares and other shapes to complete my mockups. But by my senior year I had thought I wanted to move into print design. This was where I ran into trouble.

I found that more traditional graphic designers sometimes had more artistic compositions in their portfolios. Some graphic designers, regardless of whether they worked in print or digital spaces, were also illustrators. Some would call themselves artists. I felt like I couldn’t compete with other graphic designers because I wasn’t an artist. And when it came to my design education, I felt like I took the easy way out because I didn’t have to learn to draw.

Some people may argue that designers aren’t artists, they’re communicators. I would say they’re probably right. Not all designers are artists, but I think knowing how to draw can definitely be beneficial. One of my biggest fears of being a graphic designer was being asked to sketch a logo. I was so afraid I’d have to draw a horse or a tree or something very intricate that I would fail. I eventually gave up pursing design professionally because I felt too much like an impostor.

im·pos·tor syn·drome
noun: the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever received about impostor syndrome is this: you have to let yourself fail.

I have these unrealistic expectations that I’m supposed to be fantastic at everything I try for the very first time. But I shouldn’t expect perfection when I haven’t perfected my craft.

My impostor syndrome made me believe my portfolio wasn’t good enough and that there was always going to be someone more talented than I was. Someone with more skill, more experience, more artistic ability, more passion. But I didn’t really try drawing. I didn’t allow myself to fail because I hate failing.

If I had let myself fail maybe I’d still be pushing for a design gig somewhere, but as for right now I’m switching gears. I still love design, color theory, and typography. I love learning about design thinking and seeing others create good designs, whether that’s a good user experience flow or beautiful wedding stationary. But here’s the thing — I think other people are far better at it than I am. Maybe that’s the impostor syndrome talking, or maybe I just wasn’t meant to be a designer.

I want to pursue a field that I feel more confident in. I think I will still experience impostor syndrome with my new career choice, but I think this time I’ll take more risks and allow myself to fail. People fail all the time. It’s just a part of the journey. I think you have to believe in yourself if you want to succeed and you have to accept that you won’t be perfect at something the first time around. Failure leads to success. You just have to push past all of the negative thoughts.

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