I’ve always had a problem with comparison. I think it starts very early for women — we’re inundated with images of perfection, detachment, singularity. Until very recently, you’d be hard-pressed to find an adequate example of female friendship — real friendship — in the pop culture ephemera. Women are pitted against each other, led to believe we’re working with a limited set of resources. Beauty, brains, creativity are made to feel finite — what enriches others depletes the rest of us.
I’ll admit it’s my own insecurities that play perfectly into this web. I’ve always allowed myself to feel “less than” — bogged down by perceived flaws, comparative imperfections. I get caught in my mind, questioning why I think I can charge for my design services or parade myself as a freelancer when there are women working who have so much more talent, who make it all look flawless.
I look at other freelancer’s Instagrams, websites, Dribbble thinking, “Will I ever get there?” This melancholy is like a poison, staining everything in its path. It’s the little voice that says I should be further, I should be better, I should be more talented, more beautiful, wittier, livelier… fill in your blank. I’m afraid of only ever being passable, unexceptional.
I truly love how much community has become visible over the last few years — how new resources have become available for women to support other women. I believe in these resources, wholeheartedly. I believe in community over competition. That the success of one does not mean the failure of another. But, even as I recognize how important this collective is, I find it hard to shake that insidious inadequacy. That deeply unsettling feeling that I do not belong. That the success of others is so far out of my reach — too far. Am I where I’m supposed to be?
It has only been over this past year that I started acknowledging these feelings in a critical way. And I think it’s important to share this journey — because, for me, simply believing in the spirit behind women supporting women is no longer enough. I’ve reached a plateau in my business. I’m afraid of never growing — and yet, I’ve created an environment in which I cannot grow. There’s only so far you can go with the shadow of inefficacy weighing you down.
Progress over perfection is not just a snappy phrase — it’s a challenge. For me, it’s recognizing my worldview is skewed. It’s not one or the other — creativity is not a binary system (thank god). My failures make me just as much a factor as other’s successes. The challenge is not being “better” or reaching “their level.” It’s putting yourself out there because you feel compelled to do so. And because I know it’s not easy to let go of years of ingrained thinking, I’ve compiled some strategies I’m using to “walk the walk” of supporting other women, and other creatives, without feeling less than.
Engage with the community
I find sharing my work — especially at the beginning of my career — very difficult. It’s so vulnerable to expose your work, and yourself, to comment and constructive criticism. When I was starting out, I never shared my process (what if it’s wrong?!) or even finished work because I didn’t want to open up to feedback. But that feedback from your community is ESSENTIAL in bettering yourself — how can you learn and grow without help?
The key is to recognize that helpful criticism is not an attack on you or your work — it’s coming from a place of mentorship and support. Think of times in your life when you have had to give constructive suggestions to someone else — how did you approach that? Sharing your work is never easy (unless you are a fount of unlimited confidence and then please, sign me up for your masterclass), so don’t rag on yourself if you have trouble creating that vulnerability. Take it one step at a time — share with a friend, then two friends, then Instagram, then a creative forum. Baby steps, y’all.
Recognize the difference between inspiration and self-flagellation
I love looking at other designers’ work for inspiration and curiosity — it’s amazing to see how talented these women are. But, I often get lost in a hole of looking at others’ work and starting to feel that inadequacy — those swirling thoughts of “I could never do that,” “How did they do that?!,” “Why can’t I do that?” Those kind of thoughts are not conducive to supporting other women in my community because they foster a sense of competition, anxiety, and bitterness. Not great.
When I get to this place, I know it’s time to take a break from browsing designs and go for a walk, watch some Netflix, and just take a complete break from designing. I can’t be productive with these thoughts running around in my head, and taking a break allows me to re-engage with my work when I’m ready.
Revisit work you’ve done in the past
There’s nothing that will show you how far you have come more than looking back at where you started. Revisiting my old work often makes me smile — because I know how proud I was of that work at the time. And whether or not I’m still happy with that work today, I feel that pride and the journey that I’ve taken to get where I am. My work looks SO different than where it was last year, two years ago, five years ago. And I find that browsing through my archives shows my work making progress toward a look that feels personal to me — and that is something to be proud of.
Remember this feeling when you’re sharing what you’re currently working on — it’s a reflection of where you are right now. And you’ll probably be somewhere completely different in the next year or even the next hour. But that doesn’t make the process any less beautiful, or valuable.
Talk through your insecurities with people you trust
I HATE exposing my vulnerabilities, but I have come to recognize this past year that insecurity is not something to hide away. It’s not shameful. It’s natural to not be confident all the damn time — that’s just human. We ebb and flow. Speaking about these often hidden-away or suppressed feelings has really helped me to work through my worldview and see a totally new side of things. I think expressing yourself to someone you trust can have a huge impact on how you understand and perceive outside influence — and has helped me recognize that what I think other people are thinking is often very far from what they are actually thinking. And thank god for that, amiright?