LETTERING + GRAPHIC
DESIGN LEARNING

Ever battled self doubt as a graphic designer or as a creative in general? I’m going to go ahead and assume the answer is yes to that one 😉 It’s definitely one of the most common emotions we go through on our creative journeys, though when we’re in the thick of it, it’s easy to feel like we’re the only ones. If you’ve ever thought about throwing in the towel, wondered if this is the right path, or thought that maybe you just aren’t creative enough to keep chasing the dream, this post is for you.

battling self doubt as a graphic designer

Battling Self Doubt as a Graphic Designer

I want to tell you a story.

I am the second oldest of my parents’ 4 kids. My mom was a high school English teacher and my dad worked in maintenance. When college years began approaching, my parents sat us down. They told us we had 2 options: join the military if we wanted to attend a 4 year school, or go to a 2 year community college first and then transfer. I chose the 2 years, then transfer option.

My two years at the community college were amazing. It was a great graphic design program, I met a lot of wonderful people and I even joined the bowling team 🙂

Having always been the overachiever, set-my-mind-on-something-and-always-do-it type, it was easy to stand out in a small school. I won awards and built a portfolio I was proud of, which helped me get into SCAD in Savannah, Georgia. The work I was creating fulfilled me and I couldn’t wait to be surrounded by wayyyy more creatives than I had before.

I went through orientation, had my schedule and was ready to take on my first quarter (SCAD operates in 3 quarters vs. 2 semesters each year). All of my previous credits transferred, so I was a full junior in SCAD’s eyes. I just had to take a few foundational classes and then I’d be entirely focused on graphic design.

First Impressions

I vividly remember walking into the ‘drawing’ building for my Drawing 2 class that first week. My class was on the third floor, so I had to walk up two flights of an old, renovated historic building. Artwork plastered the walls along the stairwell, and as I looked around, that was the moment. That was the moment I realized, I don’t belong here. No amount of previous success mattered anymore. If that’s the kind of artwork people here make, then I am certainly in the wrong place. It was amazing. It was artwork you’d see in a textbook or selling in a gallery, and it was pinned to the walls of a stairwell here. My face was warm with anxiety before I even stepped foot into the classroom that day.

I struggled the entire quarter in that class like I had never struggled in any class before. When I graduated my community college, I had one B (in psychology of all things), and I did extra work upon extra work to squeak by with a B in Drawing 2. I swear, the only thing that got me through was the reminder that I was not a drawing major.

That same quarter, I was taking a class titled Graphic Design 101. I definitely felt more in my element, so it was a huge relief feeling like creating good work was achievable again. The first class project was another story, though. I couldn’t help feeling like I had missed out by transferring in – what do these students know that I don’t because I came in later? I couldn’t help looking around at all the projects, comparing my work to theirs and feeling like I was on the bottom again. Another self doubt. On our second project, the professor told me to make sure to use master pages in InDesign for my project. WHAT THE HECK ARE MASTER PAGES?! Warm face all over again. Cue numerous google searches. How far behind was I?

Tough Decisions

When I went home that summer after my first SCAD year, there was some soul searching. I realized that I could think of other careers I could pursue where mediocre creativity was acceptable, or I could finish off my degree, knowing I would have to work harder than I ever had before. I still loved graphic design, but if I was going back, I refused to have work even close to the bottom again. So that’s what I did.

You could say my first year at SCAD lit a fire like no other under me. I made a conscious decision and promise that my work ethic and the unwillingness to fail would always overpower self doubt my final year. Every time I slipped into the doubt spiral, I found myself saying out loud, “you can do this.” I just assumed the struggle meant I had to work harder, or research a little more. Not that I was insufficient. And yes, there were dozens of critiques where I felt like my work wasn’t as clever or creative as others, but I executed my work in an organized and clean fashion. It was something I could always control regardless of my creativity. That was a lightbulb. Even if your work isn’t the most creative, execute it well and the playing field is far more even.

Fast Forward

I graduated in 2008 with a job offer and have worked as a professional graphic designer ever since. That terrified girl walking up the drawing building stairwell has since created design work associated with Coca-Cola, Visa, the Olympics and even started her own business.

Regardless of that success, self doubt still accompanied me along every step in my creative journey.

Experience doesn’t breed immunity to self doubt. I can surely testify to that. Here is what I have learned, though:

  • Creativity is a muscle. Work it hard, to the point of discomfort and often enough, and it becomes stronger and stronger.
  • We are born with inherent creative talents; it’s how committed we are to them that define our paths.
  • Done is always better than perfect. Create new work often; Don’t spend too much time tweaking rather than creating.
  • Attitude is everything. When you’re down, it’s important to stay positive that things WILL turn around.
  • Important things take time. Whether it’s honing a craft or developing a career. The struggle is important.
  • Watch this if you get a chance. Especially the part about the shit sandwich <3

I am not special. I’m someone who decided if what I did wasn’t good enough, I just had to work harder.

Please don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed by doubt. Know that you are not alone and it’s extremely common. Creatives are never fair to themselves. It takes so much courage to put artwork that came from our core into the world. Being self conscious about it is natural.

Use criticism to grow instead of doubt.

The next time you start doubting, consciously decide the work is going to get done and it’s ok if it isn’t perfect. It’s ok if you’re not perfect. Say it aloud, “I can do this.”

Written by

Every-Tuesday designer + founder. I help ambitious graphic designers and hand letterers level-up their skills and creativity.

Latest comments
  • Hi Teela,

    Thanks for this. At 27, I’ve recently decided to go back to school for graphic and web design and I’m officially in week 3 of classes. Sometimes I ask myself, “What the heck did you go and do this for? You were fine working your 9-5” This post definitely gave me a little more optimism in getting this thing done so that I can live in my creativity.

  • You bring up so many good points, especially the one that done is better than perfect. So true. We’re our own worst critics! Great site btw, a coworker recommended it and I’m loving your stuff! xx

  • Thanks for sharing your story. Turning fear and self-doubt into motivation is so hard but when you do it it’s so worth it and is they proof that you really want something. Your advice to us self-doubters is lovely too

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

  • Love this – so easy to doubt yourself but so worth it to push to get to where you want to go. I changed path after a maths degree and corporate job to start my own interior design and organising business and haven’t looked back!

  • Another eloquently written and very personal post. This couldn’t have come at a better time and I feel better already. Deifinitekyvkeeping this in mind to come back to during those dark times. 🙂

  • Beautiful! I loved this. I can so relate too, and fight this demon daily. Your point on how success doesn’t make the self doubt monster go away is so true! Although success is nice, it is a momentary relief of the struggle and determination that we embrace. And at the end, being a creative (whether professionally or not) is so worth it. Talking out loud is also a winner! I do this often to myself. Good thing most of the time there aren’t many people that can hear me… 😉

  • This is beautiful. Very inspiring and motivating. Thank you for sharing this <3 Love your work.

  • French as a graphic designer for 20 years, I met the doubt more than once. My creativity but also the very meaning of my profession. But each time it served me to question myself therefore to evolve and leave stronger than ever. So I would say that he who does not doubt, do not advance. Good luck and thank you for your articles. 🙂

  • thanks so much for this! I had an episode of self doubt yesterday right as I was coming up against a deadline. I felt everything was wrong and not good enough. But you are so right about staying positive! Once I changed my attitude the job got easier to focus on and finish. Thanks again!

  • +1 Teela. I’ll be sharing this with my students.

      • Hi, Im one of his students!

  • Great post! Creative doubt is REAL. I’m 16 years post degree with various creative positions under my belt. Still – I do not give myself enough credit and always comparing myself to others. We need to realize that everyone has a unique talent and you need to learn from other designers – not fear them. Taking a huge leap of faith and quitting next month to pursue a creative business and be a SAHM….facing fear right in the face!

  • Thank you so much for this. After almost 20 years in graphic design, I find myself starting a freelance career and self-doubt has walked with me every step. Your advice to work our creativity hard and keep at it, as well as finishing the project, is such solid advice. And knowing that I’m not the only one who feels the mean genie is truly uplifting. Thanks again, Teela.

  • Thanks for sharing. Always good to read it. I am taking baby steps into a new ditection and keeping positive. Thanks for this, it is very helpful.

  • Teela- thank you so much for this. After years and years, I finally understand what “done is better than perfect” means.
    I always thought that to live by that statement meant that I had to do things in haste and not thought out well enough– or as well as I knew I could.
    But what it means to me now is that art is hardly ever “finished” and it’s a smart artist who simply decides, “this is done, I will work the next one in a better way.”
    It’s pushing the perfectionism to the side –and hardly anyone else sees the faults we see.

    So it’s a constant internal battle to do better– to work the creative muscle, as you say, and to allow ourselves not to feel like we must perfect this life long learning experience in one piece of art.

  • I am a Graphic Design student currently. It’s hard for me being surrounded by friends who are all going into things like the medical field. I often find myself thinking things like “Am I going into the wrong profession?” or “What if I’m not good enough or creative enough?” Walking into my first graphic design class I was so nervous and overwhelmed, even more so when critiques began. I can’t draw to save my life and sometimes I have so many ideas in my head that I don’t know where to start and how to finish. Your post really helped me, I am not alone. Everyone doubts themselves at some point, you just can’t let that doubt stop you from something you really want. Thank you so very much for sharing this.

  • I found this post so incredibly relatable to my creative journey. Though, I started out thinking I could never be a graphic designer – I was better at drawing what I see vs from my imagination. Kind of funny how our minds work and talk us out of things but end up coming back full circle! 🙂 You had quite a few tips to help move myself forward that I’ll definitely think back on when needed.

  • Teela, this is SOO good. Thank you for sharing your journey! What an inspiration and encouragement. It really does feel so vulnerable to share the things we’ve created with the world. So glad to know we aren’t alone. Love this post.

  • Thank you for this story! You said it all.

  • I had no idea you went through that. We’re the people around you at SCAD feeling the same way, or do you think they felt more confident? I can relate to your story both in art as well as in other paths in life where I felt not worthy or not up to par. I wonder what it is about us humans that we feel that way and end up feeling alone rather than havin feeling that we have a supportive community. Such a good topic. Thank you for this post!

  • I love this. This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Just today I was feeling paralyzed looking at a peer’s work, wondering if I am even capable enough, or creative enough to be pursuing this.

  • I’m actually working on my portfolio for print right now, and I’m doubting myself with the quality of my work…. This is just what I needed to read, thank you!

  • Thanks Teela. That’s a great post.

  • I was able to completely relate to this. I’m graduating college in the Spring for my associates in Graphic Design and I’m constantly terrified that I won’t be good enough. Just have to keep pushing, stay positive, and remember that I am not alone feeling this way. Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom with us, you are a huge inspiration to me.

  • Thank you! thank you! thank you so mucho for share this!!!

  • Hi Teela, thank you so much for sharing!
    I remember the outcry when I told my friends & family that I wanted to give up my steady job in order to go back to (art)school for three years and become a photographer. My dad, a doctor, just covered his eyes and mumbled something along the lines of OMG what’s the crazy girl up to now! Talk about support in the family LOL. Now, ten years and hundreds of photoshoots later, I can only say: SO GLAD I did it. There are months were I earn a lot less than in my old job, but I am so much happier!

  • Wow, so encouraging! Thanks!

  • Teela, I love your story! It’s hard to believe that you’ve ever struggled with self doubt. Your lettering is amazing and each time I see one of your Instagram posts I think, “I could never do that.”

    I had a soul-sucking corporate job and I quit when I had my 1st child. After baby #2 was born I started thinking that I never wanted to go back to the corporate world. I had an interest in graphic design and decided that I would teach myself and figure out a way to make $ doing it so that I could work at home and be available for my kids.

    For the last 2 years I have spent countless hours doing Google searches and taking online design classes. My work has improved drastically – in large part due to your tutorials & Skillshare classes. Using what you’ve taught me, I’ve been able to open 2 successful Etsy shops that contribute significantly to my family’s income.

    So the next time that you start to doubt yourself please remember that what you do matters and you are good at it! Your artwork is inspiring and your teaching style is amazing! You have made a difference to me, my family and I am sure many, many others.

    Thank you so much! Keep up the great work.

    Kori

  • I was just reading what Kori wrote, and I too wanted to thank you for having so many wonderful learning opportunities out there. You have really been my favorite teacher when it comes to learning about lettering, procreate, illustrator and photoshop. I have learned so much from your Skillshare classes, your youtube channel, and honestly feel like we are the friends… lol, you keep rockin’ girl, and thanks for the time you take and the inspiration. I left the corporate world after 15 years, lettering ignited a passion for me and a way to heal, and now I just can’t stop! love and light, Chelle – The Lemonade Store

    • Chelle and Kori I agree! I am leaving the soul-sucking corporate world in 2 weeks and I AM TERRIFIED. I found one of Teela’s hand lettering tutorials late at night during a woe-is-me session. I found it relaxing to learn something creative again and go back to the basics of putting pencil to paper. Thank you Teela!

  • Brilliant Teela! Thank you so much for the words of encouragement.

  • Hi Teela, thank you for sharing your story about doubt and the bullet points on what you have learned. I am going to keep “done is better than perfect” handy. I also appreciate your advice to use criticism to grow instead of doubt. It is so easy to go the doubt direction instead of saying, “how can I use that person’s comment to improve what I am doing?” I quit my (well paying) job last year because I had a strong desire to do something different. At the time I didn’t know what but after a few months I realized I wanted to pursue my passion for paper. My store started with simple notecards lined in pretty papers that I was buying and now I have learned how to use Photoshop and Illustrator, design my own patterns and paper and make notecards, stationery and wedding invitations from start to finish. I found you using google search and watched your video on how to make clipping masks! That one skill has grown my design immensely! So today I’ll remember your advice that done is better than perfect and the struggle is part of the process. 🙂

  • Teela,
    Such a wonderful post! I have been an ultrasound tech for for 22 years and a knitter since childhood. I was very good at both. (Not a lot of creativity necessary, for the most part.) In March, I tore tendons and a ligament in my wrist while scanned a patient. 8 months and a massive surgery later, I’m a few weeks from heading back to work. Needless to say, knitting was out of the question. My coping mechanism gone, I looked for something I COULD do. So, when the cast came off and I could barely hold a pen, I started lettering. It was good therapy for my dexterity, but also for my brain. I enjoy it a lot. But I do struggle all the time with the “not good enough” issue. When I post on IG, I cringe. But I’ll keep trying. Nice to know I’m no alone!

  • Teela, you hit all the right topics! I feel self-doubt all the time. I graduated last year from college and I’m still looking for a position, but it’s my self-doubt that overwhelms me sometimes.
    Thank you for your kind words… it gave me peace of mind. And yes, I will continue to remind myself that ‘I can do this!!’

  • Hi Teela, thank you so much for the story and kind words! It’s just in time for me as I just started my creative journey and of course, I’m full of criticism. Your words about not being perfect but to work… It’s just what I need! It’s such a relief! Thank you so much!

  • Loved this post full of encouragement from you, thank you! To me it’s true not only for creative work. ❤❤❤

  • Teela, you made my day! I just needed to read this positive words as I am in my worst “creative block” in my life… I left corporate job to pursue my dreams as artist and graphic designer but I am still at the beginning and struggling a lot. It is hard to fight my inner demons who are telling me my work is not good, I cant to it, I dont have it in me… But I have to be persistent and dont give up! As you wrote “attitude is everything” – this is my mantra now. Thank you so much, you are so inspiring and this make me believe I can do it too!
    🙂

  • Thank you for sharing your story Teela. I am a second year graphic design student at a great community college. I am in the final push for what has been the most grueling semester yet. This article gave me some wonderful perspective and encouragement. Keep sharing your story!

  • Thanks for stating this so perfectly. 🙂 I can definitely relate. I also started studying graphic design at a community college and then took a couple years off before going back for my bachelor’s. I remember feeling so behind compared to everyone else. I definitely had my moments of self doubt then and even though I’ve now graduated and have been working as a designer for a few years I still have those moments. I have to always remind myself to look at where I am now compared to a few years ago instead of comparing myself to other designers and feeling like I’m not good enough. Hard work, determination, and a positive attitude go a long way in the creative field. And I talk to myself too. It does work! 🙂 Glad to know I’m not alone in having these doubts and struggles as a designer.

  • Teela
    Such a lovely post. I am training to be a graphic designer as a returning to work mum. There are days when I am dilerious with self doubt! You have given me inspiration to keep going.
    Thank you
    Sarah

  • Hi Teela,
    I’m new here, and I appreciate this post so much. As a Baby Boomer, I was not fortunate enough to be exposed to the software available today as I went through College in Toronto. I took a “print technology” course when I was 17 which included “design” and typesetting… keep in mind, back then, typesetting WAS actually setting type and feeding strips of punched paper into a processor to get strips of type out which was then waxed and laid out. I’m aging myself big time LOL…
    Anyhow, fast forward 36 years later and I find myself with a desire to actually DESIGN. In my business (sign & digital print company), I am always being asked to create a logo, or layout or such… 99% of what we do is supplied, but I have a strong desire do so much more. The last few months have awaken something in me as I am teaching myself so much about Illustrator (thanks to your lessons and others I’ve found on YouTube). I still have that “I’m not creative enough” attitude, but am trying to get over it. The more I learn about HOW TO THINK when approaching a design, the more confidence I am getting at the age of 54!

    I love what you said; “We are born with inherent creative talents; it’s how committed we are to them that define our paths.”
    I went through life up to now thinking that I was NOT born with any creative talents. My friends and family always tell me otherwise, but I never believed them. I have done more things to surprise myself after I turned 50 than I’ve done in my entire life. Taking this huge step to finally LEARN Illustrator instead of just “getting by” with it is just one of those things.

    Anyhow, I just wanted to thank you for all the information you have provided which has truly been a part of helping me to discover that I do in fact have a creative gene in my body! Thanks so much, and I look forward to learning more from you 🙂

  • Hey Teela,
    I am not a graphic designer or anything like that. As a matter of fact, I only started a blog recently and because I want things to look good I downloaded Photoshop etc. so I am only getting started. I stumbled over your incredible blog here and I am fascinated by everything you are willing to share. Your tutorials are so helpful, and I know that I won’t ever be, you know “a graphic designer”, but I am also creative. I like to write (though in German, which is my mother language).
    So I just wanted to reply to this post and want to say: thanks so much. I am really relating to this, since I am constantly struggling with self doubt. Your blog is amazing and I am so grateful that there are people like you, who are sharing their experience not as cold knowledge, but in a compassionate and relatable way. Thanks so much.
    Anna

  • This is just wanted I needed! Thank you Teela 🙂 I have no formal training in graphic design or art so I am always crippled by doubt – even though my little business is more of a passion project than anything else.
    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom and skills on your amazing blog (I think you are super special) 😉 <3

  • I am actually going through the same thing at the moment. I decided to go back to study and do a graduate diploma in Graphic design. I was plagued with self-doubt, what if I’m not good enough to get in, what if I just suck at & I’m not as good as I think.

    My application has now been accepted (yay) but I still have this grain of doubt because I am mostly self-taught but I will take each day at a time and realise that some of the students have had 2 extra years on me(in some of my papers) & not compare myself to their work but only on my own progression

  • Oh thank you Teela, for this article! I have always felt like I was 10 steps behind everyone else and I often drown in my own self doubt. Fortunately I have remembered to wear my floaties so this no longer occurs quite as often!

    Thank you for the encouragement!

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