I’m afraid that I’m secretly a talentless hack.

I’m afraid that I’m secretly a talentless hack…and that everyone is going to find out eventually.

This is a fear that’s been with me a looooong time.

Back when I was in Grade 2, everyone in my class had to make a submission for an international children’s art competition, and let me tell you, this was a very stressful day in my young life. I remember spending most of the evening before it was due crying because I was obviously terrible at art and whatever I made would be embarrassing and have no chance of winning anyway.

Lo and behold, the piece I (finally) made ended up winning at the regional level… and naturally, I figured it was a fluke. Almost twenty years later, despite my career choice as a designer, I haven’t completely overcome that fear that I’m secretly terrible and that all my creative successes are (happy) accidents.

Now, most people who know me think this is ridiculous, because my portfolio is full of good work and I have no trouble finding people who want to work with me, so when I voice this fear I’m mostly told not to be silly. What people don’t see, however, is the struggle that it sometimes takes for me to get a project to the state that the public sees. You see, while creative pursuits are immensely rewarding, they can also be hard. Sometimes it takes many revisions (and a lot of time and energy) to arrive at a truly great outcome, and my brain has convinced me that if I were actually talented, this wouldn’t be the case. I’m often fighting the fear that I’m some kind of creative fraud, and that one day everyone’s going find out. And potentially point and laugh.

Rationally I know that this isn’t remotely true, because even the most talented creatives have a process, and that process doesn’t start with producing something brilliant on the first try — at least for most of us mere mortals. In fact, the inevitability of failure in the creative process is a really trendy topic these days! I also know, rationally, that I’m far from alone — in fact, I think that creatives who don’t suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ from time to time are probably in the minority.

Unlike my seven-year-old self, I have a much greater degree of self-awareness about feeling this way, and this helps significantly in dealing with it. If you feel similarly, here are some things that I repeatedly tell myself to do:

  • Keep in mind that other people’s finished products have gone through tons of iteration before they got to their final state. Comparing your drafts to someone’s finished product is a recipe for misery.
  • Accept that not everything you do will be The Best Thing Ever. Sometimes (okay, almost always) you have to produce some mediocre stuff before getting to the good stuff. It’s the way this works.
  • Try to drop the perfectionist tendencies. Something that’s 80% awesome and actually exists always beats something that’s 100% awesome and imaginary!
  • Look over your best work from time to time. Surely they can’t ALL be flukes, right?
  • Listen to people who tell you that they love your work. Sure, your parents or partner might be a little biased, but paying clients and most other people have no reason to make it up. So believe ’em!
Dara Skolnick is a web designer and front-end developer who’s a very recent convert to the exciting (and, let’s face it, slightly scary) world of full-time self-employment. She feels really lucky to be building an awesome life and business, and to be doing work that helps others in the process!

You can follow Dara on her blog, Twitter and Instagram.

Fear Confessions is a series of essays by creatives who share personal stories about facing their fears. It’s a celebration of vulnerability.

  1. Awesome post! I think anyone in a creative field can relate to this. I know I can. It’s nice to know that we aren’t alone in that.