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How To Transform and Channel Your Designer Self Doubt into Strength

I remember my first days in boarding school like they were yesterday. It was 8th grade, and my world had been turned this way, that way, and upside-down. I had been homeschooled for the past five years in a comfortable neighborhood in southern California. I had warmth. Beaches. My grandma and my grandpa. Security and comfort.

That was home.

Boarding school meant a move across the country to Boston, MA, where I couldn't even wear my favorite board shorts half the year unless I wanted to be cold! My new dorm-mates listened to music I had never heard before and I only saw my parents once a month. It was, simply put, culture shock.

And the hardest part? Academics.

It was easy for me to think I was the smartest kid in the room when I was the only kid in the room in homeschool. But classes at Fay - the school I attended - immediately showed me that I had a lot to learn. I quickly learned that everyone around me was just as talented as I was.

And that realization gradually developed into self-doubt, until I no longer just thought that everyone else was talented.

I thought I had no talent at all!

Self-doubt can be crippling. I felt like a fish out of water at boarding school and academic topics that I thought would be easy turned out to be much harder than I expected. My mind began to shut down and, in turn, my academic performance started to slip. Self-doubt made me question whether I even belonged in my community.

But here's something to remember: you are ALWAYS your own worst critic. And it never helps to put yourself down!

That's a lesson that has stuck with me and kept me afloat, especially in my design adventure. Self-doubt is an obstacle I've constantly had to work around. And it's natural!

But how did I work around it? By channeling it.

Now, you might be saying - what? How do you channel self-doubt?

It's easy! But let's reframe it.

Most people think of self-doubt in relation to their own 'worth'. For example, I put a value on what I was able to do and as a result, I felt inadequate in the grander scheme of things. I felt uncomfortable in the classroom, unqualified for my school, and extremely homesick.

But I realized that my 'worth' was entirely based on how I viewed myself, and not how others viewed me. I realized that it was a mindset I could control and redirect.
And so I began thinking about myself in terms of my experience, and how I could work to improve what I already knew.

I changed my self-doubt into positive self-awareness. No, I wasn't the smartest kid in the classroom. But I could control how much I worked and what type of help I received. And that mindset had a huge impact on how I learned, the experiences I gained, and ultimately, the value I was able to give other people. And it helped my new community feel much more like home.

On top of that, I opened myself to asking for help. I reached out to my teachers, tutors, and even my peers to help me with new material and tough concepts. I learned that my experience and knowledge could also improve based on how I used the resources around me - I realized I had the tools to succeed and that my mentality was only limiting me and my improvement.

So I challenged myself. Instead of doubting myself, I embraced my inadequacies and looked to improve them. Transfer that mentality to design and you'll never stop moving upward.

I felt incredible self-doubt, especially as my design career started off. How could I not? Design inherently involves producing a graphic or experience and presenting it to users - and I often felt that the products or experiences I made were poorly designed or amateur.

But, after some awesome positive reinforcement from my design mentor Elizabeth Alli, I realized that design is a process. My graphics weren't great, but that only meant that they could be improved. And once I seized on that mentality of constant self-improvement, I realized that I could gain the experiences I didn't have and learn the knowledge I didn't know. It all starts with asking for help, knowing my limits, and realizing that my only restriction is my mindset. I embraced what I didn't know so that I could put myself in a position to learn long-term!

I reoriented my self-doubt as an empowering tool. I used it to challenge myself to focus, learn, and upskill. I opened myself to asking for help and I accepted the fact that I may often feel inadequate, but that I am NOT inadequate - I am simply earlier in my design career!