Over the last few years of being a full-time freelancer, I’ve had the pleasure to receive hundreds of questions from my followers across social media.
With the creation of my new podcast, Design Break, I’ve started to revive these questions and answer them with in-depth information to help anyone who might be going through or curious about the same topic.
The first question in this series is one that I feel every creative, regardless of which discipline you may specialize in or find you’re passionate about can relate to.
Question: “What do you do if you get discouraged or frustrated with your work?”
First off I can definitely tell you that there have been countless times throughout my career, going back to when I was a student in high school and even to today where I’ve been frustrated with some aspect of my work or discouraged that I might not be as good as people think — I also talk a bit about imposter syndrome in another episode of the podcast that you can find here.
Early in your career, these feelings can feel devastating and cause so many negative things like burnout or creative block, which can hurt your growth. Over time though, or at least I’ve found that you begin to grow a thick skin about you and if things begin to roll off.
Now don’t get me wrong, they can still hurt and sting you but not nearly as bad as they do now when you’re early in your career.
The best thing to do when those moments of frustration hit you is to let them come and go. Don’t dwell on them or let them take root in your mind. If someone leaves a negative comment on your Instagram post, ignore it. Better yet, get off your phone and go for a walk, do something different that will take your mind off of it. Focusing on the positive and not the negative helps to lift you and push you forward.
But what about those times where it’s not even someone else who’s pulling you down but yourself. What do you do when you’re working on a branding project, and the thought strikes you “oh man, I’m never going to get this logotype right! Am I a failure”?
Get up and walk away from the computer or sketch pad. Go out and play some video games, go to the movies, take your significant other out on a date. Do something that is so utterly different than what you were doing.
Then when you come back to work on the project, you find yourself not doubting yourself anymore, or even better, you’re able to knock out that logotype in the first try.
Sometimes you have to clear your mind and switch gears before negative thoughts hijack it.
Let me also be clear here because this is one of my answers to a lot of things beyond just frustration, self-doubt in your abilities, and coming up with new ideas. This also is a key to dealing with burnout as well.
Yes, the evil scourge of the creative seven seas, Burn Out.
Something so evil that as you’re reading this, you may have just shuddered at the thought of it. This is one of the big fears of any creative, no matter where they are in their careers.
The best thing to do is to take a break when dealing with burnout. It could be an hour, a day, a week, or a month — ok, let’s not kid ourselves here, you can’t take a break for a month on most of the things you’re trying to do in life, but sometimes extended breaks can help. The important thing is that you take a big step back, and when you come back to it, your mind is refocused. You’re able to see your task or project through a different lens, and sometimes even during your break, you get hit smack dab in the face with the right solution.
I feel like a snake-oil salesman trying to sell you all on taking breaks when I shouldn’t have to. Unfortunately, though, we live in a day and age when we’re continually pushing ourselves and working ourselves to the bone, and that’s the perfect breeding ground for all of these negative thoughts and feelings.
Now that I’ve gone long down that road, let me also add that there is another way that you can deal with being frustrated or discouraged with your work.
If you’re sitting here and you’re frustrated that your illustration skills aren’t where you want them to be or that you’re mediocre at product design, then change it. Spend extra time each day practicing and creating and pushing yourself. Most importantly, share your progress and what you’re doing with your friends, family, coworkers, and social media followers.
People like to see progress, and they love to see people grow and get better at what they’re passionate about. I find it’s better to be open and share the struggles you have in addition to the victories. It shows people that you’re human, that you’re full of potential and drive. Heck, it’s how I landed my first job out of college by continuously sharing progress on learning HTML & CSS through Treehouse on Twitter. I kept sharing each badge I earned on social media, and my future boss saw these posts and saw the drive and tenacity I had in my future. Even now, I still share what I’m working on, the progress I’m making, and even when I’m struggling to get certain things just right.
So, there are two main pieces of advice I would give anyone who’s feeling frustrated or discouraged with their work.
- Take Breaks — Give yourself some time and destress. Come back to whatever it is you’re doing the next day and have a look at the problem with fresh eyes. A good break can help with so much negativity that may plague you through your creative career.
- Power Through & Share — Sometimes, the best thing to do is to keep practicing and keep trying and sharing the process along the way. Sometimes it’ll even give you a boost of confidence when you see those like buttons going up or comments from people saying how much they love what you’re doing.
I want to thank you all for taking the time to read this article, and if you enjoyed this, then please make sure to follow me for more significant bits of wisdom. Also, don’t forget to head on to Apple Podcasts and give a listen to the Design Break podcast. If you like what you hear, make sure to subscribe, rate, and review it as well.
Always remember to stay passionate, positive, and creative, everyone!