18 Apr 2014
To the power of two (or more)
I used to be a freelance web designer, a jack of all trades who dealt with every aspect of producing a website from the first client meeting to the launch of the site. This meant I would work through the entire design & development process alone, working on user research, information architecture, wireframing, visual design, front end code and development, not to mention managing the project and the occasional nightmarish server admin task.
These days this wide range of disciplines are more specialised and unlikely to be undertaken by one person, so it’s no wonder I suffered from the acute anxiety of knowing that I would never be as good as I wanted to be in some of these areas. I worked hard for years to get across The Gap, as Ira Glass describes it (here’s a great video covering this: https://vimeo.com/85040589 — courtesy of @frohlockecom) and enjoyed success with some areas, but other areas such as visual design and development I felt stuck at a level I was not happy with.
With such a diverse array of roles I would always suffer from Impostor Syndrome on meeting a new or potential client, or talking to my peers. A crippling fear of being a pretender about to be found out. Initially I tried to specialise, to work for design agencies with the skills I was good at, and this helped a little. I focused on UX and front end, thinking they were my strongest areas but was not happy with just being able to help with parts of a project, I still wanted to do it all.
From January 2012 I was no longer a one man band, having co-founded fffunction. In those early days I found an almost instant benefit of being a “we” rather than a “me”. Previously I found it very hard to talk about and sell myself — now that I wasn’t selling “me” I could forget about the anxieties. I could talk about Adam being amazing at UX, and Pete being one of the best visual designers I’ve seen. By leaving myself out of the equation altogether I had a newfound confidence in the “we” rather than the “I”.
fffunction has grown to a team of 8 and I’m confident that whatever topic surfaces we have someone in fffunction who can talk about it. Now when I meet new people whether they be new or prospective clients, friends or people in the web industry, I still have the same feeling that I’m able to promote fffunction far better than I can promote myself and so I kind of bypass the impostor syndrome by forgetting to talk about myself.
I’m afraid I don’t have the solution to get past the impostor syndrome, and still suffer from anxiety in initial meetings, and the odd pitch scenario we partake in. Specialising helped, collaboration helped and I think if I had spent more time learning to talk about what I did that would have helped too.
By Ben Coleman - @bencoleman