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How to stop comparing yourself and build your own career

Creatives discuss forging your own path in your own time

In an age of carefully edited social media posts that can make it seem like everyone else’s careers are going improbably brilliantly, it’s all too easy to start comparing yourself and feel you’re coming up short. But few people use Instagram et al to document the boring, laborious hard work that goes into actually landing that great role or dream project – the unusual career paths, setbacks, failures and unglamorous tasks. 

At the 2021 New Blood Festival, creative recruitment specialist Nikky Lyle spoke to Ben Mottershead, founder and creative director at Studio BND; artist and designer Murugiah; and Nicky Bullard, Chairwoman at MRM Europe and chief creative officer at MRM UK about how to use impostor syndrome to your advantage and how you can gain a wealth of knowledge from good, and bad, experiences.

Watch the video above, or get the need-to-know below.

Any experience is good experience

It’s very rare to start out in the creative industries doing either exactly what you wanted, or the thing you discover is the right fit for you years down the line. Ben Mottershead has worked across branding, animation, motion design, copywriting, strategy, digital and web design. “Part of life isn't just about finding out what you want to do, it's actually learning what you don't enjoy,” he says.

“Don’t underestimate any experience,” Nicky Bullard adds, citing her jobs in newsagents, supermarkets and cleaning in a photography studio as “all things that build up to who you are. Even if it's a bad experience, it's still valuable.”

Remember: kindness, generosity and honesty

“I don't think my creative values are any different from my normal ones,” says Bullard. It’s hard to underestimate the importance of kindness, in work as in life. “Kindness begets kindness,” she adds. Being as generous as you can is another thing she prizes; as is honesty – which might not always sound “kind.” She points out that if something’s not as good as it could be, you have to be honest to yourself and your collaborators. “You'll hate yourself if you don't say it because it'll be niggling you,” she says. “You also have to be grateful: we're so lucky we're surrounded by interesting, vibrant, exciting, crazy wonderful people.”

Follow the fun

Sounds slightly trite, but it makes sense: as Murugiah points out, “we are in an industry where we tend to work for a long period of time on a project and if something starts to not be fun anymore, it starts to kind of grate on you and get at you. If something is not fun anymore, stop doing it. Follow the fun.”

You create the best work when you believe in it

The best work comes out of great client relationships, and working on projects you believe in. While a designer can never be 100% passionate about each and every product or service they’re designing for, if something feels too far outside of your values, it’s time for a rethink. “You should never be in a workplace that makes you feel afraid of having a voice,” says Mottershead. "If you're really unhappy about a certain project that comes in and affects one of your values, you should be able to tell your management and they shouldn't respond in a hostile way… a sign of a good workplace is how the management treats their staff.”

He adds, “It works both ways: you don't want anybody to do something that they don't passionately believe in and you're not going to get the best work out of it.”

If you’re not in the right place, get out

The creatives on the panel seem to agree that it’s hard to plan where the right place for you to work is, but once you find it, you’ll know. “I had a quite an unhappy start in my first job, where I really knew I was in the wrong place but I didn't do anything about it…” says Bullard. “If you really feel like it's not the right place, get out as quickly as you can, because it’ll end up damaging you. It’s really important knowing what isn't the right place.” 

She adds: “If you're really not enjoying it, and you feel uncomfortable where you are, then go somewhere else and enjoy it. But stick it out when it's difficult. Creativity is all about gut instinct and going with what you believe.”

Use impostor syndrome to your advantage

It’s rare to find someone in the creative industries (or likely elsewhere) who’s not experienced impostor syndrome. Rather than trying to overcome it, use it to your advantage. “Don't ignore it, but don't let it ruin your life either,” says Bullard. “Most people who end up progressing through their careers isn't by accident. It's because they've worked hard or they're talented.”

Mottershead says he’s an “anomaly,” having never suffered from impostor syndrome – something he partly attributes to having ADHD and a “chemical detachment between cause and effect.” However, he adds that “the moment I stopped comparing myself to other people was the moment I became infinitely happier."

“Just focus on your journey and what you're doing at the moment and what you can take from that experience: whether you have impostor syndrome or not, you will feel better as a result.”

Stop worrying

A career path is a path for a reason: it’s often winding, and is usually pretty long. Graduates need to try not to let a sense of urgency take over and remember that things take time. “This industry is very up and down, and it's constantly kind of in flux,” says Murugiah. “I had to learn as well that I needed to stop worrying about the position that I needed to be in at a certain time, and just enjoy the time that I'm at.”

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