10 ways designers make themselves miserable

Justina Bakutyte of ImpressPages identifies common ways in which designers sabotage themselves - and how to avoid them.

Entitled 'How to Feel Miserable as an Artist', the list shown below, created by Keri Smith as part of the Artist's Survival Kit, has spread like wildfire around the internet, and for good reason. Because although it's specifically talking about artists, I think it speaks well to every creative person on the planet. And that certainly includes us designers.

Read Keri Smith's original list at www.kerismith.com

Here I use Smith's list as a springboard to discuss some of the most common ways that we make ourselves miserable as designers - and how to break the habit...

01. Constantly compare yourself to others

We do so many activities as designers - from illustration to typography, interface design to 3D graphics - that there will always be a person who has mastered some skills better than you.

  • To feel miserable: Focus on the people who are better at you at particular tasks. Wallow in raw jealousy. Convince yourself you'll always be second-rate.
  • To feel happy: Recognise that you're better at some things than others, and that everyone was a novice once. See designers with superior skills as people you can learn from and focus on steadily improving your skills over time.

02. Talk to your family about what you do and expect them to cheer you on

Rather than expecting your family to be your cheerleaders, seek support from your peers

You turn to your family for support. But you don't get support. You get at best indifference and at worst negativity.

  • To feel miserable: Depend entirely on relatives for validation, and feel worthless and empty when they Just Don't Get it.
  • To feel happy: Turn to friends, colleagues and others in the design world for a more informed, constructive and balanced view of how your career is progressing. Seek out a mentor. Share your work on Dribbble and Behance and get constructive feedback from people with a better idea of what you're trying achieve.

03. Base the success of your entire career on one project

If you can just get this project right, you promise yourself, it will change everything.

  • To feel miserable: Stack your house of cards on one project and see how it crumbles. When the completed design fails to set the world alight and get you instant glory and recognition, feel like a failure.
  • To feel happy: Recognise that success is a cumulative process - you need to work hard and long over many years for it - but that it will come eventually, bit by bit.

04. Stick with what you know

There are so many inspiring and educational reads out there. So why not get stuck in?

No one can read all those long and detailed design books out there, can they? So why even bother? You don't have the time, or the energy. And you paid all that money for Netflix...

  • To feel miserable: Stick with what you know. Don't expand your point of view. Argue with anyone who does the opposite.
  • To feel happy: See the joy in learning new things and gradually building up your knowledge and skillset. Check out these great lists of graphic design books and web design books to get started with.

05. Undervalue your expertise

Remember that person from the first point? Yup, they're back. Storming in when you least expect it.

  • To feel miserable: Keep telling yourself you don't know anything and that soon you'll be 'found out' by 'real designers'.
  • To feel happy: Focus on what you do know, and realise that nobody knows everything.

06. Let money dictate what you do

Yes we all need to get paid, but don't let that become the be-all and end-all of what you do

Money was never the primary reason you went into design. But right now, it's all you obsess about.

  • To feel more miserable: Put all your genuine interests, beliefs and morals aside. Forget unsolicited work and favours. Do only what puts that extra dime into your scrooge-like money vault.
  • To feel happy: Start a side project (find useful tips on that here). Do some pro bono. Remember what attracted you to design in the first place (we're betting it wasn't earning potential, or you'd have gone into accountancy...).

07. Bow to social pressure

Once you saw the world from a different perspective than others. But years of being ground down by corporate structures have drained the life out of you. Now you just want to take the path of least resistance.

  • To feel miserable: Believe that your boss/your client/your colleagues will be harsh to anyone who stands out. Stay safe and follow the rules.
  • To feel happy: You're a creative, so act like it. Be your own person. Express yourself. Create controversy. Stir things up. It's fun!

08. Only do work your family would love

Stuck in a boring 9-5 job? You only have one life so break out and do something you enjoy

Oh, that family again. Your mother wanted you to become a dentist, so the least you could do was get a "safe" regular job.

  • To feel miserable: Work nine to five, every day, in a boring office, doing unfulfilling work, for the rest of your life. In other words: follow someone else's dream; make them happy, not you.
  • To feel happy: Strike out on your own. Go freelance. Set up your own design business. Do something you truly love, and be your own boss.

09. Do whatever client/customer/investor asks

You had the stomach to actually go out there and start working as a designer. But somehow you've become that person who only ever says 'yes' to other people.

  • To be miserable: Follow other people's advice, always. (Remember, there's always someone better than you and you don't know enough.)
  • To be happy: Believe your viewpoint is a valid one, and argue passionately for it.

10. Set unachievable/overwhelming goals

Unrealistic deadlines are the mother and fathers of despair. Photo courtesy of Phelan Riessen - https://www.flickr.com/photos/phelanriessen/

There's nothing wrong with setting goals. But setting goals within a timescale you can't possibly achieve is just another way of sabotaging yourself.

  • To feel miserable: Give yourself with creepingly short deadlines and try to do everything by tomorrow. Watch the deadlines whoosh by. Feel wretched and a failure.
  • To feel happy: Set realistic goals, and divide them up into smaller, achievable tasks so you can measure your progress as you go. If you miss a deadline, think about what went wrong and how you can be more organised in future. See this article for more tips.

Words: Justina Bakutytė

Justina Bakutytė is a communicator for ImpressPages, a new open-source PHP framework with easy content editor. Learn more at the ImpressPages website.