Bonnie Siegler | Dear Bonnie

Dear Bonnie: Nervous in New Zealand

Dear Bonnie,

I’m currently finishing my second year of a degree in Graphic Design. My grades are good (mostly As, nothing below a B) and all my tutors tell me I'm producing great work. I had some work experience at a local newspaper creating advertisements and some were published with minimal to no amendments, so I guess I have some talent or skill.

The trouble is, I don’t know if I really am all that good, or if my tutors are just telling me that I am to encourage me. I’ve been highly critical of my work this year and I expected a B for an assignment that I didn't put 100% into (I ended up with another A, so you can see why I'm unsure).

I have a meager portfolio (mostly class work and examples of the newspaper work I did), but I don’t really know if it is all that fantastic. Is there somewhere I can send my portfolio or examples of my work and get a realistic critique?

Nervous in New Zealand

Dear N.

I have a few questions for you: Do you love graphic design? When you see a beautiful piece of work, is it like seeing robins in a blue sky? Do you go to bed thinking about how to solve a particular problem, how to make it better, how to say more with the tools at hand? And do you wake up with ideas for the day? If you have that passion and can’t think of doing anything else, then you really have no choice. Welcome to the club. This is what you must do.

I don’t think you need an outside critique. I can promise that the rest of your life will be filled with realistic, outside critique. For now, trust your teachers. They are not only judging your work, but what you put into it and what your thought processes represent in a larger context. If they really felt you weren’t any good, they would not be encouraging you. At this point in your career you are in learning mode. Soak in as much as possible and try to be true to yourself. Work hard and continue to care and you will keep getting better. Having more confidence in your work will come with time.

To be honest, I encounter many people your age who already think they are amazing, although they usually aren’t, and I find their attitude a bit off-putting. It often suggests that they are less open to learning more, and are so confident that they feel they already know more than either their bosses or their clients. People with an inflated sense of self-esteem think they make better impressions and have stronger relationships, but according to psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, data does not support these self-flattering views. I’d much rather be in your camp than in a self-delusional fantasy land.

One last thing. Everyone is insecure. Everyone has these feelings. For most, if not all, of their lives. Many highly successful people have confessed to feeling like they will be “discovered” for the frauds that they are at any given moment. This is entirely normal. You will learn, through experience and successes, to trust yourself as time goes on. But this doesn’t mean that doubt won’t linger somewhere in the back of your mind. Rather than using those feelings to give up in defeat, use them to keep striving to be even better.

Jobs | February 23