Last night I was at a design collaboration workshop. A very bright, talented young designer commented that sometimes she has difficulties “proving herself” to clients. For a bit of context, she is also very pretty and looks to be in her early twenties. (Sidenote: It amazes me how much we ladies internalize the way we are seen – and how that gets in the way of doing the work.) What I wish I had time to tell her is what I tell many of my clients and what I wished someone had told me in my twenties:
You don’t have to “prove yourself”
Your need to prove yourself is a waste of time. I get it. You’re a hard worker, I get that you’re capable and you’re awesome and you want to be known for your hard work. I get that this urge is very likely hard-wired into your DNA, passed on from your parents and grandparents. I get that you may be young, or old, and don’t fit your organization’s “default” for what your role is. I get that you may even see others, entitled dilettantes, succeeding, lazy jerks taking credit for work that is not theirs and I get that you want to distance yourself from them; prove that you are a “roll up your sleeves capable brilliant creative doer.”
Whatever your reasons the impulse to “prove yourself” is visceral and powerful. But all that energy is pulling you down. At its core, your impulse to prove yourself, is based in doubt and fear.
Do not work for people who doubt you…
… this includes yourself. People who don’t believe in you will be waiting for you to fail, rather than working for you to succeed. You know that you can either a. do the work and/or b. are smart enough to figure out how to do it even if you haven’t done it a million times, so,
Focus on the work.
If you have to work for doubters – either from your client or colleagues – confront it head-on but do it professionally. Tell them you are sensing their hesitancy and ask what they are seeing that makes them doubt the project’s success – don’t make it about you.
It is possible they are seeing something you aren’t – or maybe they are nervous nellies or maybe they are biased jerks who don’t like PYTs. Whatever the cause, doubt, and aversion to risk lead to suboptimal outcomes – don’t tolerate that jibberjabber. Be aware of it, but don’t focus on it.