Today, let’s talk about something that I am pretty uncomfortable talking about. Being a self-taught graphic designer. I know so MANY designers out there that are self-taught and I would have never guessed it because you all rock. But when it comes to myself, I let this ‘imposter’s syndrome’ kick in + tell me I don’t deserve to be a designer because I didn’t receive a diploma for it. I can easily say to any self-taught designer/creative/business owner out there this is 100% NOT true. Being self-taught takes so much patience, skills, desire to learn and passion! And today I want to tell my story of the passion and dedication it took to follow my heart + learn graphic design without the formal education.
Let’s throw it way back to high school + my younger days. Growing up I was always a creative person and I can thank my dad for that! He taught me to always explore my creativity, whether that was drawing, woodworking or photography. In high school, all of my favorite subjects involved art but honestly, I never thought much about it.
After high school, I was blessed to get the chance to play volleyball at a Division I school in Connecticut. It was an extremely stressful time for me, growing up in Iowa and then moving to Connecticut just as I turned 18. It was a whole new world in Connecticut and I was faced with A LOT of hard decisions to make. One of those was the dreaded question of ‘what are you majoring in?’ I had always loved design + art, so I declared graphic design as my major.
After an extremely hard semester of trying to balance design + volleyball, I was faced with a tough decision to make. The classes I needed to be taking and our practice schedule were not lining up and I needed to make a choice of volleyball or design. The obvious choice at the time was volleyball, after all it was paying for my education. So, I made the switch and never really looked back… or so I thought.
After graduating college, I didn’t quite feel finished in my education and I thought my future was in sports marketing. One day, I stumbled upon the Center for Sport Leadership at VCU and knew it was the perfect fit for graduate school. Luckily, I was accepted and it was a one-year program that really changed my life. Not only the lessons I learned, but during this time my love for design really started to intrigue me. My good friend, Rebecca, was a design genius and it truly got my creative juices going again! I sat down (asking WAY too many questions, sorry Rebecca!) and spent late nights teaching myself all the tools I needed to know to work in Adobe Creative Suite. At the time, I thought it would be a great tool to use as a resume builder for marketing after graduation.
After graduation, I landed my first ‘big girl’ job and was working as a Marketing + Event Manager for a local business in Richmond. I loved what I was doing and on paper, it was a dream job. Work from home, set your own hours, working with sport and non-profits… I thought I had really hit a homerun! Fast forward about 6 months and life just wasn’t great for me. This once dream job that I had thought I found wasn’t so dreamy anymore. Not because of anyone I worked with or what I was doing, but it just was fulfilling me in the way I knew I could be fulfilled. So, I started taking on some side graphic design jobs to bring some creativity back into my life.
This is when my freelancing life got started! At first, it was something that I can do for fun and enjoyment after my 9-5. Then out of the blue, Terrell (my boyfriend at the time, now husband) was offered an opportunity to move to China for a year. We thought at first, ‘no way, we can’t move to China.’ A short 2 weeks later I was quitting my job, packing up the apartment and shoving our entire life into two suitcases about to move across the world.
We arrived in China with no real plan. It was my chance to run away + escape the dreaded 9-5 life that America thrives on. At this time, it felt right to take my freelancing and turn it into a full time business. I was no where near where I needed to be financially to do so, but the cost of living in China was very low and allowed me the opportunity to dive in for a year, surviving mostly on savings + Terrell’s help.
THE IMPOSTERS SYNDROME
During my first year of business is really when my imposter’s syndrome started to take over. I never really felt like I should own a business because I didn’t ‘have the education’ to do so. It felt overwhelming and was filled with self-doubt. I was constantly feeling that I didn’t belong + was scared to put myself out there. I knew my creativity was strong and I had developed some great design skills, but was truly scared.
I think that about 6 months in it finally hit me. Why does an official education define my self worth? Who is to say that using online classes and being self taught isn’t enough? It hit me like a brick wall + all the sudden the doubt and anxiety slowly, but surely, started to disappear. I started to become more confident in my skills and what I had to offer people. I was finding my stride and it felt GOOD.
Education is great and I truly think that it is an ongoing task of being passionate and curious enough to continue learning. But to all my fellow self taught business owners out there, a diploma does not define us. Find what makes you unique, what makes your business stand out from the others + be proud of what you can bring to the table. I do still find it hard to talk about not having a graphic design degree at times, which is one reason that I wanted to publish this post, but we have to push through those moments of weakness and remember our why.
If someone doesn’t want to work with you because you don’t have that diploma, they aren’t your ideal client anyway. Find clients who appreciate your passion, drive and creativity. Those are the clients who will be excited about the work you create and what you have to offer.
And most importantly, remember your worth and be confident! You have so much to offer this world, don’t let your doubt stop you!