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Feels and Lies: More Confessions of a Designer Developer

02-09-15 Philip Zastrow

It’s hard to not find fault in your own actions and want to do better, but Philip reminds us that “there’s no sense crying over every mistake. You just keep on trying til you run out of cake.”

Caution: Feels Ahead

It’s been a little over a year since I wrote my first article for the Sparkbox Foundry wherein I confessed a few insecurities that come with being a designer who codes. Things like not understanding Git and the products of my early, self-taught approach like relying on WYSWYG editors when developing a website. This is my follow-up to those confessions. This time we are heading in a little deeper, so consider yourself warned.

A Brain Wired for Feels

An early job in my career required me to take the Myers-Briggs personality test before I started my first day. That was my first introduction to such assessments, and in the years since, I have taken the test a few more times. At the end of each trial in big, clear characters are the same four letters: INFJ. Introverted. Intuitive. Feeling. Judging. In other words, I spend a lot of time in my head with my emotions, bearing and criticizing them; and it takes its toll.

Lies and Truth

Accompanying me in my head is a voice. It’s little, persistent, and nagging. It tells me I’m a fraud and a failure. It picks at my confidence and tries to fill in the cracks with doubt. Although I know every word is a lie, it’s difficult to not get caught up in such a believable distortion of things. There are four primary lies I have struggled with over the years. But—much like in the game Portal—time, experience, and the insight of others have slowly begun to cement truth where these lies have taken hold.

Lie 1: You Don’t Belong Here

Since my very first day at Sparkbox, I have dealt with imposter syndrome. This is the lie that I am incapable and unworthy to work with and among such talented people. My mind churned praise into empty politeness because I couldn’t believe sincere compliments could be given to an obvious imposter.

I have not been alone in this struggle and am thankful for the candor of my coworkers. One lunchtime conversation revealed I wasn’t alone in this belief. As I heard other Sparkboxers share these same sentiments about themselves, I felt the deception start to melt away.

Lie 2: You’re a Jack of All Trades and a Master of None

A lingering fear from early in my career is that I will become complacent in my knowledge. I think that is a good fear, one that can encourage experimentation and education. However, a lie can creep in when you’re new to an environment that has advanced knowledge in areas in which you have little experience. This lie rallied with the imposter syndrome for me and stemmed from a thought that broad knowledge negates deep understanding.

The thing is this lie is the very opposite of how Sparkbox hires. When I was first brought, on I was even told as much, but at the time I didn’t realize my specialization. To my surprise, coworkers began requesting my help to solve problems with CSS and SVG. I was blindly unaware of my own depth of knowledge until I realized how many smart people I was able to help.

Lie 3: You’re Too Old for Your Field

At this point, I’m clocking in over 13 years working on the web, which doesn’t put me on the young side of things. But, I’ve had a job making websites every year since I was 17. Truth is I’ve been at this for a while; and I hope for many, many more years to come.

The lie is a twisting of the previous two lies with my tenure in this field. The feeling of obsolesce will creep in still, especially when new techniques and methods arise. I’m starting to learn that I have gleaned some wisdom and perseverance through those years.

Lie 4: You’re Less of a Designer Because You Code

When I view the works of designers I admire, I see a creativity that I cannot attain. I see a bygone era in my life that is fueled by a lie that my ability to design has been snuffed by my desire to code designs to life. This lie currently haunts me, and unfortunately, it seems to be a lie that the web industry struggles with as well.

With all my heart, I do not believe I am less of a designer because of my desire to code. My tools may be different from the typical designer, but my passion is the same. Ever since I made my first webpage, design and development have been a tandem for me. I am both a designer and developer—I always have been. One cannot survive in me without the other.

Lie Killers

We are more than what we do, what we think, or what we make. There is inspiration to be discovered and new paths to be cut in less-traveled ground. I’ve learned to fight against the words and thoughts that hold me back, but that isn’t something I was able to do by myself. We need more than just ourselves to unearth our greatest potential. In community we can overcome the obstacles ahead, physical and emotional. Perhaps the most debilitating lie believed is that you must do it alone.

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