Facing Your Fears

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Many of us begin our graphic design education with a mix of excitement and nerves. Will I be good enough? Is this the right choice for me? Can I learn everything in time?

I felt the same mix of thrill and anxiety before starting Shillington.

Like everyone else,  enrolling on the course was a huge decision—it was like finally saying, “This is what I want to do.” I kept piling expectation on top of self-doubt, unsure how everything would turn out.

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The irony was, for all my conviction I wouldn’t live up to scratch, Shillington gave me more excitement and purpose than I’d ever had before. Coming out with a portfolio showing off my new skills was, by no exaggeration, life-changing.

Do I wish I’d given myself less of a hard time about how I’d perform? Yes and no.

For one thing, you can’t just switch off your Worry Annie nature. If, like me, she comes with the Axis of Evil sisters—Controlling and Perfectionist—well, you’re going to over-analyze almost everything and irritate almost everyone.

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On the other hand, that irrational fear of failure will keep you pushing to higher standards. Those traits might also be the reason you’ve got here in the first place.

Whatever your personality, everyone is susceptible to moments of self-doubt.

Maybe you’re nervous about a steep learning curve with the software. Perhaps you think others will be expecting more of you if you’ve already dabbled in graphic design or fine arts. You’ll have seen previous grads’ work and have zero clues how you’re going to produce work that good.

Everyone is in the same boat, battling their own demons, but the environment at Shillington is more supportive than you can imagine.

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Shillington is like the opening scene of Mission Impossible (the last one) where Ethan Hunt is hanging off the side of an airplane taking off. Except it’s a movie and there’s a safety rope to catch you when your tiny Tom Cruise fingers finally give up on the 38th take.

You couldn’t ask for a better environment to try new things. When else do you get to greenlight the weird ideas that led you to a creative career in the first place?

Shill-04Instead of trying to please the teacher or try and follow trends, try to create something that reflects you. It’s harder to take risks when you’re getting paid for it.

At Shillington, you’ll finally have a framework for discovering and expressing the things that make you unique.

There’s no doubt you’ll hit roadblocks in the creative process. A lack of solid ideas, the number of possible directions to take and an unknown end result can threaten to stall your project before it’s even started.

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Each time a client gives me a project (I work freelance), my gut reaction is, “I can’t do that. And no way in that time!”

But I have a process now that I didn’t have before Shillington and once it kicks in, the snowball starts to roll downhill. Being challenged by work outside your comfort zone won’t get any less scary, but feelings of paralysis will get shorter as you learn how to push through them.

Beating designer’s block comes in many forms:

Shill-06Often we expect overnight leaps and bounds from ourselves, especially in a training context. We want to believe it’s possible to shortcut the gradual, winding path from A to B. Shillington is absolutely the transformation process you want it to be—but it needs you to be okay with not being 100% confident before things start to come together.

All designers start from zero at some point, and the ones who progress quickly aren’t afraid to ask for help. More than pure creative talent, they carry the softer skills that hiring companies are looking for.

Making yourself an active, positive contributor in your design education—which includes turning up to class on time—goes a long way to putting your most employable self out there after graduation.

Successful commercial designers also know how to handle feedback:

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Feedback helps you become a better designer, no question. Shillington’s regular critique sessions set you up well for getting comfortable with others’ perspectives on your work. The first time, I felt panicky and vulnerable showing my work. But I soon felt secure enough to seek out people’s opinions and use them to improve my work. My classmates steered me away from some pretty terrible decisions!

Learning to laugh at myself and realising there’s no such thing as perfection in design has really helped me enjoy the creative process.

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No doubt it’s been a long journey for you to reach this point, with some tough decisions. For now, you can worry less about where your life is headed and more about which pen nib suits your handwriting best. Indulge in pure design geekdom and go play.

Right in front of you is a tried and tested path that hundreds of others have walked. Trust the school and the creative instinct that got you this far. In a few years, it’ll be you teaching the new wave of designers.

Natalia Baker is a freelance British designer and photographer currently living in NYC. You can follow her on Twitter and InstagramClick here for a virtual tour of her portfolio and to read more about her Shillington experience.

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