At some point in their career, most professionals will face what I like to call, “The Confidence Conundrum”; how do I propose a solution with an “I got this!” attitude while managing my internal feeling of “do I got this?”?
This can be particularly challenging for designers who are taking action based on a complex combination of experience, data, project motivations, personal motivations, taste, and instinct... and convincing stakeholders who each have their own experience, data, project motivations, personal motivations, tastes, and instincts.
While we can’t control everything about the design process, we can control the narrative in our own heads. Here are some activities that can help you build more confidence and show up with the “I got this” attitude and believe it.
Note: I recommend doing them in a small group with your peers. Learning about other people’s experiences is almost always eye-opening and strangely validating. Let’s get started. Keep an open mind and jump right in.
Exploring early life experiences around building confidence can help us re-frame our personal narratives from a broader, more generous, perspective. I’ve found this engenders a warmer attitude towards the work we need to do on ourselves, and makes us more likely to actually do it. Doing this exercise with others also creates an environment of empathy where everyone can better understand and support each other in their confidence-building.
Think of a time in your life when you were not yet confident in yourself in regards to a particular skill, activity, or discipline. What steps did you take to achieve confidence?
Here are some examples from our workshop:
Two of the best ways to build confidence are: A. Gathering more data or B. Building more experience. Chances are you’ll have to do both, a lot, over and over again, to achieve full confidence.
DataThe designer’s job is to solve complex problems, and to make their solutions look easy-peasy — like there was never even a problem to begin with. If you aren’t feeling very confident in your design decisions, perhaps you don’t have enough information to really get to work. You can build your confidence up with data, validation, and advice. Talking to peers, people who have solved similar problems, or people who are experiencing the problem first hand will enable you to come to more meaningful conclusions. This is my favorite part of the design process — filling my brain to the absolute brim with every single variable I can find that’s related to the problem. Even when we’re sleeping or “not working,” our brains get to work putting the pieces together, making our solutions more and more obvious as we work through it.
ExperienceHere’s the thing nobody wants to hear; sometimes, building confidence just takes time. Our first exercise on childhood fear is a great example of this. Constant practice was the only thing that made me the star reader I am today. We build our experience from doing the thing that is scary over and over again until suddenly it isn’t scary anymore; and that’s confidence.
The journey of building experience, however, is not a straight path. It is a winding and twisting road that spirals around itself multiple times like a spirograph. Designers are often handed the same kinds of problems to solve over and over again throughout their careers. Each time we’re handed one of these problems, we are able to leverage the experience from the past and apply it with nuanced meaning. And with each experience, we create real emotional connections to the outcomes of our past decisions. This emotional connection to our successes and failures is the strongest connection we have to our own feelings of confidence.
Here are some examples that came out of the workshop:
I hope this helped you on your confidence-building journey. If you try it out with your team or a group of friends or colleagues, I’d love to hear about it. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.