Don't Drink the Kool-Aid


Being a designer is tiring. In an industry that is so visual and outward, it’s understandably difficult to consistently meet that demand to be the best – so sometimes, designers embellish the truth a little bit.

They master their sales pitch to show only the best of the best, capitalize on their strengths, and learn to walk, talk, & dress like the perfect designer; they get so good at playing this part that they have everyone, from employers to clients to coworkers, convinced that they are the perfect designer – everyone including themselves. This technique may work for a little while, but eventually, as you continue down this path of self-embellishment and bravado, there comes a point where you are faced with some sort of roadblock and suddenly find yourself unable to identify the source of the problem – because, after years of acting like the very best, you’ve unknowingly dulled your ability to objectively evaluate yourself as a creative professional.

Having studied and worked with professional talent for more than 20 years, I constantly meet recruiters and HR managers who tell me about their encounters with designers just like this. These designers will talk endlessly about their accomplishments, their strengths, and their amazing ability to assess opportunity, but are strangely unable to explain why they can’t seem to move up in their careers.

I’ve become an ethnographic specialist around creative professionals. I’ve seen what separates the top consistent winners from the masses of professionals that never make it to their goal and from this, have identified some interesting patterns about how people evolve over the course of their careers – and why many of them don’t reach the point they should have.

One particularly concerning observation is the growing tendency for people to sugarcoat a situation, without realizing that they are actually lying to themselves to avoid a harsh truth.

Based on the two most common lies we’ve heard over many years of research and coaching, we’ve come up with two categories: the Wishful Thinkers and the Kool-Aid Drinkers.

Both categories illustrate opposing, unhealthy extremes on the spectrum of self-evaluation and self-awareness. The Wishful Thinkers are those who never seem to follow through because they inherently don’t believe they can make it, while the Kool-Aid Drinkers are those who get so caught up in their pitch that they turn a blind eye to the problems that do need addressing. It goes without saying that neither extreme results in a fair assessment of your capabilities.

Sadly, most design professionals we meet are lying to themselves in some respect, in denial about several issues that are deterring their careers from progressing. Don’t get so swept up by the glamour of the facade you’ve created that you can’t see you’re not really where you want to be. When it comes to being successful in design, think about it: have you really made it? How long are you going to lie to yourself? And how much time do you have to really do something about it?

It’s exceptionally easy to fall into this trap of lying to yourself to avoid a painful truth, and we understand that being so brutally honest with yourself is much easier said than done. However, as difficult as this undertaking may be, you need to recognize that running from the truth is doing more harm than good to your career and that it may be time to make that shift.

This change doesn’t happen overnight. You have to be ready, willing, and committed to shifting your perspective as a design professional. We can give you the optics to kickstart this massive adjustment and identify all your quirks, as well as the support you need to go through this challenging process – but of course, the results will be determined by your own drive and desire to achieve your goal.

The design industry is riddled with creatives who are constantly performing, putting their best foot forward, and sometimes, just pretending outright to be better than they are in order to set themselves apart; this is simply the culture that has come to exist in a field as competitive as this one. It’s all too easy to fall into these habits without even realizing what you are doing.

Book a Breakthrough call to start forging a counter-culture where you can hold yourself accountable for your bad habits, recalibrate so you’re not heading down the wrong path again, and present an objective and honest version of yourself.