How designers can plow through rejection

As a designer, it matters how you identify yourself professionally.

If your professional identity is I’m a great designer, then you are going to have a harder time with failure and obstacles than if your identity is “I’m a great learner”.

Psychologist and author Carol Dweck, Ph.D., who’s research with students explains the importance of mindset when it comes to viewing your abilities from a fixed versus growth mindset: “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

Where do you get your professional identity from? What goes through your head about your design abilities when your design is rejected? How do you view yourself when you’re in a creative slump?

According to Dweck: “Almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed.”

The story you are telling yourself about yourself impacts your performance as a designer, and your resilience when you experience setbacks in projects, and your career.

I like this statement by billion-dollar entrepreneur Tom Bilyeu, when limited to the context of professional life: Everyone builds their identity and self-esteem around something. My advice is to build your identity and self-esteem around something anti-fragile – meaning that it gets stronger the more it’s attacked. To my knowledge, being the learner is the only identity that can do that.

When you identify yourself as a learner, then regardless of the rejection your designs may face along the way, you can always keep your head up. The growth mindset flips the game from always having to be right, to always seeking growth and learning.

As Bilyeu points out, it is an anti-fragile way to identify yourself.

Getting your design rejected while employing a growth mindset still presents an obstacle. It is still a challenge to come back at the design again from another angle and do more creative work.

The key here is that with the growth mindset your identity and abilities never come into question. They don’t break. The outcome from the rejection pivots from a shattered ego to an opportunity to learn and get better. An opportunity to be who you are, and do what you’re good at.


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