can imposter syndrome add a boost to your hustle?

by Luke Farrugia • 05 February  2021

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There is so much competition in the tech industry. Many people want your spot, and there is so little time to get All The Things done. In a field where everyone is an expert, it can be hard to cut through the noise, but the reality is, nobody knows what's going on. Everyone is pulling from past experience and hoping for the best. Even so, it's easy for imposter syndrome to kick in and plant that seed of doubt. That feeling we all know too well, the fear that you won't live up to the expectations of others.

"Imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don't belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck".

– Arlin Cuncic, very well mind

Early on in my career, it became apparent that the only way to get what you want is to hustle for it, build up your skill, reputation, and network. Whether hustling to win a client or to get that killer feature added to the roadmap, the journey is the same. Put in the time, refine your craft and soak in the learnings as you execute. Ultimately, show and prove.

You might be wondering, how do imposter syndrome and the notion of hustling relate to one another? Here is my take; imposter syndrome is internal. It's a feeling that convinces people to believe they are not as competent as others perceive them to be. Yet what evidence do they (we) have to confirm that the people around them do not believe in their ability?

Without adequate evidence, we are assuming, and we often assume the worst. So with that, more often then not, they can do the task and just need the right push or leadership to get them out of their own way.

This was a massive realisation for me and opened me up to a new way of thinking. With an altered mindset, the doubt and anxiety that imposter syndrome envokes can be used as an advantage. Combined with the hustle, it can be used as a tool to propel forward, think decisively and unlock greater efficiency.

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working smarter, not harder. 

As soon as I understood that I could use my imposter syndrome to my advantage, the hustle began to change for me. It was no longer about long hours and grinding on busywork. It became more about working smarter, not harder.

In the early stages of my career, I found myself smashing graphic design tutorial after tutorial on a quest to get "good" and be a contender in the design community. I started to see that we are multi-skilled; we can tackle a problem in multiple ways. So I began to freelance on the side, taking the graphical learnings and mixing them with my 9 to 5 product design experience.

When establishing myself as a freelance designer, I went with a designer name over my full name, landing on the title, Milktoast. 

I soon began to understand that freelance money is considerably more profitable than salary money. This breaks down into 2 key reasons:

  • When freelancing my hourly rate is almost double my salary rate (when broken down into hours)
  • Freelance money is taxed after the fact whereas a salary is taxed before. If you owe tax, it's easier to take advantage of tax loopholes to evade, if you have already been taxed, it's harder to get that money back.

Freelancing has its busy times, and its quiet times. This made me think if I am pulling from all of my different experiences and successfully balancing being a freelancer (by night) and having a 9 to 5 (by day), what's next?  

With financial independence as the goal, what can I do to fill the quiet times and generate additional money?

At the time, I was working at Envato. This company has a dual focus, one side touches on the creatives who make digital assets and templates, and the other side looks at the consumers. These people use digital assets and templates to enhance their creative projects.

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The more I worked with these assets, understood how they work and how to sell them, it became apparent: why not create digital assets of my own and start generating residual money through existing marketplaces? (Envato Elements, Creative Market, Adobe Stock and UI8 for example)

As I thought about all of the possibilities, I wondered, how long will this take? By the time I ideate a topic, generate an asset, make it flexible and editable, showcase it uniquely and upload to multiple marketplaces, what if no-one wants my designs? At this moment, the imposter syndrome kicked back in, but now I knew how to manage it. Soon after, it dawned on me, I already have a bunch of assets ready to go from my years of being a designer, all I need to do is fine-tune them and make them marketplace ready.

Here are some design opportunity examples I, and most likely you, will have had:

  • When working on a logo design, the client chooses 1 logo as the final. All of the other concepts are yours, they can be modified and sold online.
  • When pitching for work, you may use a pitch deck or a proposal, boosting your skills. This can be modified, removing any sensitive details and be sold online.
  • You may create a custom icon pack for a client, and it just falls short, this can be packaged up and sold online.

The beauty of this is that you are creating assets that do not need to be maintained, you can literally set and forget, and generate a money while you sleep revenue stream.

So, under the name Milktoast (this is no longer my freelance name), I have joined forces with a bunch of creatives to grow a monster account, selling assets through various Marketplaces. Milktoast is now a collective of designers, illustrators and makers. Working on what we want and refining our craft in the process. We are all about high-quality work and community growth, and all want to win together. 

If this post resonates with you, we'd love to hear from you. Please request access to our free Duel of Doves workspace (we work out of the Slack app) and let's have a chat. 

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