Be Comfortable in Discomfort

Being an expert is overrated

It’s appalling to hear what it means to be an “expert” today, in the world of digital marketing.

That’s all you need to be an expert, according to the Internet Lords. That, and maybe an ebook, and a lead magnet on your website. With your face in a well-taken headshot, smiling at the camera with shiny teeth and a sparkle in your eye. Voila, you’re an expert!

The word “expert” doesn’t mean much, not since marketers took over the word. It used to belong to the realm of science — to people who studied for years and practiced for decades. Professionals with government-issued licenses such as engineers or doctors. Let’s ignore the Internet Lords and bring respect back to the word “expert” — and leave it to the realm of the science.

In the fields of art and design, things are different. It doesn’t sound appealing to be an “expert”. It suggests a creator with a template. Boring and predictable.

When someone says they’re a “logo expert” it makes you raise your eyebrow and think of someone who just bought a PC and puts shapes together in Microsoft Powerpoint, a program that unfortunately still exists.

So if you are in the creative field, stop calling yourself an expert, or trying to become one.

Paula Scher, the “goddess of Graphic Design” (a description which I’m sure she hates) cautions to not become an expert in graphic design. Because then you start to repeat yourself, repeat your successes, and find similar solutions for almost every project.

That tends to happen when we unknowingly gravitate to what is comfortable. What we are familiar with. How can we come up with truly creative solutions, or delight people with the new and unexpected, if we do things with “expertise”?

With every project, to create something fresh, you also need to mentally start fresh. Try to forget what you know. Don’t recycle ideas. Start with childlike curiosity.

That fear you feel when taking on something you’ve never tried before — that’s when you know it’s going to be great. It is that feeling of discomfort or uncertainty that makes you push yourself.

Resist becoming an expert and “Do what you’ve never done before.”

This takes discipline, and making tough decisions and sacrifices. It requires developing habits and making conscious choices to avoid the easy way out.

Sometimes, the tougher the problem, the more glorious the solution.

Courage Comes Before Confidence

“Confidence is overrated,” Dani Shapiro says, on Design Matters, in an interview with author, designer, and speaker Debbie Millman.

“What’s more important is courage,” Dani says. Courage to take the first step in doing what you don’t know.”

Sometimes we’d much rather do some things over and and over, again this thing called “expertise.”

Because courage is uncomfortable.

But part of being creative is learning to be comfortable in discomfort. The best work comes out of taking risks and pushing through the difficulties.

Stop looking for instant clarity, and instant solutions, and enjoy the search, the journey.

Do What You’ve Never Done Before

In this video from a 99U event, Paula Scher talks about four design projects, each one a great story of creative discovery.

It’s a reminder to courageously take on things you’ve never done before. The moments you feel like an amateur, the moments of “I don’t know what I’m doing” are the ones you should be excited about. Because not everything depends on you anyway, so lighten up. And also because you know it’s going to be tough, crazy, full of panic attacks and mistakes, but also flashes of brilliance, and it might just be your best work yet.

Writer • Communication Designer • Type Explorer |

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