Confidence is a never-ending roller coaster of ups and downs, bringing you to the lowest lows but also the highest highs. Over the course of a 10-year career in fashion design, confidence has certainly been a hurdle for me to overcome. It has run the full spectrum, from feeling nothing but imposter syndrome to days when I felt on top of the world. There have been times when I was this close to throwing in the towel, switching fields, and retreating altogether. Mostly because things weren't coming together the way I imagined, and my confidence was dwindling.
For most of us, there comes a point when the balance starts to shift, and we start to feel more certain about our capabilities. The doubt has never fully subsided, but I still know there is a lot of value that I bring to the table, regardless of circumstance. I still have days where there is an inner voice whispering “are you sure you're good enough?” And let me tell you when that voice emerges, there’s nothing I’d like to do more than tell that bitch to shut the hell up.
Confidence is like a roller coaster at the carnival of life that you never knew you were even getting on. Especially early in our careers when we are filled with nothing but change and uncertainty. You’re constantly ratcheting up to the top, just to get ready for your next ride down. At some point, you try to learn better than to listen to that doubtful part of yourself. You push yourself to ride the highs as long as you can. In the process, you learn that the next low is a reason to start climbing for the next high, and it can be motivating and invigorating to reach places you've never been. You learn that the ride is much more enjoyable once you realize you're on it. Once you're aware, you can harness both the good and the bad and turn them into something that changes you for the better.
My ride has been nothing but ups and downs lately. I sort of semi-quit my full-time job in August + went on a three-month sabbatical to Bali. The trip was amazing and a total eye-opener. When I left, I expected to come back to a part-time freelance role at my old job, as we had kept a door open for me to return and made some arrangements to allow it to happen. After spending time in Bali, my heart wasn't truly into returning, even though I left on good terms and had previously enjoyed my work there. When I got back to the US, I reached out to confirm an arrangement that worked for both of us, but ultimately we couldn't agree on the exact terms and it didn't work out.
So, that morphed into my business, this business, being a full-time gig without the safety net I had been envisioning. I would be lying if I said that it hasn't induced panic and fear from time to time over the past few months. It's been a new and wild ride to experience, that's for sure. I've freelanced once before, from 2012 to 2013, and with technological advancement, the second go of freelancing is already far superior. In terms of confidence, at this point in my career, I feel much more like I know what I'm doing and where I'm going. I have the direction and skills to get myself there and I've learned so much in the time from that first experience to now. Confidence also builds upon itself in an interesting way, because the more we put ourselves out there and put in an honest effort, our failures or shortcomings start to bother us less and less. We become more resilient to the fact that we fall short sometimes; we become more human.
There are still some big lows, of course, and when it's you and you alone, there's no one else to blame when things go bad, so you put a lot of strain on yourself to get it right -- the first time! While I was in Bali, I was working for a few clients, and I had a batch of first proto samples come in and they were so bad, really awful, like . . . some of the weirdest samples I have ever seen put together for a buyer. They were HUGE in strange ways; I had to pin inches and inches out of them, but I fit them anyway.
During the whole process, I was stressed and worried about making sure I conveyed my comments in a way that was clear enough. I worried that my fit corrections might not get them to a good enough place for the next go. Communication can be a challenge when working with overseas factories, and sometimes our fit corrections or pattern adjustments aren't clear to each other. With so many major fit adjustments on these samples, I wasn't confident that I'd get back samples that were closer to our standards.
I was thrilled when the next batch of samples came in and they were very improved! Overtime working with this supplier has had a lot of challenges, but I've
noticed that we have been able to come together quite well, meet the challenge, and create something beautiful. It has totally shaken my confidence at times, but much more than that, it has made me feel accomplished and successful to be able to work through a problem and develop an improved relationship with this business partner. Even more than that, I know that if I can do it once, I can certainly do it again.
During my first freelancing stint many years ago, technology was nowhere like it is now. There weren't a whole lot of options for invoicing systems. When I needed to bill a client, I had to create the invoice in excel and I was never super confident in that arena. I hated the doubt I felt whenever I hit send on the emails where I attached that document. One time I made a mistake on a bill and felt like I couldn't go back on what I sent so I just ate the difference and it hurt.
Now there are freelance-specific platforms on the market like HelloBonsai, FreshBooks, and Zoho and they make all the contracting, invoicing, and time tracking so much easier and even . . . confidence enhancing!! #nerdalert I really dig making up my contracts in the system. I like giving a lot of thought to make goals really clear. It makes me feel like a rockstar who's got it all together when I hit send on those bad boys. Using HelloBonsai has made my confidence soar when it comes to feeling put together and professional, so it's funny to consider the days when invoicing made me panic.
During my first freelance era, I didn't have a lot of experience and I didn't understand the value I could bring to someone else. I didn't actually have a ton of value, though I tried my best. I wasn't really ready for the hustle, at least, not like I am today. Today, I have ten years of working in my field, and I have accumulated a diverse portfolio of work that embodies my spirit and eagerness to create beautiful things. I have worked with high-growth rocket ship startups, top-tier commercial brands, and mass-market department stores. So, I kinda know I 'get it'.
For the last seven years, I have focused on creating value for the people I work with because that is what grows your confidence. Figuring out how to bring value has been a constant shift of recognizing my strengths, and my weaknesses and then adjusting the dials on how hard I work to improve those areas. Instead of doing just things I am comfortable with, I embrace the shit that scares me the most. You know the stuff, the kind of tasks that make your palms sweaty and your heart flutter.
Not only do I absolutely love the challenge of taking on new roles, but also the crazy surge of confidence I get when I figure it out. It feels invigorating to accomplish something that is brand new to me. It feels like I'm moving the dial; I'm getting somewhere, and that is an amazing feeling. I also find that every time I try something new, it feels easier to attempt and do the next thing. I've learned to just start any idea I get quickly, and never thinking too much or too long. Don't dawdle, just do. It works.
My growing confidence has allowed me to experience some of the most wonderful joys of working in fashion, too. My favorite thing ever is to see someone wearing one of my designs. It's usually a swimsuit because most undies are your own little secret. Often nowadays, when I see someone wearing one of my suits on the beach, I'll go up to them and ask how they like it. There is nothing more exciting to hear about than how they love it, the way it fits, and how they want it in more colors! Talk about confidence!!
Reading negative reviews or hearing something bad about your designs is the flip side and an important part of being a designer. Take it with the right mindset and try to turn it into something good, though. Don't dwell upon it, focus on what you can that is objective and executable and then leave the rest behind.
Another thing that enhances my confidence has been becoming a resource and a reference person for my friends, colleagues, and network. I love working on new things and helping people solve problems, so it's such a big boost when you hear from someone new that is interested in working with you on something. Having a bigger network thanks to LinkedIn and Instagram, there is so much more opportunity here for me than there was during that first go. My connections have expanded exponentially and the ability to find people I'm interested in working with is so much easier.
All in all, my confidence certainly has changed quite a bit since my first go at self-employment. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work on so many different brands and projects that fill my life with creative endeavors and excitement. Confidence might be a roller coaster ride, but as a kid who used to go to Cedar Point every year, I'll ride this sucker as long as it takes to win. Roller coasters are my jam.