1. Create and validate your own professional role and identity.
From elementary school, when you are asked to draw a picture of what you want to be when you grow up, to high school or college, when your classes may start reflecting career goals, to the holiday dinner table or party, it feels like our culture places a lot of emphasis on “what you do.” The most important thing is that you are okay with what you do.
That doesn’t mean you love every project, client, or coworker, but that overall your work resonates with you and works for you. If it doesn’t, hopefully, for your sanity, you’re working to get to that state. Don’t let society as a whole or well or ill meaning people who come into your life decide who you are or what you are.
Labels are just words. If you are a chef who also blogs, or a coder who also scuba dives, that’s great. However much or little you share about your professional identity, and how you brand yourself in personal and professional situations, is up to you.
If you are a graphic designer who is just starting out, go ahead and call yourself a designer if that’s what your heart says you are. You don’t have to have a fat portfolio or a finished degree to be a creator, and when you validate yourself, instead of looking for others to define you, your confidence brings an authenticity and glow to your work and helps you to take on new challenges.
2. Respect your own work and talents, and require the same from others.
It can be hard to believe in ourselves, but the more we do, the more others are typically able to believe in us.
Start by praising yourself for small accomplishments and let yourself enjoy and be excited about any milestones or successes. Did you publish your first blog post? Amazing! Get your first follower on a social networking site? You rock! It’s up to you how you frame your career path and progress, and with a self-respecting attitude, you are more likely to rack up successful moments.
If you work hard, and most of us do in one way or another, you deserve to be respected and paid. Be wary of haters and people who don’t put any value on your work but nevertheless want to use it in some manner. Your judgment and your voice matter, and you can use them to set standards and boundaries about how you expect yourself and your work to be treated. Treat yourself as you would have others treat you.
3. Forgive yourself for mistakes and start again.
When you are engaging in work that is meaningful to you to some degree, it can be very painful to take a wrong turn, step on someone’s toes, or totally screw something up. If you are upset about a mistake, that’s alright; just be upset for a while. Take some time to go for a walk, or do whatever helps you to feel a bit safer or less stressed. Return to the situation after you’ve brought your panic mode down a few (or many) notches. Try to befriend yourself.
Remember, you’ve been though other challenges and mistakes before, you’ve seen others make mistakes, and usually the situation or project can be salvaged, re-imagined, or retired, as professionally and gracefully as possible.
If you have a hard time with self-befriending and self-love, you are not alone. There is a lot of pressure to excel and compete in our culture and it is not uncommon to recreate that stressful environment internally. Making time for the fun and relaxing things you enjoy and even leaving yourself loving notes are practices that can help you to be there for yourself. Start over again and again, take a new breath, and see what’s around the corner.