YSDN 2017–2021 ∴ an aesthetic rollercoaster ride
Coming out of a specialized arts high school after a decade of fine arts, I craved new ways to apply my creative skills. This led to an intensive year of interior design at Sheridan College, before starting over and exploring other creative fields. A pivotal moment was when I got accepted into Sheridan Illustration and York-Sheridan Design. It was my fork in the road, having to choose between leaning in to the familiar and going out into the unknown. For this reason and that, perhaps against my better judgement, I took a chance on design. And here I am, four years later — taking a pause at a new crossroads.
These four years were a new kind of rollercoaster. Between two separate school strikes and a pandemic lockdown was a whirlwind of mixed emotions. Early on in YDSN, I came to notice just how talented my peers were. Creative work in all shapes and sizes gave me a sense of awe, and I tried to vocalize my admiration as much as I could. However, somewhere in the stressful middle years of YSDN, some of that admiration morphed into envy, insecurity and even shame — for not being able to make the same great projects that I saw.
Why did that happen? Perhaps designers and creatives in general are prone to the cognitive distortion of seeing others’ work as better, more professional, or more impressive than their own. In 1978, psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes named the feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement” as imposter syndrome (Richards, 2015). Imposter syndrome happens when we get good at something, but then dismiss its value for the same reason that it feels natural to us — that something so “easy” couldn’t be of much worth to the world. Instead, all the diverse talent we see around us fuel the voices of doubt in our heads, seizing every opportunity to tell us that we don’t have much to offer, that we don’t actually deserve to be here. It’s a sad irony that the talents and skills that differentiate us the most can be the same things that make us feel most insignificant.
In my Professional Aspects and Design Management classes this year, we were tasked with writing up professional bios for ourselves: who we are, what we do, and our unique approach to design. As you may imagine, this was not an easy task. But the process of writing two design bios back to back (and reading a few of my peers’ bios) somehow began to shift my perspective. Indeed, I know there are many design-related things I’m not the best at. I put the pain in ad campaigns, and cannot code a nice website (without tears). I don’t know the first thing about 3D modelling, and my motion design chops are elementary at best. But I can dream up compelling concepts and write a killer rationale, and create things that causes you to pause and linger. I can build synergy in a team, refine and polish details, and exceed expectations with a well-thought out creative process leading to a unique solution. Perhaps I will never be a web designer or a 3D designer or an editorial designer, but thanks to YSDN I will always be a design thinker. And the value of all these things will not diminish according to the ease with which I can achieve them.
Truth is, even if we have different or fewer credentials than others, our work will always be just as valid, just as significant (and often just as impressive) as the work we admire. At any point in time, there is most likely someone out there looking up to you and your work — the same way you look up to someone else. I’m still figuring it out, but I think when we step out of the scarcity mindset and make peace with the inner voice of doubt, we can find joy in sincerely celebrating strengths of our own and those around us. By doing so, we become better designers — simply by virtue of being better humans who can embrace themselves and others, with kindness.
As for me, I believe I will always be a hybrid creative. No matter how far I run, it seems the arts will not stop running through my veins. I know now that I don’t have to give up one for the other, that a designer can be an artist and vice versa — and be equally valid as both. So for as long as I am alive, I will try to exhaust all of my creative energy, interests and abilities to build a kinder and more thoughtful world. Wherever we find ourselves 5 or 50 years from now, my hope is that we as YSDN grads will not constrain ourselves to the job titles on our resumes, but that we will let our creative potential run free — with no regrets.
Goodbye, YSDN. You were a memorable one.
To our graduating class, cheers to making it through these tough years.
The future looks more hopeful with you guys in it.
2021– ∴ stepping in to a new unknown
Richards, C. (2015, October 26). Learning to Deal With the Impostor Syndrome. The New York Times.
Elise Wang is one of the graduates of the York/Sheridan Program in Design class of 2021. Catch Elise’s work showcased at the online graduate showcase on April 20–21. Visit ysdn2021.com for more details.