Belittling Your Ideas Doesn't Make You Humble
After working at a large tech company for about 3 years, I left to take a design job at a small ad agency. In the 2 months that I have been at this job, I will say it is surprisingly more like Mad Men than my advertising education let on (minus the sexism and cool 60’s fashion). I have identified as Peggy and deemed who is Don, Roger, and the rest of gang.
One of the most interesting things that I have been able to identify is my lack of enthusiasm for my ideas. In the creative world, you are taught to edit ideas and take constructive criticism. As a young professional, I read a lot of articles that say your career depends on how much your first boss trusts you. But I have come to learn that it matters how much your first, second, third, and even fourth bosses trust you. I was extremely lucky to have an amazing boss at my first internship. Rachel Hammon, owner and founder of The Paraders, trusted me with more than I probably would have trusted myself. Another boss I had, Katherine Theoharpolous, gave me so much creative freedom and trusted me to work on projects that no intern would ever have to chance to work on. Both of these bosses were warm, honest, and true mentors.
Through the next few internships and jobs, I would encounter bosses who would shut down every idea, simply because it wasn’t theirs. I started retracting my head into my shell, afraid that every idea I had would disappoint. Anytime I would participate in an “open brainstorm,” my ideas would be shut down with logistical or political excuses. If I had an idea I truly thought would work, I would have to beat around the bush, brush the idea off like it wasn’t that good, or even worst, make my bosses believe it was actually their idea. Phrases such as “like you mentioned” or “your idea reminds me of this one thing I saw” were part of my every day. It got my ideas out there, which is all that mattered, but it felt dirty.
In ad school, I was taught to share every idea with pride. Brainstorms are brainstorms for a reason. An expensive, time intensive idea can evolve into a more realistic idea. It’s a shame that at so many jobs, my ideas were being ripped apart and thrown in the trash before they could even have a chance to grow into something.
This past week I have been working with one of my creative directors on a new campaign. We spent a few hours on the phone brainstorming ideas. We came up with hundreds of concepts, some better than others. But every time I started to share an idea that wasn’t fully formed or frankly sucked, she pushed me to talk about it more. Think out loud. Some of the best ideas we have for this campaign came about this way.
My creative director and I sat down with another creative director to go over our ideas. At one point, one of our concepts wasn’t strong enough and he wanted us to all think together to make it stronger. I had a suggestion. I didn’t know if it was great but it could work. So I started my suggestion by saying “So I don’t know if this makes sense but...” and finished the idea by saying “but I dunno, it might not be visually different enough.” Like who pitches an idea to two creative directors like that!? But to my surprise, they actually liked the idea. I tried to fight back a smile when I was praised. I didn’t even realize how messed up that was until my creative director turned to me an whispered, “That was a great idea. I love it. Great job!”
Is it so bad to believe in your own ideas? Is it so bad to be happy when someone likes your ideas? I have been thinking about this a lot. I don’t know if it’s a creative person thing or a woman thing. But there is just too much darn humility in the way I have been working. Maybe it’s not even humility. Humble people can have confidence. Humility shouldn’t be shown by belittling yourself or your ideas. It should be shown by giving credit where credit is due and accepting praise gracefully. In all honesty, it’s not humility at all. Belittling my ideas is a defense tactic. If I show I don’t love the idea, then my ego doesn’t take a hit when no one else likes it either. But how can other people like my idea if I don’t like it? How can others believe in me if I don’t believe in me?
As always, the first step is recognizing you have a problem. I will strive to represent myself and my ideas in a stronger way. I deserve that and so do my ideas, creative directors, and clients.