An entrepreneur exists along the fine line between impostor and badass.
Thankfully, at Pioneer Nation, I got to spend a few days with lots of other people on this fine line, too. (If you have not read about the Impostor Complex, go check it out. Come back to my blog later; compared to Tara Gentile’s work, I’m totally lame.)
And that is the point.
Compared to other web designers, other content creators, and other videographers, my work is crap. When someone wants to hire me for a website design, I can easily name ten other designers who are better than me.
But I don’t.
Instead, I calmly guide my future clients into working with me, ignoring the feeling that I’m a total fraud. I can do that, most of the time; and I can justify it, too. There are lots of clients that think I do great work. Some of my stuff is pretty good. But some of my stuff, it really sucks.
Accepting the Call to Adventure
I really like the WDS production team. They’ve got clever and adventurous ideas, and they are responsible for creating the community of independent entrepreneurs that give me a sense of belonging. When they asked me to get on the Hot Seat at Pioneer Nation, and describe a problem I was facing in my business so we could workshop it onstage in front of hundreds of people, I jumped at the chance. The problem I faced was simple and fundamental: my newsletter CTA (Call-to-Action) really sucks. This landing page is not my best work; it’s functional. I made it last year, and never got around to really fixing it. I can get away with this, in front of people who don’t know how to make websites, and don’t know what a CTA is for. But I was in a room full of digital professionals, showcasing my most unpolished, mediocre work as my introduction to everyone.
What have I done?
The criticism was polite, but it was swift and brutal. One of the perils of working solo is that there is nobody around to ask you the fundamental questions that stand out to even the most casual observer. I kind of knew that the logo for Laptop Living was not very good, but never really thought much about it, until hundreds of people were looking at it thinking, ‘Wow, that is one ugly logo.’ My CTAs weren’t good enough to workshop productively. I had fundamental problems that would take much longer to untangle. My photo even got called ‘creepy.’ Then, I missed the bit I worked out with Sean, where I would plug his Location Rebel community as a better place where people could learn about living from a laptop. Leaving the stage, I felt like a failure and a fraud.
Education By Failure
When I took the invitation to take the Hot Seat on the mainstage with Sean and Tyler, I knew full well that I may fail. Every time you step up to the microphone, you take the implicit risk of failure and embarrassment. Failure is something I do not fear. (Actually, I recently discovered I do not possess the capacity to fear failure. For better or for worse.) I am brave, and adventurous, and I have always believed that everything else being equal, if I fail faster than you, I win. So I said yes, because if I did not succeed, at least I knew it would be a fun way to fail. I invited this criticism, because without it, I could easily coast for another year using a bad logo and a bad photo, never realizing what people were actually thinking about it. Inviting the embarrassment and shame onstage in front of hundreds of people wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t fun, but I know how fast one can grow when taking a journey through the forge of failure.
Impostor or Badass?
Before I properly had time to process most of these lessons, on the morning after Pioneer Nation, all of my websites went down. All of them. At 9 am on a Saturday morning. My websites, my client websites, emails, everything went down. Bluehost sent an automatic scanning bot that shut my server down with no warning. I flew into action mode. (This was not the first time Bluehost had crashed on me.) I accessed my server backend, got tech support on live chat, and started rewriting database tables. Let me make a clear declaration: I don’t know anything about MySQL database tables. I don’t work with them on a daily basis. I only have a vague conception of how they work. The whole time I was working to repair this colossal error, I was thinking, “I’m such a fraud. I’m not even a decent web designer. I can’t even keep my websites online. I’m an impostor.” And then, after fifty minutes of downtime, everything was fixed. My websites were back online, and it is very possible that nobody ever even noticed.
A Badass Impostor
As little as I know about server administration, I acted quickly, and I fixed the problem. I didn’t call my clients and tell them all ‘sorry, I don’t know what’s going on.’ I fixed the problem – even though I didn’t know how. So yeah, I’m an impostor. A better web designer would have had a better server rack, and wouldn’t have to deal with a crash like I did. But the better web designers have all gone through what I went through. They learned like I did, by experience. So even though I’m an impostor, I’m a badass impostor, because I learn fast. I am willing to do things that I don’t know how to do, because that is the only way you gain enough experience points to level up.
The Forge of Failure
Iron is not forged in an easy place. It has to be heated, and beaten, and it hurts. When the forging process is complete, there is nothing left of the dross. The impure metals are forced out by the heat and the hammering. It is only by fire that we can effect massive change, and as I sat on the Hot Seat, I knew that was what was happening to me. Instead of waiting until next year to figure these lessons out gently, I learned them quickly, and it burned, and it worked. And I saw how this could be made so much easier, with Show and Tell.
The Solution: Show and Tell
Creatives need someone to whom they can show their work, talk a little about what they want it to do, and get a couple superficial comments that serve as authentic first impressions. We need a Show and Tell. To prevent mishaps like my Hot Seat experience, I’m going to host a weekly Show and Tell on Google Hangout. Six participants, first come, first served. Everyone gets 10 minutes: five to show what they’re working on, and five for feedback. If you want to join a Show and Tell circle, sign up here.