Will Creating Ever Not Be Terrifying?

The Outer Achiever vs The Inner Critic

Kelly Rauwerdink
By Kelly Rauwerdink
September 22, 2022

“Well, they didn’t find out that I was crap before, so it’s very possible they’re gonna find out I’m crap now.”

A dazzling internal pep talk courtesy of Kelly Rauwerdink as she proceeds to wow the most high-profile client of her career.

Though this thriving on the outside/trembling on the inside thing is entirely more endearing than know-it-all syndrome, it can be suffocating when the stakes are high.

On paper, Kelly is THE most self-believing human. Early adopter of JNCO jeans, baggy hoodies, and shorn blonde hair. Entirely herself since birth. Always hunched over a sketch tablet or hunkered behind the scenes of a high school play. One of two artistic daughters to parents who ran a woodworking shop. Creativity wasn’t an outlet, it was the Rauwerdink’s entire circuit system.

Now a seasoned Creative Director at Flagrant with a design side hustle called Hearts and Farts, one would think Kelly runs her own podcast on how to get paid as a woman in the arts. Inside, she’s the nervy kid psyching herself up to jump into a game of double dutch.

This is especially true when beginning a new project. Particularly when it’s led by Brian Forde, former Senior Advisor in the Obama White House and current CEO of Numero. They came to us to build out a universal reward system for political donors and volunteers powered by NFTs. They call it Electables.

“What the hell is an NFT?” Kelly remembers panic-thinking as she was briefed around a table of mostly strangers. She was tasked with being the lead designer in a design team of, uh, one.

The project was a tall order. Lead, research, manage, illustrate and design an entire NFT platform in a matter of months to reward political donors with one-of-a-kind campaign downloads. While working alongside the main stakeholder almost every day.

“I was like, cool-cool-cool, this isn’t daunting at all. I’m going to be exposed as some fake. But another part of me was like, what if this goes well? It was very much getting over my internal scariness.” Kelly recalled.

But no amount of motherly you can do this kiddo texts could quiet the imposter gerbil spinning in Kelly’s head. It took mentor Jesse Shternshus, founder of The Improv Effect, saying, “You know they hired YOU right? So just be you.” to convince Kelly to let the poop transference* out.

*It’s this thing where you ingest someone else’s feces in pill form to rebalance your colon and treat colitis but Kelly uses it as an analogy for culture share and getting a mutual “in” with someone.

Anyway, Kelly got to work. Iterating and sketching and cold-sweating as she saw the CEO’s avatar in her Figma board. She wrote bad jokes in the files to distract herself from the moths in her belly, but what she didn’t realize at the time was how much Brian Forde was enjoying watching the process up close.

“At first, we had fallen into this dance of me creating lo-fi wireframes and him not giving me any feedback. So I was like, great, okay, build the next screen, make it brighter, add another terrible joke. That turned into him saying working with me was his favorite hour of the day. He started to say silly things and swear, and I was like, Is that from me?”

Poorly photoshopped lawnmower (identified as Brian) mowing grass (identified as Kelly) alongside an image of a bonsai tree (identified as Kelly) being carefully pruned by scissors (identified as Brian)

The result of Kelly suggesting she runs wild with design (left image) and Brian is left with the cleanup. Brian countered that Kelly is more like an inspiring bonsai in need of careful pruning.

Duh, girl. Here’s the thing. When you ignore the quaking chihuahua inside your soul, you pay attention to the person you’re working with. You learn their edges, their style, their preferences. You can begin to understand what makes them feel comfortable. And excited! It’s the magic of caring how the other human feels more than how smart you look. (Which, makes you look pretty smart in the end.)

A meme showing Ben Affleck walking, with a laptop in hand, while staring down a photographer.

A loaded Tweet: “This dude is about to walk into your design review, not pay attention and then ruin your life.”

And it can transform what was once a sweaty kickoff meeting into a meme-off over text after signing a long-term engagement to develop “all of Brian’s hopes and dreams.”

Text exchange between Brian and Kelly. Kelly sends 'My stink is on everything Congrats (winky face emoji). Brian replies 'Lolz' and 'Keep st-inking it up!'. Which Kelly responded to with an image of Dwayne the Rock Johnson.

Kelly and Brian’s BFF texts when launching a merch product.

Creating Safety When You Suffer From Imposter Syndrome

When you’re working with a new team as a party of one, it’s even easier to suffocate under a wave of your own self-doubt. Try Kelly’s tips for bursting your own bubble to let some light (and reality) in.

  • Go full from the beginning. Pretending you’re somebody else will only add another layer to navigate.
  • Assume your team-mates also grapple with confidence, and be the first to ask what people are doing to establish a safe space.
  • If no one else steps up to lead, start asking questions. 80% of solving a problem is defining the question.
  • Set expectations early and often.
  • Understanding why decisions were made is as important as the deliverables. Rationalize your work and reasonings.
  • Designate a word-vomit ally that you can walk through your feelings with. Third-party validation can be helpful when you’re vacillating between shakiness and confidence.
  • Remember that even high-powered people are just people with worries and occasional constipation.
  • Never hide. Even if the show turns to shit.

“I think that’s the magic, just figuring out how that person communicates and meeting them in the middle. I learned to help Brian communicate the stuff in his head visually. We’d do fast iterations, failing often and early, so that we could do the best work and keep working. He could finally build trust in somebody to articulate his thoughts. And I don’t feel like he had those experiences with previous designers. He’s hasn’t been this pumpped to do stuff in a long time.”

Gasp! Was that confidence Kelly Rauwerdink?

If you’re looking for a team to help you discover the right thing to build and help you build it, get in touch.