What to do when you’re in over your head

One of the worst feelings, is being super excited for a job — only to sit down and realize that you’re in over your head.

Every single graphic designer goes through this at some point in their lives, so don’t worry. It’s normal. But what do you do when you’re faced with this horrible feeling that you’ve just bitten off more than you can chew?

Break the project up into small pieces

What’s possible to do and what’s impossible to do? Or what feels like it’s impossible to do?

Often, breaking the project down into smaller steps may make things look a little easier. It may end up being a few small pieces that you actually worry about. It’s crazy how those little things can make the entire project seem impossible — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

What can you teach yourself?

Sometimes the timeline for a project allows for this, sometimes it doesn’t. But if it’s possible, see if there’s a way that you can learn some of the skills you need on the project itself. 

If you find that you don’t have the timeline or the ability to take care of, it’s not hte end of the world to ask for help. I know this is tough for some people, but I always look at asking for help like an opportunity.

Being able to manage other people is a great trait to have as a designer. If you’re looking to move into management or a senior level position at some point in your career, the experience will help. 

You might not be leading something big, grandiose, or spectacular. But being able to lead a junior designer or another colleague offers you a great way to teach yourself how to lead.

Is the solution already out there?

I think we get stuck in this rut of constantly feeling like we need to invent the wheel ourselves. But maybe there’s already solution out there!

For websites, open source software has been a life saver for me. Need a content management system? WordPress to the rescue! There’s a plugin for almost everything.

Can’t find a plugin for what you need? Find something that’s close. You can always tweak or adjust things as you go and there’s many communities to helping people make things work.

Stuck on the creative side of things? Our resources for stock photos or graphics has exponentially become better in recent years. Being able to find a graphic that allows you to start somewhere beyond square one can be a big help.

Be honest

This one sort of stinks. But sometimes, it might be worth going back and letting your boss or client know what’s up. If the deadline won’t allow you to finish the project, maybe there’s a way to get an extension.

If something is out of your wheelhouse, perhaps your boss can assign some extra help to the project. They may even be able to get a more senior person involved who can guide things along.

Like I said though, this is tough to do. It feels like you’re admitting defeat, and at the end of the day, who wants to admit defeat?

Just go for it

Sometimes I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit with the level of talent we have. You may surprise yourself at how much you really can do or how talented you really are.

When the project is done, nothing beats the confidence boost you get from this. Being able to look back at a project that you initially thought was impossible to do, and realize it is possibile is amazing! And honestly, who isn’t going to be upset over a little bit of a confidence boost?

Sign up for Finally Friday

Get weekly updates from me, as well as a free sample copy of my typeface Harvest Stout!

Daniel Nisbet will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. You acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.