Why I don’t have imposter syndrome
Yem Akingbade, creative at The&Partnership, isn’t ashamed to admit she’s where she belongs. Imposter syndrome, what’s that? Akingbade talks us through her journey to inspire readers to feel at home doing what they love.
Credit: Ricky Diaghe
Some of us were born with the blessing of being creative. Others have learned it. Either way, it’s like a muscle that should be regularly exercised, tested and stretched. Its potential is amazing, and with the correct training, we have no right to doubt its ability. Even with praise for what many achieved, many talented creatives feel undeserving.
This is known as imposter syndrome. As a little girl, I loved putting pencil or any pen I could grab from my parent’s drawer to paper. The earliest drawings I can recall are of the most iconic girl group to grace our planet, the Spice Girls. I took pride in adding the little details of their outfits with my colorful felt tip pens. I was so interested in drawing and design that at 14, I swapped my Saturday mornings in bed for a short course in Fashion at Bournemouth Arts Institute.
My GCSEs, A-Levels, two degrees, and several short courses to follow all strongly align with the craft of art. But it took me until my late 20s to discover art direction for advertising.
I completed my undergraduate at LCC in 2013 and then spent several years building a fashion brand with minute resources and no connections. At 18, fueled by unwavering ambition, I packed my bags to leave my foster home ten minutes from the sea in exchange for the big, smoggy city with a scholarship to study Foundation Art & Design at Blake College. From that moment of independence, struggle and loneliness to the start of my advertising course at the School of Communications Art (SCA) was undoubtedly the toughest decade of my life.
The personal, mental and financial struggle will fill another article, but my dedication to creating a British-Nigerian fashion brand molded me for success. I learned how to design, sew, concept, ideate, produce, style, direct, market and sell clothes. I made graphics, wrote press releases, managed interns, negotiated costs, scouted models and venues, organized events, calculated margins and persuaded people to buy my creations. I had many successes, taking YEMZI to Paris, Milan and Slovenia.
I was being recognized by British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN and even Beyonce. My designs have been featured in music videos for WizKid, Tiwa Savage and NAO, to name a few. I could have easily felt like a fashion imposter because I didn’t fit the typical background of designers, but instead, I herored aspects of my identity as selling points. Beyond my business, I knew I had great ideas and a unique perspective that would benefit others. During the lockdown, in true Yem fashion, I enrolled in a short course to support individual creatives.
Then the course leader asked if I had an interest in advertising.
With my why not attitude and a toddler faster approaching two, I said, 'Sure, let me check it out'.
I scanned the SCA website and applied. My academic year at SCA 2021-2022 was more beneficial than the undergraduate and postgraduate degrees I achieved from UAL and SOAS. Firstly, I had spent years building my creative muscle, strengthening and pushing myself to have well-thought-out original concepts and the skills to express them in various mediums. SCA builds on and remolds its students to fit for the best agencies in adland. Another vital factor in their alums' success is their connection to the UK’s top agencies through live briefs and office visits.
At the end of the course, all students were supported with finding a placement rather than being handed a certificate and thrown into the wild. I left with an award-winning portfolio and warm contacts with creatives and ECDs. I took this opportunity as a fresh advertising hybrid (art director/copywriter) and sprinted with it. My first stop was Kessels Kramer for three months and then to where I call home today, The&Partnership. The student portfolio that got me here was TTB Cream shortlisted, had two D&AD new blood pencils and The Drum Chip Shop nomination.
Imposter syndrome was never a part of my vocabulary like it was for many of my peers. But I can’t lie; the shock of gaining my first corporate job hit me. I had been a self-employed fashion designer, a receptionist, a film and television extra, but never on a payroll with a salary. But I knew I deserved the junior position. It’s fast approaching a year in the advertising industry, with experience, commended ideas, and successful campaigns I’ve contributed to.
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In the same way, I had shed my student badge; I no longer resonate with the title junior.
We shouldn’t attach our identity to old versions of ourselves but use them as springboards to our next step. This month, I was a guest speaker at Our Hse, a mixer event founded by Ez Blaine (ex-Uncommon). At the Q&A, a member of the audience asked me if I ever suffered from imposter syndrome. My response was that I’ve been creative since I was a little girl and have been actively building on my craft since. I’m well deserving of my position.
I explained how, less than six months in, I’ve worked directly with the agency’s biggest client, and I have live work, so imposter syndrome for what I questioned? The room applauded me; collectively, they understood that my journey had not been easy, but my continued hard work was rightfully paying off.
I’m excited to continue to learn and become a better advertising creative. However, I recognize that I’ve done a shit ton of graft to get to this point. The little girl with a natural drawing talent is not the same person who can crack a brief and put a D&AD pencil on the shelf. I see my years of creative training and continuous learning as a testament to my swift transition from fashion to advertising.
People who feel like imposters often think luck has handed them great cards. I urge those people to calculate how much time they have put in to be where they are–their achievements to date - from a friend or colleague compliment to an agency or industry recognition.
Answer yes or no as to whether they’ve put the work in and whether the output has been of value. Whatever the answer to these questions, my advice is to be patient but be open to how your ‘muscle’ may align elsewhere by changing your environment, shifting your industry or reshaping your perspective.