For days when you feel like a fraud

Amy @ Pikaland

I was standing a few feet away from the podium, and getting all nervous as I waited for my turn to be called up. Some minor tinkering needed to be done for the projector settings, as I included videos in my lecture, and so I needed sound, but right now there was none. As seconds trickled into minutes, my hands felt all clammy and I could feel the trickle of sweat come down my forehead although the room was comfortably cool against the sweltering heat that I had evaded before.

As I waited for the technician to wind up their trouble shooting efforts, I looked at the audience – about 40 to 50 fresh faced students and faculty were staring at the screen eagerly – waiting for the presentation to begin. Anytime now. I bet they were wondering who the heck I was too, I thought to myself. And at that moment, I thought to myself, why me? Why did I get a chance to stand up here and deliver a speech to a batch of wide-eyed students who would soon graduate with a degree in graphic design & illustration? I didn’t study illustration or graphic design while I was in university, although I did spend most of my time in a studio, designing spaces. What I did do was to study the subject intensively though, on my own for the past 5 yearsI had no right to be up there.

I was gripped with fear all of a sudden. All the things that I wanted to reach out to students to tell them about – the fact that everything is a process instead of a one-off experience – study, exams, career, passion, life. That there isn’t a such a thing as doing it wrong. That the process isn’t a linear trajectory. I wasn’t there to tell them what to do. I only meant to share with them what I had learnt throughout the past 5 years when I threw myself headlong into studying what I was passionate about. I didn’t need a degree to prove to others that I love illustration and to share what I’ve learnt, certainly. Or do I?

Perhaps it was also due to the fact that I was certain that I had the simplest slide show on earth, compared to the other speakers who went before me.

I had slipped in to see the other speakers present a few hours earlier, and what I saw were slides after slides with dizzying effects (and music to boot!), peppered with cool animation sequences – fun to watch when I was part of the audience, but since I was looking at them before I was due to give my speech, it only made me want to curl up into a ball and slink away silently. My slideshows had hardly any animation at all. Simple big words up on the screen. Even bigger images that filled up my presentation, single ones, mostly. I felt small. Tiny. Insignificant. What was I thinking?

I could hear the emcee speak. And then I’m up on that podium. Staring. Looking. Fumbling. Forgetting. Then I began. Deep breaths.

And then it was done. Just like that. In that split second when I quieted I hoped that I wouldn’t have to hop down the stage cringing at how I sounded in my head. I had gripped the edge of the podium with my fingers, steadying myself, hoping and waiting to hear the responses to what I had delivered. I was prepared to close my eyes, because I’d dread what I’d find: bored faces of students with glazed eyes, or worse, if I had laid my eyes on those who fell asleep.

But no one was sleeping. Their eyes were fully open, wide awake. I heard a first applause. And quickly, another. And within a split second the room thundered with pairs of hands finding each other in a raucous rhythm. And all that fear inside me dissipated. Dissolved. Melted away like it never happened at all. But it did. And I remembered. I also remembered why I stood up there, despite how my tummy was filled with the wings of a thousand butterflies, and how I doubted myself and cursed my boldness a few hours before.

There wasn’t time to think. The next thing I knew, came a flurry of questions and answers. There were laughters ringing in the hall. Kind teachers and students who put up their hands and stood up to remark about how they enjoyed the speech, and they loved the fact that I “kept it real”. There were thank you’s, hugs, and even tears. Hope, love, happiness. There were bright flashes of light too – people who wanted to be photographed with me! Although I can never have fathom why (up to this day), but I wasn’t one to argue. Smile, hug, click. I certainly didn’t expect any of it at all.

I truly didn’t.

Amy @ Pikaland

The One Academy students


In the comments below, tell me:

Have you ever felt like you’re not worthy of something? Accolades, fans, praise? Or even just a nice word that someone said about your work? Have you ever felt like you’re a fraud and that one day you’ll get discovered, and then everything will come crashing down (even though it hasn’t, and you’re not really one!) How did you move past it?

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Q+A: How to create the work you love and make money at the same time.

Q+A illustration by Amy of Pikaland!

I received a question from Kayla, a few months ago, who writes:

Dear Amy,

I am currently working full time as a graphic designer, but I what I really love is illustration. And what’s conflicting is that I am doing graphic design work with one style, while my illustration style is another. The style that I work with on my day job is very safe – a generic, vector style that seems to be able to sell well. But on the other hand, I’m having trouble promoting my personal illustrations, which is dark, graphic and moody. I told myself that I could only transition to full-time freelance if I can find a way to market my personal illustration, which seems doubly hard. I don’t want to be a freelancer and yet create designs that do not speak to me on a personal level because I don’t see myself being happier for it in the long run. How do I create the work I love and make money at the same time?

Hi Kayla!

You’re right – there are styles that are more commercially viable, and because of this fact, there are industries out there who are looking for illustrators who can produce almost the same style as another, because it’s popular. There’s no dearth of talent, that’s for sure!

Don’t listen to people who tell you that there isn’t a market for your work. I always tell my students that an illustrator’s style isn’t the problem.  The market out there is HUGE. There are niches, and sub-niches and sub-sub-niches that it’s wild. The internet and globalization has created an infinite category of niches, and you need to capitalize on it! There is no such thing as wrong work – the main reason why you’re not getting any clients or paid work is because you’re aiming for the wrong market.

So, here’s what you need to do:

Step 1:

Take a long, hard look at your own work and answer these questions.

Describe your work as much as you can. Is it dark, scary, moody and yet uplifting in some way, etc? Where do you see it belong? Books, stationery, clothes, bags, as a children’s book, etc? What age group do you think you’ll attract? What is the message you’re trying to send out?

Step 2:

Find brands/companies/people who would benefit from your style, and an audience that mirrors the information you come up with at Step 1.

Who do you think would love to work with you – so that they can achieve their goal and yours? Let’s be honest here – if your work isn’t what most people are after, then don’t go after these people. Never mind if it’s Target, Anthropologie or Marks & Spencers. You don’t necessarily have to market to the masses to be successful. Carve out your own way. Find these smaller markets that would need your help and your work, and grow with them. And I will say this – this part is the hardest part of your research, because you need to be open to different possibilities and stretch yourself beyond what you know. How do you do this? Ask your friends/families, and yes, consult the search oracle – Google.

Go where you’re needed, instead of forcing your style on others and you’ll find that it won’t be so much as an uphill struggle when it comes to making money doing the work you love.


In the comments below, tell me:

What’s the single most effective strategy you’ve used to make money from work that you love creating? I’d love to know what’s worked and what hasn’t for you — so please share as many specific details as possible!

If you like this article, share it with your friends – tweet about it, share it on Facebook, or just send it around via good ol’ email! Want to ask a question of your own? Send me an email:

** And pssst, I’m going to dig pretty deep into this topic and a few others in my new online class, coming up in September 2013. So click here to sign up for the newsletter to be the first to know the details when we have them!

How to create a work-life balance by asking for help

Angie Wang

Angie Wang

“You can have it all but, you can’t do it all.” said Gloria Steinem in the documentary, Makers: Women Who Make America.

And the sentiment rings true. And not just for women.

Hands up to those who feel that your work life balance has been one big blur after another. From driving your kids to and fro soccer practice or hustling at your day job and then thinking about the things you’re going to achieve, only when the time comes you’re nibbling on chips and watching reruns of Friends, sprawled on the couch after an exhausting week.

Things start to feel even more impossible when you let yourself down with each passing day. Those promises that you made about wanting to cook more often? It went down the drain along with the list of books you want to read. All because you have chores that needs to be done, and you don’t seem to have enough time or hours in the day to cram them all in. Cloning seems to be the only solution (and conveniently, an impossible one at that). Who has time to paint, draw or even sit still to contemplate business strategy, with life happening all around you?

I used to feel this way too, until I reached a point where I had to surrender myself to the fact that I can’t do it all with my two hands. It was two months before my wedding, and Mr. T and I made a list of things that we would have to do. Paint our rooms and bathrooms, fix a few leaking spots on our roof, change the door, clean the entire house – iron grilles and all! – and then maintain enough sanity to do our work on top of it. We did everything by ourselves when we first got our house four years ago – down to cementing and patching up after the wirework was done, painting the house, sanding the grouting, etc. But at this point in my life, I just couldn’t. I raised a white flag – exasperated and desperate at the same time.

So I turned to Mr. T and said, this time, we need to hire people to help us.

Actually I think went more like this:

Me: “No way in heck am I going to paint another wall or get friendly with a 10-foot pole to reach those crevices.” Especially since this is the third house I’ve had to paint within 2 years.

And so we did hire help. I sussed out part-time maids, who came once in two weeks to help me clean up the house, and we asked neighbors to recommend someone who can help us with fixing up the house. Pretty soon, things were getting done and not a moment too soon too. And I was thrilled at how I felt. It felt really good. I was able to concentrate on my work, and sort out things for the wedding, and I didn’t get burned out that much in the end.

We didn’t spend a lot of money as we were under a budget, and it was a culmination of small things that snowballed into this one giant to-do list that we were really glad to be rid off. But I now still hire those cleaners to help with the house chores once in a few weeks, and I’m the better for it. I felt good because it allowed me to free up my time to pursue the things I want (and need) to do, and not stress about having the weekend roll around because it meant I had to clean the house. I can focus on teaching more. I sketched more. I brainstormed more projects, took on more freelance work and earned more money. All this from hiring some help.

I allowed other people who were really great at what they do take over the things that I would have done poorly anyway. But the amazing thing that came out of it was that paying for other people’s services helped me to stop feeling bad about myself. So I could concentrate on doing the important work that only I can do and leave the rest to the people who were good at theirs.

And I have to share one caveat – I’ve had people telling me that they can’t afford part-time cleaners, etc., because they’re on a tight budget. That’s totally fair. I was on a budget too, and I was sitting on the decision for such a long time that I weighed the option against doing it myself – and DIY-ing won out for more than a year. But then I tried it out. And it was a revelation, I’ll tell you that much. I’ve done a lot of things all by myself for a long time, and while I saved money in the process, I realized that the older I got, the longer it took me to do the things I didn’t like. And I’m glad to have one less thing to worry about.

So my challenge is this: Think about the stuff that you hate doing, and how you can hire some help instead – and see how that will help you maintain a work-life balance. If you hate having to keep tabs on your bills, invoices, etc, hire an accountant. Hate trimming the lawn? Get someone to help you with it – a high-school student who might like to earn extra money for instance. The point is not about the money – you can always barter or trade your services; it’s all about asking for help in little ways that will make a big impact in your life.



What would you most like help with in your life that would allow you to spend your time more creatively? Likewise, if you already hire help, I’d love to hear what it is, and how it helped you!

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[Illustration: Soft War in Silk World by Angie Wang]
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