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  • Leave No Doubt: Escaping Impostor Syndrome

    - Stuart Lilford
  • I recently attended Feral Vector - an independent games festival in Hebden Bridge in the UK. It's a fantastic event if you've never been, I recommend it. This year I wanted to get involved with it, so I did short talk on Imposter Syndrome which focused on mental illness and creativity. It was an honour to get up on that stage and for a hall full of people to listen to words that I said.

    Afterwards I received a lot of positive comments on the talk from a lot of wonderful people. They mostly seemed to like the slides that I produced, but the content of the talk resonated with quite a few people. I thought it would be a good idea to write up the talk in a nice article and share it here. I didn't use notes or a script, so I've tried to stick with roughly what I said, but with a few bits of extra information added in.

    My name is Stuart Lilford and I guess I would describe myself as a game designer. I worked for studios for 3 years in QA/Design roles before making games independently and lecturing in game design in a Yorkshire-based college. Most recently I made The Temple of ADVENTURE for the Adventure Jam and I'm currently working on Splodey Vaders for Android and iOS.

    But enough about me. Let's find out something about you. I want to begin this article by asking you a question: "Did you have an imaginary friend as a child?" Have a think and put your hand up if you did. I asked this to the audience at Feral Vector and there was a steady stream of hands raise around the room, so a number of people have had imaginary friends when they were younger.

    So I *did* have an imaginary friend, but he appeared in my life when I was a bit older (around the age of 14) and is still around now. However, he was less of an imaginary friend and more of an imaginary asshole. His name is Jason.

    Jason is an asshole because he's one of those people that are always putting you down. Whenever I decide to try and make something creatively, Jason pops up to question why I'm even bothering. Whenever I put something I've created online, be it a game or some artwork, Jason will arrive to suggest that I shouldn't have done it and that I look like an idiot. Whenever I receive some praise or recognition for something I've done, he'll be there to tell me that I'm a fraud, I don't deserve the recognition. I'm not as good as other people doing the same thing as me. The person praising me has made a mistake.

    Jason appears all the time, but there are a number of occasions when he's had a really negative impact on my mental state. Here are some of the main examples of when Jason has appeared in my life:

    This is me when I was just about the start my first job as a Game Designer. I would be working at an independent studio working on games published by Sony. I was incredibly excited. Ever since I was a child and the first time I played Super Mario All Stars I wanted to be a game designer. I was well-aware of how difficult it was to get a job as a designer when you're inexperienced as I'd read many an article on the subject. I felt extremely lucky to be offered the role. I'd been to University to study it and now I'd be doing it as an actual job! This was my dream and I couldn't wait.

    But then, Jason turned up

    "What do you think you're doing? You've got no experience designing games and now you're going to go into a job doing it? You're University wasn't even that good. It was run by a graphic designer who didn't even play games and you only got a 2:1. You're going to screw up. You've no business having that job".

    Despite Jason's whispers I did the job for around a year, but the contract was a 3-month temporary role that they topped up at the end of each 3 months. One month came when I was told that the contract wouldn't get rolled over and I found myself no longer employed in the industry. I took this as an affirmation of Jason's whispers and I told myself that he was right, rather than it simply being a business decision. I had no place in that role, I wasn't good enough, I didn't belong in that industry.

    I decided not to apply for roles in the industry again and I stopped making games full stop for a while. I turned my back on it and instead went into working in the exciting world of business-to-business sales. I sold non-ferrous metals at a stainless steel and aluminium stockholders to fabricators and engineers. Sales wasn't for me and I hated my time working thee. It wasn't long though before the itch to create came back to me and I started making games again.


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