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How I Overcame My (Design) Imposter Syndrome (+ 9 Things a Year at EHD Has Taught Me)

When I first started working at EHD, I knew nothing about design. I found myself here after applying for a temp data entry position that promised 1-2 weeks of work. I was seeking refuge (and some $$$) after I quit my job working for a fashion writer, photographer and stylist. Feeling defeated and licking wounds inflicted by the soul-sucking fashion world, “data entry” seemed like a decent enough distraction until I “figured it out.” A year later, here I still am, now the Special Projects Editor where I do things I actually enjoy like writing, editing, and shopping (for the sake of research, of course). But it was a bit of a road to get here. 

During my first week, I would hear passing words such as toile, rendering, “vignette” (they were speaking a foreign language both literally and figuratively) and there was something called a “mountain house” that they were considering a modern-Sscandi-rustic-California-casual cabin (or something like that). There were regular contemplations about whether the fireplace needed some more…schmear (???). I was completely lost and hiding behind my spreadsheets (you have my weeks of Excel work to thank for our Rooms and Shop pages). As I am sure many of you know, feeling lost is not something you want to feel in the workplace. My former self wanted to get out of there ASAP before they all found out I was a fraud and had never heard of Domino Magazine or House Beautiful. My imposter syndrome was real. 

Needless to say, I learned on the job. I listened intently, had lots of help from my friend Google, and did my best to prove that I was a hard worker. I let go of the expectation that I needed to know everything to be good at my job. I asked for help and was honest in the areas I lacked knowledge. In the right situation, with receptive coworkers and managers, it’s okay to not pretend you know everything about everything. 

I’m coming up to my year anniversary around here (they couldn’t get rid of me), and while what I’ve learned since my first days is not exactly revolutionary, I think (I hope) that it’s proof that a non-type-A person can still do alright in the world (and that maybe we have more fun). KIDDING. It is very stressful being me, but thanks to my coworkers and incredibly fun job, my life has changed and as a workaversary gift to me, Emily and Arlyn are allowing me to reflect on what I’ve learned/changed about myself, about design, about style since I walked through that door for the first time nearly 12 months ago. Let’s get to it:

Emilyhenderson10 Things I Learned 1

1. My Instagram feed is more inspirational (and, more importantly, less harmful).

Let me explain. I worked in fashion before this job, because fashion was my biggest passion apart from writing, and I wasn’t confident enough in my writing to risk it all to become an author. Before social media, I followed several fashion bloggers religiously and studied designers and trends, and it was fun and inspirational. Then, when IG became a marketing tool for every single brand and designer on the planet, things started to feel less fulfilling for me. Following fashion brands and fashion models started to become harmful. I unfollowed a lot of the brands I loved and all the size 2 models the industry reveres (Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, etc., etc.) because I couldn’t take the daily reminder that my body, face and style were not in line with the fashion’s world insane, unrealistic and harmful portrayal of beauty and perfection.

Emily was the first designer I followed on Instagram. Others started to follow suit, and at some point, instead of perfect bodies in bikinis and perfectly styled outfits, I was getting a daily dose of furniture, beautifully styled interiors, tile patterns, etc. I was finally feeling inspired again. A sofa can never make you feel bad about yourself. This inspiration spilled into all areas of my life, and definitely allowed me to be a little nicer to myself.

2. My style absolutely changed.

This applies to both design and fashion. Before EHD, my design aesthetic changed depending on what music I was listening to that week, what book I was reading, or what movie I had recently watched. I didn’t have a foundation. What I mean is, I never thought to nail down or really understand what my style was. The result? I spent SO much money in my first apartment buying decor and furniture with no end plan (ha, are you noticing a trend here?). I was irresponsible with my purchases. I was flaky with my design ideas and thus, nothing really got done. But I have been cured, if only by the knowledge that multiple styles can work together if you know what to do.

Similarly, how I express my style on my body has shifted. I lean more towards timeless looks and stray away as much as possible from trends (which have a whole other meaning in L.A. by the way—a trend here disappears faster than influencers get tickets for Coachella. It’s absurd). Now, I buy clothes with intention, contemplating how that piece of clothing would contribute to my wardrobe just as I would a new piece of furniture or decor. My style is always evolving but I am more conscious of what my style says about me, and what I want it to reflect about me to the world (which is what it should be all about, right?)

3. I classify my design aesthetics as contemporary-rustic-mid-century-seventies with a hint of boho…and that’s okay.

Those are a lot of words to describe a single person’s style. But like all EHD rookies before me, I learned that style isn’t stagnant and is certainly more fun when you can mix and match. And you absolutely CAN mix and match, as long as it is cohesive. Emily is very loose and fluid with regards to throwing words at a style instead of bending to ONE look, and thank goodness because that is very freeing. I don’t use one word to describe myself as a person, so how could a single word describe my style, am I right?

4. I had to let go of instant gratification.

Designing a home, (or hell, even a single room) does not happen overnight. Even around here, with 12 hands on deck to help shop and style, it takes time. It takes patience. It takes a lot of work. Now knowing this, the millennial instant gratification beast in me has quieted, if only replaced by a slightly less agitated version of itself. All good things take time and it’s OKAY.

Michael Keck Living Room 141
image by sara ligorria-tramp | from: 7 tips for creating a unique home you really love
Emily Henderson Trends 2018 Modern Victorian 28
image via claire del mar

5. I found a love for decor that I used to think was fugly.

Remember in the ’90s when hideous wallpaper scarred the design world? Like, literally scarred? I do. I recall when my family moved to a new house in 1999, the ENTIRE HOUSE was covered with disgusting floral wallpaper and it took months to strip its remnants from the walls. Since then, the idea of wallpaper was so dated and tacky to me. It has been 20 years but my parents will not entertain the idea of revisiting wallpaper, despite my recent protests that it is GOOD when done right. So, yes, EHD has successfully converted me to a wallpaper enthusiast and advocate (surprise, surprise).

Also, before I worked here, I frequented flea markets but unlike Michael (who’s home is the photo up top with Spanish-style fireplace), I couldn’t picture the $5 vintage portrait paintings I’d walk by in a well-styled home. I thought they were dated and ugly, and would judge anyone who bought them for having bad taste. I am now forever indebted to EHD for instilling a deep LOVE for vintage portraits and oil paintings in modern spaces. It just works so well, and is very cool when done the right way.

And lastly, I hated Victorian-style anything. I just didn’t get it. It is 2019 and the world needs to get over the Victorian era, I thought. Ha. Now that I am an adult and understand the nuances of design, Victorian furniture and decor get my heart PUMPING. I love a secretary desk or a Victorian armoire styled in a modern way, and a dramatic wing back chair is heaven in my eyes. Though I wouldn’t attempt to try the Victorian-styled rooms I have bookmarked on Instagram, I have a real appreciation and love for the style nonetheless.

6. I use Pinterest now (outside of work!).

I remember when Pinterest became a big thing when I was in high school. It was the first online mood board but I believe my uses of it were that of strictly pinning celebrities I had crushes on and outfits I wanted to try. Pinterest has only just reentered my life because the editorial team made it so. Every single blog post you see here has its very own secret Pinterest board. Why? Because we would all be lost without it. If Excel is the holy grail program for most offices, Pinterest is ours. It is incredibly useful and has me (a characteristically unorganized person) feigning organization. I use it in my everyday life because otherwise, I forget things I want to buy. Sounds silly I know, but I get so overwhelmed with options so I absolutely have to keep my ideas in one place (with visuals!) because I am a visual gal with slight short term memory loss. Pinterest is a god-send and I can thank EHD for that revelation.

Ar Hotel Collectionist Rm 208 Bed
image via the design files

7. I now love me some DIY.

This is so uncharacteristic of me, or at least so I thought. I am not handy or crafty but turns out I am at least willing to try mostly thanks to #ShowEmYourDIY. As a lady always on a budget, I now have a great appreciation for a DIY moment, and may even try one one day.

8. I had to unlearn the idea that “all you need is good taste to design a well-styled home.”

I am so sorry to designers for my naiveté. OF COURSE, that is not all it takes, but now I really understand how much thought and skill goes into it. I think I have good style but man do I have a long way to go before I can come anywhere close to designing a home without help. It is certainly a coveted and TOUGH career for a reason, my friends.

9. I am a more thoughtful consumer.

Before EHD, I spent most of my money on clothes because it is somewhat easy to throw a hundred bucks here and there at clothes because they do not have to all go together all at once. Now that furniture and decor are always on my wishlist, I find myself pausing on the add to cart button no matter what I am purchasing and thinking through if it’s something that will make sense in my home (or wardrobe) long-term. Creating a purposeful home is always top of mind now and I like to think I have saved myself (and my boyfriend) a lot of money and closet space, and probably deserve some sort of award for exercising willpower.

Now that I am qualified to give career advice: Quit your job and work for a design company! Just don’t quote me on it or hold me at all responsible.

That is all I have for you today, but do not fret, you will likely see me again here soon as I am being pressured to start my MOTO (aka “Makeover Takeover”) now that my boyfriend and I are moving into a new place VERY soon (August 1st!). The idea of making that happen is SO exciting and slightly nauseating. Look out for this girl and her new home full of EHD lessons coming soon to a screen near you. Til next time <3

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2 years ago

Awe! Loved this!

2 years ago

Fun read from a fellow sufferer of Design Imposter Syndrome. Question: Do you have some links to instagram accounts that show how to “modernize” Victorian furniture like the secretary or armoire you mentioned here? I would love to see that.

2 years ago

Great piece of writing. You need to “become” that author (which you sort of allready are) or continue with some form of inspirational writing. Thx for sharing.

2 years ago

what an enjoyable morning read, especially following a restless night of sleep because I’ll soon be reentering the workforce after nearly 15 years of being a full time mom (why would they even hire ME?!) ! I’m questioning all of my abilities and knowledge and just fretting in general. thanks for the reminder that it’s ok to ask for help, very timely!!

2 years ago
Reply to  j

J- You are a logistics master. You are a manager. You are an expert problem-solver. You are an interpersonal wizard. They are LUCKY to have YOU if they get you.

Nice one, Ryann! It’s an encouraging reminder to take risks. Thank you.

2 years ago
Reply to  Annie

Annie — YOU are a fantastic cheerleader!! 🙂 Thanks from the bottom of my mama heart…on my first day day of school (teaching), while I’m shakin’ in my boots, I’m going to remember this. <3

2 years ago

I can relate to all of this…social media inducing negative feelings and being lost in a new work environment after changing careers a few years ago. The best way I found through it was to be open to all opportunities to learn from my much younger colleagues-not always easy! Love the MOTOs and looking forward to seeing yours!

2 years ago

Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your journey. You are a wonderful writer! Here’s hoping you’ll remain a part of the EDH team for a long while!

2 years ago

Real innovation and inspiration comes from listening to new comers to a team. I loved reading this reflection, and praise Emily for all she does to bring in the various voices/perspectives of her team members. Some of the other blogs I follow are beginning to feel stale with only one voice knowing there is a whole team that makes $hit happen.

I too would be lost without Pinterest, who knew I inadvertently organize my life and all home purchases like a blogging powerhouse?!!

2 years ago

I really enjoyed this. Good life lessons and fun to read. I too am thankful you got away from the world of fashion. You certainly landed at a place that seems like an affirmative, upbeat place to work! Will look forward to your MOTO (whatever that is)

2 years ago
Reply to  Ally

Yes, I really wish she would explain what MOTO means. ?

2 years ago

Loved your line “a sofa can never make you feel bad about yourself”. 🙂 Imposter syndrome is applicable to a lot of careers, so THANK YOU for your honest thoughts on where you started, what you have learned and where you are moving forward! Such a pleasant read, and THANK YOU! Looking forward to another MOTO. 🙂

2 years ago

LOL! Loved your voice here, you are hilarious and my inspiration!

2 years ago

Bravo to EHD and team for fostering an awesome work environment! I really enjoy the behind-the-scenes business-related posts. We love seeing members of the team but hearing a first-hand account of a year on the job is pretty special. I also run a small company and we work hard to be a place where everyone has a lifelong learning mindset. No one knows all the things. No one. I interview people every single week because my company is always hiring and I often say that I can teach people all they need to know to perform well but I cannot teach them to care. Ryann, you clearly care and I know exactly why EHD hired you!

2 years ago

I love waking up,. popping open the laptop and feeling excited to read my own blog. SO FUN. Thanks Ryann for such a thoughtful and entertaining post. Yay to one year!!! Hopefully there are many more (and yes, where you are indeed writing :))

2 years ago

What a great post! Ryann you have a wonderful voice! More please!

2 years ago

Yay Ryann! Happy 1 year with the EHD family.

For your MOTO, I’d love some behind the scenes insight into how many/which decisions you’re making on your own, vs what you’re getting help/consult from the team on. Just curious since you felt very outside of the design loop at the start, where your comfort level is at and where you still are trying to figure things out. I think it’d be very relatable for us on this side of things who lean on EHD for advice and help sorting through our design problems!

2 years ago

This was very inspirational? Can they hire me too?!?

2 years ago

So fun to read! With great insight you’ve learned!
“I classify my design aesthetics as contemporary-rustic-mid-century-seventies with a hint of boho…and that’s okay.”
haaa me too!

2 years ago

“A sofa can never make you feel bad about yourself.” So true. Love this post, it is very relatable. I used to be super into fashion too and have since switched over to an avid interest in interior design. I love looking at beautiful things, but I think interior design adds more value to your life and when done right, is less wasteful.

2 years ago

What do you mean by MOTO ?

2 years ago

Wonderful lessons that I didn’t realize I have also learned from Emily!

Kristy Taylor
2 years ago

Loved this post! As someone who loves design, but is not an expert by any means, I look forward to hearing from someone who is learning and seeing what you bring to the table. You are a wonderful writer with some excellent insight and advice. Good luck!

2 years ago

Fabulous! Laughed & loved every awakening! Made me think about what I can do too!

2 years ago

You have a gift. Ambition, talent, great sense of humor and youth – I can tell you won’t waste it. Looking forward to reading more from you. (I’m old enough to be your grandmother, gasp, so know that your message resonates with many.)

2 years ago

I enjoyed reading this piece very much. It is so true that it’s ok to show that you don’t know everything….. when you work with good people. If you’re swimming with sharks, however, I think it’s ok to not show your hand. I’m very fortunate to be working with the coolest people on earth now and I’m glad that your work environment is a nurturing one. It makes reading this all the more enjoyable and a blog that I want to support.
Just one more thing: A sofa or perfectly styled home CAN make you feel bad. I look at my home and see so many things I need to change and some really BAD furniture purchases. Tell me, is a dresser with a bear paw imprinted on the the drawers ever ok? How about a giant log bed?? Seriously about the log bed because we paid a lot of money for that sucker. THx.

2 years ago
Reply to  KRJ

Is the bed a traditional yellow/orange stain? Maybe the look can be updated with a new stain or paint. I’m thinking a gray or charcoal stain with a beautiful leather or linen tie on pillow headrest like we’ve seen the EH team do recently.

If you like the dresser minus the paw, you could fill it with auto body filler and paint the whole thing!

If you can’t find a new life in your furniture, sell the whole set! Personally, if I hated my furniture, I would sell it/donate even if I couldn’t afford to replace it. I would rather have a sparse bedroom with my mattress on the floor or a metal frame than be reminded how much I spent on something I don’t like anymore. Good luck!

2 years ago

Thank you for sharing, Ryann!!! Such a cool, authentic, honest voice that rings through your writing so clearly and crisply and makes you feel like you’re reading advice from a cool, wise big sister with such strength but so much humility too. I can’t wait to see your MOTO!!!!!!

Julie S
2 years ago

This was plain fun to read. I had slightly horrible flashbacks to new office jobs in the opening paragraphs (Emily’s workplace sounds way better btw) and I was grinning as I read your progression and growing comfort in the design world!

2 years ago

Loved this, Ryann – the entertainment and innocent honesty. Keep it up. Also, I’m quoting you on your career advice … just extra reassurance for my most recent events. Thanks for the consolation, ha ha. X

Maureen Scannell
2 years ago

Great article. I love your honesty and am so excited for you to create and share your design ideas in your new home. Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks. I have an idea I want to share with you. ❤️

2 years ago

Girrrl. As someone who has experienced imposter syndrome her whole career, your intro really resonated with me! I am in the engineering/sciences industry, but those same emotions transcend industries. After 20+ years of applying your same techniques- hard work, listening, learning, and grit- I am now in senior management at a major company. Perseverance is key. Keep believing in yourself. You have what it takes to be truly amazing. Thank you for sharing!

2 years ago

That was so much fun to read and lucky you ☺️

Roberta Davis
2 years ago

Cute! Have fun with your MOTO.

2 years ago

Nice post! I like your all post which you shared in past!

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