Disclaimer: It’s important to understand before reading this post, that the views are my own. I have been a mental health advocate for years and have personally suffered with GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) since my late-teens. This post is in no-way an attempt to dissuade people from starting a career in digital marketing.
After my first trip to BrightonSEO, I came back feeling both refreshed and overwhelmed by the talent in the UK’s SEO industry. It was incredible to see the level of thinking and detail going into truly advanced SEO strategies that, in all honesty, blew me away.
Whilst I left Brighton with a new sense of ambition and desire to innovate, there was one talk in particular that resonated with me personally and it’s a topic I feel isn’t discussed enough in the search industry (or even as a whole) yet I believe it’s a subject that at some point in time, has impacted most of us.
Mental health. The perpetuating self-doubt that inherently follows the responsibility of getting it right for a client and living in fear that if you don’t get it right you could potentially damage someone’s livelihood or jeopardise your reputation as an SEO.
Personally speaking, this is something I have suffered with since progressing my career as an SEO and having the privilege of working with phenomenally talented people at Zazzle Media. When you’re surrounded by brilliant, innovative people, you can at times find yourself repeating the same questions: ‘Am I good enough?’ and ‘What happens if I get it wrong?’.
A mantra that can be hugely detrimental to how you view yourself as a professional but, in tandem, can cause you to become unnecessarily critical of other people’s work in an attempt to either cater to your damaged ego, or mask jealousy.
Thanks to a number of people at Zazzle, I’ve been able to build my confidence to a level I didn’t think achievable when I first started as an in-house SEO; all three-and-a-bit-years ago. If you find yourself asking these questions, I’ve outlined below a healthy routine to snap your mind out of doubt, and transition into a positive outlook.
You can often find yourself in an infinite loop of self-deprecation if you continue to ask yourself; am I good enough? Should I be here? What if I fail?
Enter imposter syndrome.
The made-up version of you, that lives in your head, that makes you feel like you don’t belong.
You begin to create flaws in your personality, knowledge and skill-set that are, in reality, only a manifestation of your own thoughts; not of those around you. When we start questioning ourselves, we begin to withdraw from our surroundings. We create a toxic mental state that is fuelled by doubt.
The best way to avoid falling into this trap is to:
We have an amazing quote from Tennessee Watts, Comms Designer at Initiative about her experiences with imposter syndrome:
"I have experienced imposter syndrome a lot in my career - mainly due to my age and perceived lack of experience.
It was difficult for me to imagine that my strong academic ability would be able to translate into value-creating skills within the workplace. A really simple tip is to just talk about how you feel. You'll find that a lot of your colleagues are either in the same position, or have felt this way before.
One of my workmates told me that when she first started as a comms planner, she'd watch her manager complete complex tasks and think that she'd never be able to - but now (just a year later) she can. I found that really inspiring. After hearing that, I trusted that I would also be able to improve my skills within a few more months!"
I’ve started with this first because it was the part of my personality I found hardest to adapt.
I found myself feeling reluctant to speak with more experienced SEOs, in fear of feeling inept or being belittled. Unfortunately, I find that people criticising your abilities comes with the territory in digital marketing. But don’t let that deter you from asking questions.
Sure, you might ask a question that to some may appear obvious but at the core, most SEOs love showing off their expertise and the majority of people you speak to will offer you a much-needed helping hand.
Don’t let a few bad eggs mess up the entire batch.
How many times have you found yourself asking for validation on an idea more than a handful of times?
*awkwardly raises hand*
It doesn’t matter the size of client that I work with, I used to find myself asking time and time again, ‘does this sound right?’, ‘is traffic going to tank if I do this’? And the big one ‘it’s been a week, why aren’t rankings through the roof?’
The more you question your abilities, the more likely this is to develop into a habit. A habit that can turn into stress, overthinking and anxiousness. None of which are good for your health; mentally or physically.
If you find yourself stuck asking these questions, have a serious counter-argument prepared. Like this:
We’ve all heard the saying ‘leave your problems at the door’ when you come into work, right?
Well, that saying also works when you leave the office. Don’t drag your search-induced-bad-mood home with you. This is in no way me discouraging anyone from opening up and talking about your problems. In fact, not opening up is almost guaranteed to accelerate any detriment to your health.
What I suggest is talk about your day from a neutral standpoint. Anger clouds judgement. If your mood is too turbulent when you first get home, then leave it alone until you’re ready to open up without emotions getting in the way of logic.
Stuart, our Head of Search and Strategy, has this to say:
“It's a mindset that can be toxic to one's personal life. What was once okay becomes sub-par and focus is drawn to the parts that are flawed instead the elements which are near perfect.
It's crucial therefore, that search professionals learn to compartmentalise how they view their work against the more artistic efforts of others, family life or those calm moments on downtime we all need but seldom treat ourselves to.
Remember to always strive to do your best but accept the limitations of time, energy and focus.
I've never worked in an industry so eager and willing to help and teach (for free) - we are all in this together, always seek help and advice when dark clouds loom.”
I echo Stuart’s point above about limitations of time, energy and focus.
I think we’re all guilty of trying to rush our rate of improvement. Whether that is by improving our knowledge by jumping from blog-to-blog or by testing too many new ideas. The problem is, too much of anything will make you sick, and you’ll find it incredibly hard to absorb much of anything.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, in any area of our lives. It’s important that we focus and develop our strengths and only acknowledge our weaknesses.
And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to be great at some things, good at others and, below average the rest. You don’t have to be anything other than what you want to be. If you want to become the master of featured snippets, do that, if you want to be the Queen of Index Management, become that!
Take what you know, develop that skill until you can do it almost subconsciously, and then move onto a new area. Rinse and repeat.
I hope that this blog has, in some way, helped you realise that you’re not alone if you’ve ever felt like you’re not good enough or that you don’t belong in the role.
The truth is, SEO as an industry is prone to have this effect on people. With high-levels of responsibility, working in solitude and trying to keep up with an always changing landscape, it can have you feeling like you’re always chasing your tail.
But, one key thought to always come back to is that you’ve made it this far. You didn’t get to where you are by not believing in yourself or by not knowing the difference between a canonical and a no-index tag.
You know your stuff, so, let the world see that and, if you fail, it’s a part of life. Don’t class your losses as losses, count them as a learning experience.
We’re in this together; see you in the wild!
If you'd like some more information on Mental Health Awareness Week, you can find information from the Mental Health Foundation here.
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