INTERNING, IMPOSTER SYNDROME AND GETTING STARTED WITH ALEC DUDSON
Alec Dudson on interning, imposter syndrome and building a genuine support network
Initially launched in 2013 as an independently published printed publication, Intern has since blossomed into a remarkable online resource and supportive community, led by Founder and Editor-in-Chief Alec Dudson; a manchester-based creative practitioner, lecturer and tutor. Empowered and emboldened by a drive to support young people, especially those entering the creative scene, Alec with his collaborative cohort of emerging creatives have set out to challenge the imbalance prevalent and prominent in the industry today. Be it the lack of diverse representation in senior leaderships, the abuse of power and privilege among agencies big or small, paying for work through ‘exposure,’ or the lack of real-world industry experience shared at the level of design education. Sadly, the list goes on and on. Change, however, comes from questioning, and Alec’s important creation and thoughtful endeavours have inevitably led to new discourse with the contemporary creative scene – for which we are incredibly grateful.
With this in mind, we’ve spoken to Alec about getting started, and the struggles of navigating the creative scene. Discussing what drives Alec’s professional practice, dealing with imposter syndrome and the advice he’d give those entering the industry.
Hey Alec! How are you doing today?
I’m good, thank you for asking.
Intern is a phenomenal programme you’ve set up, and a life-line for many, for those who might not have heard of Intern how would you describe it and its purpose?
Intern is a platform that seeks to empower the next generation of creatives to build their dream careers. Everyone is creative and I wholeheartedly believe that creativity and culture are the best tools we have to build understanding and empathy for one another. Unfortunately, the creative industries is a closed shop in that it's difficult to break into unless you have the wealth or connections to set you up. Intern is a community bound together by the mission to make the route into a creative career more accessible for those who don’t have that privilege behind them. By sharing experiences and knowledge that’s seldom talked about, we can’t solve all the challenges, but we can help people to make informed decisions as they build their career.
Your passion to support and educate young creative talent is so admirable! What do you find most rewarding about your practice?
It’s simple really, seeing others succeed is eternally rewarding. I don’t consider myself or the work I do responsible for people’s success, I just help to remove some of the barriers. Often, people just need reassurance or a little guidance of how the system tends to work. It’s not difficult work to encourage people, it’s also positive work and given the couple of years we’ve all had, connecting with and supporting people is as much of a pleasure as it’s ever been.
You’ve interviewed so many creatives over the course of your career - what's the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever been told?
My work with Intern is at its best when it leads me to meet people who become friends for life. Working in the creative industry in a freelance capacity or as a business owner can be a remarkably lonely journey and many creatives get a lot from working alongside others on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps the most important person I’ve met in my career to date is Abraham Asefaw, who is now a dear friend and mentor. His most valuable and regular advice for me is simply to believe in myself and to believe in the value of my work. Both are things that I regularly use Intern to remind our audience to do as well, but often in life we’re guilty of not taking our own advice. Having someone in your life who can be your cheerleader when you need one is a tremendous gift and while simple and obvious, it’s such important advice as it completely changes your approach to everything you do.
Speaking from your own experiences, what is a piece of advice that you would personally give to a young creative at the beginning of their career?
It probably sounds cliché, but build a network. Not the one that you think you should build, but one that genuinely reflects your interests and passions. So much work in any industry comes from people you know, that the sooner you find your people, the sooner you can all hook each other up with work. “Networking” sounds like going to some cringeworthy breakfast meet with bad coffee and stale pastry where you’re the only person in the room not in a suit, but that’s not what it needs to be at all. Reach out to people whose work inspires you, offer to buy them a coffee if they’ll let you quiz them for an hour.
You note the importance of each publication having a diverse voice. How do you address the inequality in the creative scene, and how do you think others can do the same?
Any publication or brand for that matter needs to speak with clarity. There’s so much noise and information out there, that it’s more important than ever that your audience knows exactly what they can get from you. We’re so over-saturated with content, that we have to curate our sources. When it comes to industry inequality, I think for me it’s just about being a critical voice on behalf of our audience. We’ve been prepared to hold the industry to account from the get-go and we’re able to still do so because that audience backs us up. Without that community endorsement, it would be too easy for industry to ignore us.
Does the drive to help young people kickstart their creative careers come from any particular experiences you faced when you were just starting out?
Interaction, curiosity, and listening to other people’s point of views. That’s the healthiest food to my creativity. Being away from people, thinking of my work being too good, selfishness, self promoting myself too much, and chatting about myself too much. That drains it. It doesn’t happen often but it can lead me to very dark and uninspiring places, if it does.
Have you ever had to battle for your creative ideas?
I think mostly just from my anxieties over choosing a career. When I grew up the narrative was very much that you picked your GCSEs, then your A-Levels with a career for life already in mind. That terrified me then and working as a lecturer now, I still feel that late teens/early twenties is a daunting time to make decisions of that magnitude. Thankfully, we’re in a world now where career pivots are far less stigmatised and the creative industries in particular are a place where you can be very fluid and evolve your practice without having to start over in completely unfamiliar territory. If I can help others feel less pressure in that regard, then I hope that they can do fulfilling work, safe in the knowledge that they’re not bound to those decisions.
How did you begin to overcome these obstacles?
It took me a while, but when I finally washed up in the independent magazine world, I finally found something that had enough variety that I felt I had space to grow and experiment. I think at heart, I’m a storyteller, so being a publisher aligns with the core of my character.
I tend to tell myself that if something I’ve done helps one person, then it’s been more than worthwhile, so people’s feedback and messages telling me how a project has benefitted them help a lot to bring me out of a funk.
You also have online courses that teach creatives more about the business side of things - do you think this is an element widely missing from creative education?
Absolutely. I’ve taught in universities for about eight years now and nine out of ten creative courses (that I’ve experienced) have little or no provision in that regard. Practice-based courses are great, but unless you give students the tools to understand how to “sell” those skills into industry, then you’re completely shortchanging them. For years I ran in-person workshops to address that, but the pandemic gave me the push I needed to make some of those things available to anyone, anywhere at any time. They’ve been really well received and that in many respects has confirmed my suspicion that this stuff just isn’t getting taught enough.
How do you deal with imposter syndrome in your own creative endeavours?
It’s always a challenge. We recently created a series with Adobe called ‘The F Word’ that looked at how creatives grapple with failure in their work and careers. I’m a perfectionist, so often I’ll have unrealistic, sky-high expectations of myself in any project I do and when, inevitably, I don’t feel like I’ve reached those heights, a big wave of imposter syndrome comes crashing in. Perspective is what brings me back again and again, it’s often my network or community that provide that tonic. I tend to tell myself that if something I’ve done helps one person, then it’s been more than worthwhile, so people’s feedback and messages telling me how a project has benefitted them help a lot to bring me out of a funk.
Intern Magazine is clearly a place for young creatives to find hope and confidence in their practice at a time in their life where they may find themselves struggling or doubting their abilities. Is youth mental health an issue that is central to motivating your own practice?
I think mental health in general is a big motive. It’s something we’ve probably all struggled with or been more aware of the past couple of years and as you say, confidence is such a huge aspect of everything we do at Intern that I suppose, without ever overtly labelling it like that, I’d have to say yes.
What question do you wish I asked you?
Why has Intern been a little quiet of late?
What is the answer?
Mid-pandemic I took a full-time lecturing job, meaning that for the first time since starting Intern, I can only work on it in my spare time and with an 18 month old son and a landslide of life admin to take care of, it’s been really tough to carve out time to work on new Intern projects. My goal though is to make sure that while we might not publish or post often, to ensure that it’s really worthwhile when we do. Less is more and all that. I certainly feel the pressure to keep supporting our community, but of recent, I’ve had to acknowledge and accept my limits.
Any final thoughts?
That’s it from me, thank you so much for reaching out and including me in this fantastic series. I can’t wait to read the other features and I hope that someone out there finds this and Intern useful.
Great to talk with you as always Alec, thanks for taking the time to chat!
My pleasure, thanks folks!
Film: Do The Right Thing
Show: Pen 15
Book: Oh Sh*t What Now: Honest Advice for New Graphic Designers by Craig Oldham
Podcast: How Did This Get Made?
Album: Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life