A career is an abstract concept; something that other people made up and others lacking the ability to articulate complex abstractions follow blindly to try and make more money in the long-term.
Few people, by the same token, have “careers”. Most have jobs that sometimes pay well, but deep down feel like they deserve more.
Various advisors will try to improve their stats by dumbing you down a notch to what they believe “you have a chance at”. The advisors, the jobs or the careers are temptations of the material world and may not serve you as well as you want to be served. They are tools to use to make money and fund your projects. They are concepts.
Don’t be loyal to a concept; be loyal to the concrete work and its measurable impact. Be loyal to your grand strategy, and if sometimes it means abandoning a career that became unsuitable, don’t hesitate.
… and you are as good as you want to be.
Don’t complain that what you do is hard or boring or it doesn’t have an impact. Don’t complain that you may not do what you *really* what you want or that you are stuck in a rut.
Just strive for better. At whatever it is that you do.
If you are a freelancer, especially if you are a freelance designer, there are countless opportunities for you to get a variety of jobs.
Yes, the market is overcrowded, and yes, a lot of designers make the craft seem “Ugly as death backing out of a shithouse reading Mad Magazine” (Happy birthday Robert Crumb by the way) and yes it does bring a negative connotation with lots of our potential clients and business partners.
But don’t complain. Any job you’ll ever have will be as good as you will be.
If you take the responsibility to lead, to present your opinions, to get involved, to actually help people solve problems, to be the one that says what’s next, to listen, to plan carefully, to stand up for what you believe in, do you still have time to fear things not going your way?
If you fear that you will get fired so you never speak up, if you always stay in the back of the room thinking about how to phrase your question because you are anxious about being made fun of, if you worry about involving too much and receiving to little in return, if you anxiously wait for your turn to speak instead of listening, if you never plan because you are afraid it won’t work out anyway, do you still have time to lead?
Leadership and fear dance together constantly. Choosing one usually takes the other down a notch.
As designers, we are often put in situations that require us to ask peers and clients and mentors for feedback. Sometimes it’s because we don’t trust ourselves, other times it’s because we genuinely have a creative dilemma.
Most people will gladly give you feedback or advice or suggestions because it’s easy. They don’t have to deal with the repercussions of that feedback not delivering what it promised.
Like it or not, it’s tough to not get feedback, especially the one that doesn’t count. Very few people will put thought, consideration and understanding in what they might want to tell you.
It’s important to remember, even in times when you don’t know what to do and feel like you genuinely have to ask for guidance that it’s not your job to accept the feedback that is given to you, just as it’s not your job to take into consideration every advice or suggestion.
You already have a job- and that is to solve the problem that you had been entrusted to solve to the best of your abilities. It is up to you to tweak (and judge) the levels of the external white noise.
The difference between a good piece of art and a mediocre piece of art is not what you see on the canvas or screen or hear on the record; but what the artist or designer chose to left out before sharing the piece with the world.
This is subtraction.
When we try to ideate and come up with some idea to fulfill our artistic impulse or solve the problem at hand we are using our creative powers- we generate, brainstorm, use weird mind-mapping techniques and draw lots of lines and circles.
This is an unbounded process; the more, the better, because the more you have, the easier it is to remove what is clearly not working and arrive at something suitable.
But after spending your time to gather the few concepts that matter, and you need to refine them, we lose sight of the big picture and refine everything. And then what we set out to make look awesome becomes another brick in the creative wall.
The difference is always made by what you choose to let out because it doesn’t make sense for the big picture.
The best idea is often the first idea.
There are several reasons for this. First, your brain doesn’t have the baggage and pressures from any previous ideas. You don’t have to produce something better than what you don’t have.
Second, it’s pure creativity- often the first idea is the one that arises out of nothing. You just “get” it, and if you are diligent enough, you catch it.
Third, it’s the most original one you will come up with because it took observation and originality to recognize the opportunity to use it. Most of what you will create after the first idea is just experiments around the first idea or direct copy-cats because you feel stressed out about finding a better idea, so you push the observation part away and switch into monkey mode.
When you don’t like the first idea, it’s often because it’s rough and unrefined. You lack the skills to make it look good so you push it aside to find something easier to make look good. It’s your inner imposter syndrome that’s throwing away your first idea- not you.
To push yourself and become better, stop finding alternatives to the first idea. Just take it and make it look the best you can.
Try it for a month. See what happens.