Expertise Is an Asset Worth Investing in

You can learn to kern type as you learn to hammer nails- nail by nail.

Practice creates expertise, expertise creates opportunity, opportunity creates experience, experience creates more opportunity and better ways to handle it.

People miss this because they live in a world where they need to see the benefits of their “work” on a monthly paycheck- it doesn’t matter that the work might be sub-par, that the paycheck is not big enough or that the workplace is a dictatorship.

What matters is that the paycheck is steady- and with steadiness, you can fool yourself and others into thinking that you are secure and can brag for hours to Mom about how secure you are with the new job.

Invest in expertise, whether or not people who expect steadiness see its benefit. Perhaps you will not see its benefit either after the first two years, but no matter, you will see it after ten. And by that time, you will be able to brag about bigger and better things than the illusion of security.

The Myth of The Toxic Clients

I feel like there is a lot of cultural fear that designers and freelancers in general have when it comes to the idea that they might encounter a client that is so bad for their mental health and business that it will haunt their careers for decades to come.

I don’t think that the idea of treating professional relationships with the same terms and convictions as we treat the personal ones is particularly healthy. A client is not toxic the way a close one can be.

The main reason is that you can always fire a client the same way a client can fire you, so interactions will usually be conducted by both parties in a way to minimize this as much as possible. Clients will usually behave towards you so they don’t have reasons to fire you and you can help by educating them how to do that.

Red flags in this professional context can be misleading; sometimes, the worst professional experiences come from the people that seem the most promising at first.

Trying to avoid people that will be hard to deal with is near impossible because everybody can be hard to deal with, including yourself. To go from hard to deal with right down towards toxic is a stretch.

Yes, there are predators and people with such extreme qualities that they can be a pain most of the times, but don’t jump to the conclusion that someone is toxic because they had a bad day and did something moronic to you.

The job of a client is not to be perfect for you.

The Job Is as Good as You…

… 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.

Leadership and Fear

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.

On Accepting Feedback

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.

Freelancing as an Expert

To get to the summit of expertise, you have to climb the mountain of ignorance.

The problem is that the mountain of ignorance is mostly made by people, and some of those people become champions. When you are a champion of ignorance, the expertise never matters. What matters is always to follow the rules. To update your profile, validate your payment, pay for some tests so that a client can acknowledge you as someone she can outsource work to, but never as an expert.

Freelancers have the advantage of picking their clients; you can pick clients that want to work with an expert or clients that want to outsource some busy work that doesn’t really matter to anyone.

The idea of expertise is an interesting one. We’ve been taught to always wait for the credentials to come in to call ourselves experts. We’ve been taught to wait for the test grade before being generous with our knowledge.

What if we simply claimed we were an expert before even taking the test, and then try to perform to match the expectations we set for ourselves?

What if we (as freelancers) stopped competing in the mountain of ignorance and took a real shot for the summit of expertise? There is no test. There is no grade. There might be bad-mouthers and people that scream at you for never getting a degree, but they don’t matter. They compete in the mountain of ignorance.

Art is Creativity plus Subtraction

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 Right Idea is Often the First Idea

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.