This past week has been a “week off” for me. I’ve finished work with all of my clients, and have been interviewing and looking for new gigs. Being who I am, I’ve also been reflecting a great deal on my career and where it’s taking me. I have had a ton of anxiety around what the next gig/gigs should be, which ones are “right”, and how to make a decision between them. This is, of course, a great place to be for an independent, and I am grateful for the options. There has been some key advice given to me in the past and present that has helped me to calm my anxieties and think clearly, and I’d love to share this advice here. The main point? Know where your endzone is. More specifically, know where you want to end up, the steps you’ll need to take to get there, and what success looks like when you are done.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a ton of “mentors” in my life. One in particular has been with me since my days at UCONN and is the person I always turn to for career advice. One exercise he suggested I go through was a career mapping exercise. The idea is to write down in one column the core competencies for career growth overall as well as specific to my field (examples of these core competencies include: UX knowledge, Leadership ability, Financial knowledge, etc). Then, create a time line across the top that moves out every 3 years. For each time period, I would rate on a scale from 1 to 5 my knowledge of each capability (either where my knowledge is present day or where I wanted it to be 3, 6, 9 years from now). I would also dictate, by year, the stage of my career I wanted to be in (i.e consultant with steady client list), and the steps I took to get there (i.e. networking in nyc). Some years I would grow in certain areas, some I would remain consistent. I tried to project out every 3 years until I retired which was harder than it sounds. This is a document that I look at often and try to keep up to date as my interests and abilities change.
What this exercise helped me to do was create an endzone. Every step I take in my career should somehow contribute to this endzone. Having a clear end point enables me to make decisions about career confidently. I can ask myself, does this strengthen me in the ways I’m looking to grow? Does this gig enable me to do the things I’m looking to do or at least set me up for them? Looking at the document I set up for myself and asking these questions has removed 99% of the anxiety in decision making that I’ve been facing. I know I am better prepared to drive my career and take the decision making time to focus on more important things, like concentrating on my next basketball game :-).
Over the last year, I have learned a lot about what it means to be an independent worker. Mostly it means that you are never satisfied with the project you are on, and that you are continuously looking for new challenges to sink your teeth into. During this past year, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on what types of challenges I want to take on, and have talked to others about this topic at length. It feels like, as a design community, we are always looking for the same big challenges. Working for ABC because they did this campaign, working for XYZ because they did this talk at this conference, working with DEF because only the best designers work there. Talking with my peer review group a couple of weeks ago I found myself asking, are we a profession that is obsessed with reputation? We are always talking about innovation and creativity, yet the majority of us want to work at ABC for the same reasons. How, then, do we expect to foster the principles of change that we all speak of?
What am I trying to get at? I’m asking you as design professionals to tell me the advantages that you see working for the big guys? What products have they produced that are more fun & challenging that Joe Smoe’s website start up? For me, I’m really beginning to think how much of it is what these companies/agencies produce and how much is just for the reputation that they have? We follow these guys like they’re rockstars and we’re the groupies… “John from DEF is speaking at yadda yadda (some UX designer faints from excitement)”, but how different is the work that you are or could be doing for someone that can’t afford to hire DEF? Isn’t it time for our community to expand beyond the big names, isn’t it time for us to start to create different big names and great ideas??
All this being said I know that we are all doing really great work that is creative and helpful in our careers, but my question is would you trade all that work to go to a giant agency? And if so, is it because you will learn more & solve great problems, or is it because of their reputation? I’m definitely starting to lean the other way myself, but that’s not to say I’m not also guilty of being a groupie. What it means is I’ve start asking myself these questions and determining where I want my career to go, and what types of challenges I want to entertain in my future.
What are your thoughts? I would love to hear them!
One of the hardest things about living in NYC is that there are a MILLION things to do and be apart of. Now I’m not complaining, but being an overachieving perfectionist means wanting and feeling I need to be apart of it all… especially when I find myself in one of the coolest professional communities ever. However, this October has brought me some new insights.
First off, I have been sick with a cold for almost two weeks straight. 1) I hardly ever get sick and 2) Once sick I never STAY sick. So I have to stop and ask myself why I’ve been sick for so long. I haven’t changed my eating habits, I still make time to work out most days a week, so my body itself is in pretty good condition to fight off disease. That leaves one answer, I’m going too hard at life! It’s got to be it, and therefore I need to do something about it.
When I look at my schedule compared to some others, I think wow they are REALLY going hard at life, I can’t even compare. But my first learning for this month, is that it’s about what I can handle, and not about others. There is no reason to compare the two. My body simply cannot handle what I’m putting it through. Then I think, well how am I supposed to succeed as a freelancer if I don’t get out there and show myself? And lastly, I really enjoy my craft and the people I’ve met and am going to meet. What’s a UXer to do??
One thing: work/live smarter, not harder. This is learning number 2.
In my attempt to meet others, network, find work, and help out in the UX world, I’ve lost some of my non UX self. In my balancing act, I need to ensure that I make time for this part of me, because exercising it brings creativity and personality to my work which is my differentiator. Also in my attempt to work/live smarter I’ve decided I need to pursue those things that I really enjoy as opposed to those that I think that I “should” go to. To work smarter is to be aware of one’s self, my base, my talents, what I need to work on, etc. This always needs to be top of mind, or I’ll be grasping for straws and trying to improve and enhance everything all at once, which is where I have been at for too long. Lastly, I’ve taken everything that has been in my mind as “I have to get this done” written it down, and prioritized it. I’ll focus on the top priority until it is done or at a stand still, then move down the list. The most important part is that highest priority doesn’t always mean right now, it means work on first.
So that was my October so far. I’m still a work in progress (and always will be!), however I think that I am on my way to a balanced state. One that I can maintain and one I can be happy to call my life. Now… to kick this cold!
UX Freelancing Self Development
For the past few days, I’ve been having an extra hard time staying focused. I’m on one of the best projects that a UX Designer could ask for: blue sky work, involving a great amount of information design, with no hard deadline, and a dedicated content strategist/copywriter to help bring the ideas full circle. And yet, for some reason I am unable to focus on the task at hand. So yesterday, I really tried to reflect on what the block was for me… where was I losing the connection with my work. I’ve also found that I’m not the only one that this happens to, which piqued my interest and awareness even more.
I sat down to talk with my good friend about the problem. His thoughts “You know Lis, when you have a lot of things going on, each one of them gets a voice. Even if you don’t consciously listen, those items are always talking at you, and cause you to be distracted.” Me: “but I don’t really have that much going on right now actually”. Friend: “That is what you think, but in reality there are a million anxieties and worries that you are putting on yourself.”
Of course, my friend is correct. So my goal today, is to stay focused. I’m going to give it my very best! This post will be the last non-project item that I work on until mid day. Then, I’ll take a short break and head back to the drawing board. The best part? The project work is fun and challenging! Today, I’m going to give it the respect it deserves.
I saw this list come across the New York Tech message board and thought it would be great to share: http://entrepreneurialreads.pbworks.com/. It’s awesome to see a list of non-business books for entrepreneurs/independents as I love to read and to learn. I also love when I read something that is not a direct response to the business world, but does support us in our human condition to create a more balanced outlook on life and work. Unfortunately I doubt I’ll ever have the time to read them all (or even most of them). However when I am looking for some inspiration I’ll be looking here. The key for me is to not feel overwhelmed by lists like these, and to realize that every step I take, is a step forward in my career and my business even if it’s not a full fledged run. Enjoy the info!
I can’t believe it has been 7 weeks that I’ve been working in the freelance world. Surprisingly, time is actually going by much faster than before (and it was FAST then). I wanted to write some of the thoughts that have been cruising through my brain over the past month.
Most everyday I think of a positive output from living the freelancing life. First off, it seems to really fit my personality. I don’t feel bogged down by politics and office drama. I feel that I’m getting to focus on my work, and because of that my ideas and solutions have become much more creative and innovative. I’ve also found that I have a life outside of the office! I’m networking and meeting other professionals whose advice has led to even more great ideas and progress. Lastly, a very talented individual whom I met with last week gave me a great piece of advice. “When freelancing, you are brought in because there’s a problem”. And because there is a problem, there is a need for a solution and not just minor enhancements that may or may not effect the user.
That being said, now that I’m starting to become more comfortable with freelancing, the fulltime job opportunities are rolling in… which is great! I try to explore them because you never know what may be your next great opportunity, but my question to other freelancers is how do you do it? How do you go day in and day out not knowing where your next bit of work will come from? Yet, in a way, this is another aspect that I’m starting to enjoy.
Any advice/feedback?? Am I crazy 🙂 ?