Tomorrow around this time, I’ll be on a plane to Charlotte, NC, and when I return it’ll be time to ring in 2012. What can I say, I’m going to miss 2011! As I sit here and reflect on what this year has meant to me and my career as an Independent UX Consultant, I can’t help but get a little teary-eyed. It has been an amazing year, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel lucky to be in this industry with the likes of so many wonderful people. I also can’t help but be thankful to have so much support and inspiration within my field. I owe every one of you a huge amount of thanks for pushing me forward each day. Thus, without further ado, here are the things from UX 2011 that I’m most proud of, and will most surely look back on in thanks:
- I got to partner with amazingly talented clients on some of the best projects of my career.
- I gave my first conference presentation at Midwest UX this spring, then went on to speak at the Big Redux in DC, the Big Apple Redux in NYC and the Future of Web Design conference in NYC.
- I was able to begin writing for UXMag, continued my guest blogging at the Women in Tech UK site, and was able to contribute to the Web Designer Depot site. You can see all of my contributions on the Writing page of this site.
- I wrote some of my most read blog posts in the entirety of my website (est. in 2007). Including:
And those are just a few of the opportunities that I have been given. Again, I cannot thank each and every one of you enough for coming here and participating in my thoughts and musings, for inspiring me with your comments and your work, and for supporting me along this journey. I hope that 2012 brings many wonderful things to you all. But for now… here’s to 2011!
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 :-).
I have just gotten through my first full week of UX consulting flying solo (without an agency or other a full fledge team to direct my work), and all I can say is: wow. I’ve had several revelations and reflections that I wanted to share with all of you.
First off, I say wow because, put quite simply, I LOVE this work. This type of environment is a huge part of what I’ve been missing in my career. I’ve never been so happy to go to work! There are several reasons. One, no one is responsible for me but me. I determine what I’ll be working on, and I’m the one to say whether or not it’s good enough to hand off. I feel in control of my outputs as well as my inputs. Two, the work is fun, and my team is awesome. I couldn’t ask for a better first solo gig to work on. I’m totally into the product being developed, and the team that I’m working with is super talented. Three, I get to teach people about what I do… and they listen. People are paying you to speak, to teach and to help their product and brand. Knowing that there is a timeline when you’ll be available and that you are an expert outside source completely changes people’s perspectives… well at least for now. Four, I get to use what I’ve learned and use it creatively. Because I’m calling the shots on the UX work (based on business objectives of course) I can be flexible in solving problems. This is refreshing and makes me feel like all of my hard work outside of “work” is put to good use.
Secondly, I’ve really begun to see that it’s not that serious. That any help and hard work is better than no help. Being on my own I have to realize that I’m fully responsible. For someone like me this can be overwhelming in an attempt to reach perfection. Well Lis, perfection is never going to happen. However quality, hard, informed work is better than no work at all. After each project I work on, my goal is to write what went well, what didn’t, and what I would have changed or done better. This will help me develop even more in my solo role.
I’m looking forward to working on these types of projects more and more. I feel like I’m contributing and that I’m making a difference and that is what fuels me to succeed. I can do this!
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!