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I don’t believe in “The Secret”. But I do believe in identifying what you want to achieve or do and communicating it. That way, people know and can help find opportunities, or hold you accountable.
This may be responsible for having a number of presentation opportunities come my way since my last blog post (about my goal to improve my presentation skills this year).
Today I’m one of the panelists at AGDA* SA’s “First Five Out” event (despite no longer working as a graphic designer, and it being a tad more than 5 years since I’ve been out of uni…)
*Australian Graphic Design Association (the South Australian chapter).
The brief for the presentation was to share our successes, failures and “secrets” to our motivation.
I disagree on the focus on “failures”, as I can’t change the past, and while there may be work I’m not proud of, or wish I’ld done differently, everything that I’ve done has made me who I am, and where I am today, so I need to embrace it.
Preparing for this presentation was a great opportunity to reflect on what I have achieved, and how far I’ve come.
Due to time limits, I had to cull down my “learnings” to a shorter list, but wanted to share the longer (yet probably still incomplete) list here.
What I’ve learnt during my career… (so far)
- You are your own brand. Know what your brand values are, live that brand. I will make many decisions easier.
- Learn to discern. There is a lot of information out there. Read books and blogs, listen to advise, but know how to discern what’s right, and what’s right for you (and your brand).
- They’re not just interviewing you, you’re interviewing them. You often spend more time with the people we work with and for than our friends and partners. It helps if you like and respect them.
- Two out of three ain’t bad. A wise friend once told me that we are generally happy as long as we have 2 out of 3 things in a job: good money, good work, good people. If you have all 3, cherish it.
- My first boss told me: “Be a sponge.” He meant that I should soak up as much as I could. Again, you need to be discerning, but I’ve probably learnt the most from the amazing people I’ve been lucky enough to work with.
- If you don’t know something, Google it. But again, be discerning. I’ve solved a lot of technical support issues with Google.
- Good systems and processes are priceless. Be creative, but keep your files etc organised. It helps out down the track.
- If you don’t like an idea, come up with something better. It’s easy to be critical of someone else’s idea, it’s harder to come up with a good one of your own.
- Technology or design “style” can only take you so far, you need to come up with the best idea for the purpose and audience. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should.
- Know exactly what the brief is, and understand it. This doesn’t just mean what the client wants, but taking the time to understand what the real business problem is, what the success factors are etc. If you don’t have one (or disagree with it) create your own, but make sure you get approval on it.
- Sometimes you need to let it go, or get away from it to try and get the idea, or solve the problem.
- When asked to do something you’re not completely experienced in, just say “yes”. But do evaluate “what’s the worst that could happen?” Don’t rip people off or lie though.
- Know when to say “no”, particularly when it comes to taking on too much work, or doing more that you’re being paid for etc. It’s easy to take on more and more to “prove” your worth, but knowing when to say “no” proves that you know what your’e worth.
- If you want to remember something, such as when preparing for a presentation etc, write it out by hand. It’s called context recall.
- If you have time, let your subconscious do the work. Absorb the brief, issue, research etc, then let it simmer away and sort out the problem for you. Give yourself the time as well. Here’s an incredible presentation about creativity by John Cleese (that I was put onto by an awesome person I used to work with that I learned a lot from).
- This is something I am still learning… but don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, advice and/or help, and welcome criticism and/or a different point of view. We often think we “should” know it all, but whenever I do swallow my pride and ask for help or criticism, I either end up with a much better idea, or confirmation that I’m on the right track. Either way: win win!
- Don’t make porridge. I read a great article years ago (given to me by another great colleague), about how the opposite of love isn’t hate (and vice versa), it is indifference. The danger with trying to create ideas/brands/content/campaigns etc that people don’t “hate”, is that they can end up being “meh”… and people don’t remember stuff that is “meh”, they remember stuff that they have a strong reaction too. Strong love and/or hate reactions are better than porridge (i.e. it serves a purpose, but no one loves it).
- Be nice. Our industry can be very snarky and critical. You don’t have to be.
- Don’t compare yourself to other people. You are not them. You are you. There will always be someone better or worse than you. So don’t waste time doing it. Just be you.
- Nerves are good, they mean you care. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t feel anything about it. This goes for creating ideas or presenting.
- Some problems do fix themselves. Not everything needs to be a huge rush. Particularly technical problems, sometimes a refresh, or “turn it off and turn it on again”, or just some time will fix it.
- Sometimes you have to rush (and you might do some good work while you’re at it).
- Don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong, but move on and let it go. And learn something from it.
- I had a rant in my last post about “dressing the part”, but you do need to think about it a bit. I had great advice from a uni tutor in first year who said you only need to dress well the first time you meet a client, as they’ll picture you that way every time they email you or speak to you on the phone. However you also need to be prepare for the unexpected meeting or “bump” into someone important. I’ve actually gone out and bought clothes for a forgotten meeting before. Keeping a spare outfit handy is also useful.
- When I worked as a graphic designer, it seemed everyone was a graphic designer. Now everyone is a “social media consultant”. Know who you are, what you are, and just do it.
- Have a direction/goal/s, but be adaptable, you never know what will happen or evolve. You may also want to have an escape plan. I once worked at a studio where we all (including the bosses) would talk about what we would do if we didn’t have to work for money. It really helps put things in perspectives. Alternatively, you can also strive to “design” your perfect career or role around your natural skills and what you would do if you didn’t have to work for money…
- Don’t take it too seriously, it’s usually not life and death. Unless you are working for an organisation that does deal in life and death matters that is.
- Have your own cheer squad (and coach). It’s easy to get caught up in your industry. Have “your” people outside to boost you up, and also give you a good talking to when you need it.
- It’s not all about work.
“You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis.”
I love Fight Club. It’s crazy, but teaches some valuable lessons. Have interests other than work, and people outside of your industry in your life to keep work in perspective (similar to above). While it is work related, I really enjoy my own personal writing and so value blogging about it (when I have time). I also love cooking, and enjoy blogging about that as well. It also gives me a great opportunity to practise what I preach. I have also ramped up my interest in running over the years. It’s a great antidote to sitting on my ass all day in front of a computer. There is more to life. Embrace it.
- Take time to reflect. Preparing for this presentation has been a great opportunity for me to look at how far I’ve come. While yoga and other spiritual practices teach us the importance of being “in the present”, it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come. We focus on where we are “right now” and how far we have to go to climb the next step, not how many we’ve climbed to be were we are. Look back. Make a list.
This list is not finished. I’m still learning. So are you. Enjoy the ride!