I was asked to speak at a middle school's career day recently, and in my preparations, I found that I was digging through a lot of really useful realizations that I wish I'd known all along, and that I could really use a reminder of even today! So here's a letter to my younger self (or any budding/future designer/middle schooler/confused college science major like I once was) that I hope might act as a gentle shove to the hesitant.
The first thing I have to tell you is don’t be afraid to do what you love to do, and stop worrying about the implications! "Art" isn't just this nebulous creative thing shoved off to its own corner. Art—design in particular—is actively interacting with culture and critical reasoning and science (yes, science!) to the point of full immersion. And being a designer means thirsting for more information to symbolize and frame even when it seems like you're filled to the gills. You are a skilled craftsman, in a craft that requires visual and contextual knowledge of how everything is perceived and symbolized in the world. (Whew, how's that for responsibility!) It is your job to visually teach, and to make people understand, even when they're hesitant. My current job is the hardest thing I have ever done, and a lot of people think of art as this fun thing, which it can be, but I have to tell you, as someone who took classes in a whole lot of things, art school was the longest and hardest I’d ever worked..and that hard work, I think, is how I learned to work for myself today.
As you work towards your daily task of realizing what you love and hoping to someday get there, remember that you will never truly be "there." There is no concrete moment that you will step back and realize you've "made it" somehow. There are lots of little steps where you will learn even more, and realize even more of what you don't know yet! And that's ok. But there are a few obstacles that you will have to overcome on your journey:
- Fear. The most important thing you can do is often the scariest: Be willing to fail, and fail quickly so you can improve even sooner! The day to day life of a designer, big or small, is full of tiny failures and occasional successes. Understand this and you'll stop letting the little failures bring you down and learn to love criticism. How I long for criticism! I try to remember this whenever I'm reading over an email for the 6th time, nervously moving around text before showing comps to a client. Just send it. The worst that can happen is also the best--you'll know right away whether you should be moving in a different direction, and land on something even better much faster.
- “I like art, but I’m not the best at it.” It’s not about talent—it’s about time, and learning how to observe the world. I spent I think three drawing classes in college just on drawing. I spent a whole semester drawing first lines, then rectangles, then rectangles in space, then cardboard boxes, we eventually got to cardboard boxes and flowerpots—I would jokingly call Drawing I “flowerpots and boxes.” And everyone got really, really great at drawing.
- I don’t want to make the thing I love my job—what if I stop loving it?” The answer may be different here for everyone, but for me, I still love art—and it’s easy to not get burned out on one creative thing when there are so many. I’m a designer, and I usually am producing art for other people. But part of my goal in developing my own design practice was to make time for my own art on the side and teach--and now I'm producing even more while designing full time than I was when I was a part time designer working for someone else.
- Art isn’t the highest paying job/ isn’t a “real” job." Don’t be afraid to make your own job—it may not exist yet.