Have you ever felt discomfort so strong that it actually manifested into physical symptoms?
That was me on a cold November morning sitting in my apartment staring out the window thinking, by many standards, I seem to have it all, but why doesn’t it feel like I do?
The end of the year was looming and I had gone into this melancholic state.
I knew I had to figure out what was going on, but quite honestly, deep down I already knew. I wanted to go down a different career path, but after building a successful career in sales, it seemed like I would forever be pigeon-holed into one sales role after another.
The dilemma was clear: I either stay where I’m at and just ignore how I feel, or I put aside my excuses and make a change. It was always easier to choose the former. In my self-reflection I realized I was a true conformist of society after all; society was telling me that in my early 30’s I should continue in my existing career, marry my partner, and eventually have a couple of kids.
Why would I be so foolish as to leave a reliable job to pursue what I thought was a pipe dream? It’s just not practical. Be responsible. The moment I realized that this desire for change was perpetuating my daily thoughts and that being ‘realistic’ is no longer a good enough reason to stay stagnant I began my journey into a new path as a freelance UX Designer. Here are 5 things I’ve learned along the way.
Base your decisions on your values, not time
I spent years making decisions that lead to an unfulfilled life. I did all the ‘right’ things on paper. I earned a prestigious degree, worked for multinational corporations, and was smart with my money through investments. I knew I wanted to explore different avenues, but every time I sat down to deliberate my next move that damn calculator stood in the way.
I wanted to go back to school to develop my skills but upon calculation of cost and, more importantly, investment of time I’d fabricate myriad excuses.
My main reason was ‘if I go back to school now, all the years I should have been making money and being practical would be wasted and I’d face uncertainty as to what my next move would be post graduation.’ It was on that November morning many years later that I realized that there will never be a right time to do any big change in your life; let your values govern your next move, not a timeline that keeps you stuck. Once I put this fictitious notion of time aside, I made a list of compromises and sacrifices I’d have to make in order to go back to school. I felt at peace knowing decisions based on your values resonate with the core of who are and will not turn into regret.
Acknowledge Your Ego and Move Forward
I ended up starting a UX program at CareerFoundry, and soon after, I started to feel like perhaps I’d made mistake. I started to feel like I was in over my head and that I was not cut out to join the tech world. Had my intuition lied? I experienced the Imposter’s Syndrome-concept: describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
I kept thinking in a few months when I finish this program everyone is going to realize that I don’t know anything, I’m not smart enough to do this work, I’m a fake. Recognize that when you embark on new territory it’s normal to have these thoughts and feelings.
Your ego wants you to retreat from any experience that betters you; your ego wants you to stay in your comfort zone. If you avoid progress and self-improvement, then your ego won’t be left in the dust and it’ll stay relevant. I urge you to thank your ego for making a valiant effort to set you back, acknowledge those thoughts, ignore, and move forward!
Comparison is the Thief of Joy
In UX there should always be an element of free-flowing ideas to test and validate. I realized early on that one of the biggest mistakes to avoid is comparing your work with others. I wanted to be an outstanding designer, and every time I’d look at somebody else’s work I’d focus on my shortcomings and why I wasn’t as talented.
The truth is that there are many others that could be thinking the same about your work. However, what matters most is to get off this destructive comparison train because it will result in stunted growth and censorship of potentially impressive ideas. What you should use as a measure of your progress is to juxtapose where you are at to where you started.
Solicit Advice from Experts
Here’s where authenticity and a genuine desire to connect with others should be your driving force for reaching out to experts. In my years of sales, I have gone to numerous networking events and can spot a disingenuous person a mile away. If you appreciate someone’s work, reach out to them with the intention of an honest interest to better understand their process.
Do not reach out to someone with the intention of getting immediate help without having formed somewhat of a relationship. I’ve found general advice, not necessarily pertaining to your own projects, from an expert is invaluable information that can help you hone your craft. You may be surprised to discover that you can contribute something in the process so that expert can learn from you; this is the ideal exchange you should be after.
Cultivate Your Creativity through Balance
Throughout my time at school, I spent countless late nights in front of my computer doing numerous iterations. At one point I started to feel so exhausted by the process that I felt like I had developed tunnel vision and that no new ideas could surface. I recognized that I was missing balance.
I managed to pull myself away from that glowing screen light and take time out to do things that made me feel revitalized. In my case, this involved tennis and dance. I’d then return to my screen with a new sense of energized creativity. In my opinion, this is not optional. Take time out of your day to seek balance or create a miserable experience.
If there is only one thing that I want you to take away from my experience then it would best be summarized by this quote, “…Don’t await the perfection of Plato’s Republic”. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.29.(4))
In other words, don’t excuse yourself from doing things that move your life forward because the conditions aren’t right. Do what you can, now. Steer clear of both ego and excuse.