As a new year inches forward by the day, and the world cycles through the brouhaha of the holidays, many people start to get anxious about the future ahead. This time of year stirs up a range of emotions: everything from feelings of loss to facing the cold hard facts that the grand year we envisioned for ourselves didn’t go at all like we intended. As designers, individuals who work with our minds and hearts, not just our hands, all of this can start to take a toll.
Trust me. It happens to the best of us. In my mind, 2015 was supposed to the victory lap. The year before, I launched my solo design practice while working a 9-to-5. I had a few clients under my belt that paid well, and was working toward making enough revenue to justify going full-time. I was planning a big marketing campaign and launch party coinciding with my big 30th birthday in February. Then, the day after Christmas 2014, I lost my hero, and everything else went out the window. It’s taken me a good bit of the year to get back on track.
Sometimes, things happen beyond our control, but if being a designer has taught me anything, it’s how to make revisions, and forge my own path.
It’s almost Christmas 2015. About a month ago, I left my 9-to-5. I thought about making an announcement to let people know that I was back on the market. However, I quickly found that once I told close friends what happened, the most common response was “I’m so sorry!” I was a bit taken aback by all the condolences, so I just stopped saying anything. No one died. Nothing bad happened. It had been a great ride, but it was time to go.
Lesson 1: There’s Life After the Routine
It’s astonishing to me that where so many people saw a loss, I saw an opportunity. My freelance workload had grown over the past year, but my time and energy available to devote to creative work was limited to late nights and early mornings. I knew that if I only had more time, I could accomplish a lot more. For months, I wrestled with the idea of being a full-time entrepreneur, but I was indecisive. I had been “looking for a sign,” “praying about it,” and “reading Proverbs” (like Momma said) —trying to hear God’s direction for my life, and not jump the gun. I longed for the liberation of writing a letter of resignation and marching off into the sunset, but something was keeping me from answering the call I felt inside. In overcoming my personal loss, I latched onto the closest semblance of normalcy I had: a regular 9-to-5 job. I had gotten comfortable and was going through the motions. And that didn’t sit well with me. I finally gave myself a personal deadline of January 1 to decide. A few short weeks later, there was nothing to wrestle with anymore.
Lesson 2: The Resources Are in Your Face
I’m now settling into the reality of living my dreams — being a full-time artist, designer, and entrepreneur. I wasn’t so sure I’d be ready for it. Would I be good enough? Did I know enough about business? After I graduating from art school and even getting my MBA, I still felt uncertain. I began to soak up knowledge everywhere I could: accelerator programs, professional development workshops, bootcamps, networking, and lots of books. A week before I made the leap, I met with one of my mentors to develop a plan to transition into my art career. I realize now that the moment I had been preparing for is now. All of the experiences, lessons learned, and people I’ve met were there for a reason. It’s time to put that book learning into action, tap into the uniqueness I have to offer the world, and establish profit centers.
Lesson 3: Believe in Yourself
Many of us find our identities in our jobs, and lose ourselves in the process. While a job yields money, it is a means to an end—not the end game.
Am I completely debt-free? No. Is everything perfectly aligned in my favor? No. And it may never be. Tomorrow is not promised, either. Entrepreneurship may not be the path for everyone. Unemployment is real, and I don’t try to discount what others may be going through right now. However, I do wonder how many situations could be changed by building a door instead of waiting on one to open. It is a not a one-size-fits-all solution, nor a path without obstacles, but it is a risk I’m willing to take.
I know there are no guarantees of my success. I don’t know how long it’ll take to get the kinks out. But what I do know is that I could not go on sitting idly by watching others making strides toward their goals, and encouraging others to believe in their dreams, when I was too afraid to believe in my own.
Lesson 4: You’re More than a Job
I am not my job. I am a man. I am gifted. I have a vision. I have something to offer the world. I am passionate about helping others communicate their messages more effectively and see the world a little differently through creating impactful visual communications. I am intelligent. I am determined. I am resilient. I am underestimated, but I am enough.
I am a lot of things, but I am not my job.