Ever since I started designing, I‘ve wanted nothing more than to learn, grow, and produce great work in the field — and I’ve wanted to do so in as little time as possible. I’ve always been the type of person who can’t function as normal once I set my mind to something, and am always determined to see it through to completion. Sure enough, after a few months into seriously designing, I was networking like crazy and taking on a ton of clients. I was — in my opinion at the time — on a roll.
I loved what I was doing and thoroughly enjoyed designing on a regular basis. The problem was, I’d become so engulfed in just client work, that it took away from the career I love so much. I didn’t have a set schedule that allowed me to split up certain daily tasks and actually force me to take breaks. Because of that, I’d practically design from sunup to sundown, resulting in frequent colds, my sudden sub-par vision and exhaustion. My work was completely drowning me, and surfacing from that was not something I projected for myself in the near future. With 19-hour workdays all surrounding client work, design became work for me. You know, the ‘roll out of bed and dread the day that was about to follow’ type of work — it was the last thing I ever wanted.
After realizing what an idiot I was being, I finally tried to set a schedule in which I’d stop working at a set time each night. It wasn’t easy to simply stop designing, and I tried my best, but my mind still wandered constantly. My thoughts were still on client work when I was eating, ‘relaxing’ at home, or on a night out. The work never stopped, and my brain wasn’t resting — it was all becoming counter-productive.
That was until (fast forward a bit) this month. Yes. As of the end of August, I packed my bags and made my way to Europe — Berlin to be exact. While being here in such a short period of time, I’ve realized quite a few important things that I think we all need to implement into our lives, especially working in this industry:
You need the detox. When it just so happened that my phone lost data connection for x-amount of miles surrounding my apartment here in Europe, I took it as a sign that maybe I need a break from my gadgets. It’s become a regular occurrence for me — taking a break from the digital world instead of Tweeting and blasting my music while walking. I leave my headphones home, keep my phone in my pocket, and instead pick up on the beauty that was all around me, and trust me there’s a lot here. Don’t get me wrong, a beautiful sunset, touristy sites or my phone buzzing like crazy, always has me reaching for it, but nonetheless, I spend less time with my gadgets. The dynamic of the communication in my life with the use of all of these social networks is extremely different and not necessarily for the better. Because of that eye opener, I realize that going back to traditional communication sometimes is a bit good for the soul (and manners). I think there are certain times when it’s necessary to keep your phone in your pocket and your laptop shutdown.
I highly suggest taking 15 minutes to an hour to step away from everything and completely clear your busy mind. I spend time by myself, too, which I did sometimes in the past, but never really appreciated. I now always look forward to the daily quiet moments when I can process my own thoughts and not have them crowded by a deadline or looming issues fogging my mind. Whether it’s during a walk in the city or hanging out on the couch, I love the quiet time. I truly appreciate the nothingness. I know many individuals are advocates of yoga, going for walks, painting, and many other methods that take them to a different world; I think that’s the zen-like meditation we need all too often.
I missed really designing, learning, and growing as an individual in the industry. I didn’t have time to dedicate toward sitting down on my couch and reading up on the latest news, new design techniques, or leisure reading either. I practically had no personal life outside of the house (office) and my life revolved around clients and their happiness — not my own.
There’s a big responsibility that comes with saying “yes” to a client project, but there’s an even bigger responsibility and importance in knowing when and how to say “no”. So many of us reach for any client we can take. We end up drowning ourselves under pressure when there are 4 clients with very close deadlines lingering in our heads and on our plates. Knowing how many to take, how much to charge in order to to balance your finances properly, and when to say yes versus no are all important choices we need to learn how to make. Implementing that into our lives as creative individuals is probably one of, if not, the most important task to keeping your sanity in this field.
Now, I—and I highly recommend you do the same—only pick up projects that will be fun to work on, and with clients that are mature, realistic, and not total shmucks. You don’t have the time to deal with the client who doesn’t want to understand the hard work and time that is put into their product, doesn’t want to pay, and for that matter, a client who doesn’t understand that she/he have come to you and I for a reason.
Sidenote: If this were a $100,000 project, I’d deal with all client problems I just listed. Know when to hold’em and when to fold’em, people.
Set your schedule up properly so that you’re working on client projects as well as dedicating time to products that you want to see come to life. There’s nothing more satisfying than taking that time to build what you want; as well as using it as a playground to learn and grow as a designer or engineer.
At the end of the day, whether it’s personal or business, it’s all about choice, and you need to always be satisfied with the ones you make. Not everyone will always agree with all of them, but as long as you can rest easy at night, then you’re making the right ones.
Success vs Happiness
Not long ago, I had a conversation with Benedikt Lehnert during and after an anxiety attack I was having because of my dissatisfaction with my career progression. I was incredibly overwhelmed looking at the work I’d done over the course of the past year and was not happy nor satisfied with my level of success thus far. I have a bad tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself, and this was one of those moments. I suddenly disliked all of the design work I did, was incredibly frustrated that all of the products I’d wanted to work on weren’t up and running yet. I had convinced myself that I should already be running a company on my own instead of freelancing. It was completely bizarre, I made zero sense with the shit I was saying, and it took a good deal of time for him to get me back to being calm, again.
He saw the difference between success and happiness from a perspective I never bothered to see it from before. He told me:
“If launching products is how you define success, then you’re already fucked.”
It took me aback because I wasn’t expecting it, but I knew what he meant. We discussed happiness and what it really means; how creating all of these meaningful products can and will make a difference in this world. At the end of the day though, they don’t define how successful you are in life. It’s happiness, seeing so many people using the product you dedicated so much of your time and life to — pure bliss, even. However, success lies in the morals and values, and how well you stay true to what you believe in when this world is begging you to question that. Your success is seen in the friendships you build and cherish, the family you grow with, and the one you create later in life with your significant other.
It’s easy to get caught up in materialistic things, “yes” men and women who do nothing but stroke your ego, and certain things that simply don’t matter in this world. I think somewhere throughout this wild journey, I forgot to stay true to what I cherish most and remember what really matters to me. These past months have been challenging, draining, and also the biggest ride of my life at the same time.
Now I’m doing what I want, making choices that I feel comfortable with, and surrounded by people who love me and whom I in turn love. Let me tell you, it takes some time and dedication, and it sure as hell isn’t easy — but I can’t begin to explain how good it feels to find ground in a chaotic world that will inevitably continue to spin beneath you.