When the obstacle is other people

by / Sunday, 27 April 2014 / Published in Philosophy

Several years ago, before I had any experience with web design – and only a basic knowledge of html – I started thinking I should expand my skills, and web design seemed like the right place to start. There was a web team at the agency, and a creative group head who looked after it. I approached her and asked if I could chat with her for a few minutes on the possibility of moving to the digital team, or at least take some projects. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: So, my question is, if I’m interested in sharpening my skills and possibly working with the web team, where would I begin?

Her: Well, you could go back to school, learn some things, then come and talk to me in about six years.

Me: Uh …okay, thanks.

It was a short talk. I never bothered to ask her any questions ever again. Incidentally, there are 2 ironic things about that situation. She was/is a copywriter, and doesn’t know anything about web code. Furthermore she had no experience in web development or strategy before talking that position herself. She wrote for websites, but that’s it. She was given that position, and was now Queen of the hill. She was just, frankly, a bitch.

The second ironic thing is that now, I do web design almost exclusively. I also know more web code than most of her web design team members did at the time. As a matter of fact, though my original experience was in print design, I do virtually none of that now.

There are plenty of obstacles in the design discipline itself that trip people up. Software quirks. Process and procedure. Self doubt. Even the direction the wind blows that day. However, the hardest obstacle to overcome is other people. Particularly, if they’re protecting their own clique or cause.

I’ve come to believe that there are three kinds of people you’ll encounter in your career (not just a creative career): those who don’t care either way what you do or what happens to you because it doesn’t affect them, those who outright don’t like you and will get you fired if they have the chance and  those who want to help you do better because they feel good seeing you improve. You’ll likely have to endure some of the first two types, to get to the third type.

Ultimately, becoming good isn’t about having other people’s approval. Quite honestly, there are plenty of people who will go out of their way to treat you badly, because they enjoy it – it sounds all wrong, but we both know they’re out there. The good news is, that becoming good (at anything for that matter) is a choice. That’s it. Your choice, not theirs. A good graphic designer, writer or art director, is good because they make good decisions. There’s no magic underlying quality they possess that you don’t. You get there one job at a time, one layout at a time. One decision at a time.

I decided to ignore her, and go do it myself. And, I did it. Now, that’s what I do. At the time, however, I was a little sour for a while, but I got past it. So will you. The fact that you feel frustrated is a good sign – it means you’re trying. That’s a decision. A good one. Keep trying.

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