First, thank you to everyone who’s followed along here with my little blog! Thanks for subscribing, commenting, or just reading without commenting (that’s totally cool, too!). To everyone who’s put their trust in me this past year (hey, work people! hey, freelance clients!), thank you, too. It means a lot. I’m so grateful, too, for all of the new people and opportunities that have come into my life over the past year. 2012 has been a big year for me with good parts (travel! blogging! fun times! new experiences!) and bad (health issues! more health issues!), but overall, most things in my life are better than they were a year ago, and that’s a pretty good place to be.
The end of any year tends to be a time of self-reflection and analysis. What did we do right or wrong this past year? What have we learned? What’s really important? In that spirit, I’ve put together a list of things I hold to be true and principles that I’ll be using to guide my thoughts and decisions into the new year.
Happy Holidays, everyone!
Relationships are everything
When I was in school, I thought I was preparing well for my future by studying hard and getting good grades. Years of formal education gave me the impression that the world was a meritocracy. Do the work, impress the teacher, and everything you desire is yours.
Yeahhhhhh, not so much.
Now, I’m not saying that being a good student and being skilled at what you do isn’t important. Sure it is! However, I am now of the firm belief that how you present yourself and who you know are just as important. In other words, in life, relationships are #1. Cultivating and maintaining genuine relationships makes just about everything in life better. You get the first crack at opportunities before they’re publicized, you have people you know spreading the word about you and your awesomeness, and really, it’s just plain nice to have people in your life to hang out with through the good times and the bad. Having a mutual support system is so vital for one’s mental health (or at least mine). If I could do university all over again, I’d spend less time in the library and more time meeting people. True story.
Context is king
(Or queen, or gender-neutral ruler of choice)
If you live on the web like I do, you’ll have probably heard the phrase “content is king”. My twist on that is that context is king. In life, in business, and in just about everything, context is critically important. What I mean is: what works for someone else might not work for you. What is true for you might not be true for some of a different age, ethnicity, location, or life experience. What was true for you ten years ago might not be true anymore. Everyone has advice to give, but it may or may not actually be useful in your life. Let’s think of this in terms of design, to take this more into the realm of practicality. Blindly copying an aesthetic from a designer you admire isn’t nearly as useful as trying to understand the thought process behind it and integrating some of those thoughts into your own work, in your own context. If you design for clients, it’s probably more important to understand their niche and their users’ needs rather than try to get on the front page of Dribbble, you know? And to take this back to life in general, this means that you may not be able to always understand someone’s actions or motivations because you’re not living their life and haven’t had their experiences. Knowing this makes me keep more of an open mind, and try to understand rather than immediately judge.
Anything worthwhile requires risk and vulnerability
When I think about all of the positive things in my life, I realize that they all required a certain degree of risk. Sure, maybe it feels safe to keep your routine the same, only ever hang out with the same people, stay in that comfortable but boring job, and keep your opinions to yourself (at least that way no one will ever disagree with you, right?). Although living like this is safe, it doesn’t reap any rewards. Living an exciting life requires taking some chances and opening yourself up. And don’t think I’m just talking about grand gestures and large-scale action. Confession time! Just starting this blog was terrifying for me. I hated the thought of people thinking that my writing is stupid and potentially even, like, judging me and stuff. But you know what? Keeping yourself hidden away in the name of not being judged or criticized means no one will ever think anything of you because no one will know that you even exist. So be open, and fuck the haters, ’cause haters gonna hate.
This may or may not be my last post this year. (I like to be indecisive like that sometimes.) If it is, see you in 2013! :D
In some religions (e.g. Judaism and several forms of Paganism), the start of the year happens in the fall. The school year also starts in September, which always fills me with a sense of renewal and possibility despite not being a student anymore. Fall is definitely a time of new beginnings. At the same time, the calendar year is wrapping up and the trees are losing their leaves, signifying an ending of sorts. Fall constantly reminds us of the cyclical nature of life, whether we see it as a beginning, an ending, or both simultaneously.
Even though we should all be practising gratitude on a daily basis, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of life and become bogged down in the tedium of day to day activities. Because Thanksgiving is a popular, secular holiday, we have gratitude baked into our culture around this time of year. We’re reminded that we have a lot to be thankful for, regardless of our situation in life.
Time for reflection & self-care
With the weather getting colder and the days getting shorter, most of us find ourselves staying inside more and making fewer active plans. This can feel like a bit sad on the one hand, but on the other, this season (and the winter that follows) gives us a great chance to slow down, be still, and think. More quiet time inside also means more opportunities to cook good food, hang out with excellent people, make exciting plans for the new year, and really commit time to taking care of ourselves. I believe that this quieter period gets us into tip top shape for the warmer, more action-driven months.
As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane on the way back to Toronto (though this is actually getting published a few days later), after having spent four action-packed days in New York City. This was my second time ever in New York, and I’m happy to say that not only did I enjoy my time immensely, but I might even be starting to figure out the ridiculously complicated subway system. Trust me, this feels like a huge accomplishment since it’s actually insane.
A desire for a small adventure brought me to New York, as well as a blogging workshop that was being held this weekend. Now, it might seem a little strange that I attended a workshop about blogging with my own blog being so new and really just a hobby, but sometimes in life, it’s nice to say “what the hell, why not?” and just do something impulsive and a little random.
On Solo Travel
This trip was the first one that I really took entirely by myself, and now that it’s over, I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner. Travelling alone probably isn’t suited to everyone, but to a semi-introvert like myself, it was really refreshing to be able to do whatever I wanted to do without having to make conversation (unless I wanted to talk to strangers, which I did sometimes!) or worry about pleasing anyone else. I was able to take as much time as I wanted at the Guggenheim, and I could leisurely browse as many clothes/jewellery/record shops as I wanted in Brooklyn. No one was around to judge the amount of sugar I consumed at Tu-Lu’s Bakery (aka the best gluten free bakery ever – we really need one here).
Nope, I’m not telling you how many of these I ate.
On the other hand, it was a little scary. No one else was there to make sure I knew how to get from place to place, and no one was there to make sure I made my flight on time. But you know what? It was kind of awesome. There’s no way to learn self-sufficiency like being forced into it, and it’s really empowering to have made it through on my own. And okay, I know that a long weekend in New York isn’t exactly roughing it in the wild, but hey, isn’t it nice to celebrate the little things?
On the Blogcademy
The workshop I attended was a lot of fun. Led by three super successful, interesting, and really fun bloggers (Gala Darling of galadarling.com, Kat Williams of Rock n Roll Bride, and Shauna Haider of Nubby Twiglet), we were taught all sorts of things from being your own spokesperson, to brainstorming potential sources of income, to deciding what to write about, to developing a brand. Oh, plus a bunch of photography tips by Lisa Devlin (who also uses Aperture, like I do. Aperture ftw!) A lot information was packed into two days, but it wasn’t too overwhelming or difficult to absorb.
So, as someone with a personal blog with no immediate (or, let’s be honest, any) intention of commercializing it, was all of this information valuable to me? Yep, I’d say that it was! Because I also run a business, I can actually apply a lot of the advice to that instead where it doesn’t perfectly apply to my blog. Also, not all of the material was directed at blogs with commercial interests. The core takeaway messages like being yourself, being consistent, being patient (no one became InternetFamous™ overnight, after all!) and working hard are good advice for anyone.
And I have to mention, as a designer, this was one of the best branded events I have been to. I tip my hat to Shauna, who pulled that part of the workshop together. I know I just wrote a post where I said that sometimes a product can succeed in spite of shitty branding, but now I’m going to go in the opposite direction and say that a well-executed visual identity is truly a beautiful thing.
Even the balloons were totes on brand.
On making new friends
I’m a very firm believer in the idea that good people can make or break any experience, and that new connections with people are the best souvenir that you can take back from any trip. With that in mind, I’m so happy that I met so many lovely, smart and charming ladies over the four days I was away. (Sadly, I didn’t run into the lovely, smart or charming gents of NYC on this trip — maybe next time?) I hope we’ll be in touch for a long time to come! ♥
When I think about the fact that I currently work full time as a front-end developer and that before that I worked at several jobs as a designer as well, sometimes it feels a little surreal, given my background. Four years ago, I was a fresh university graduate with a double major in History and Art History with no design or programming education or professional experience to speak of.
The aim of this post to try and give some advice that I would have appreciated hearing when I was first starting out as a total n00b. Everything I’ve written is of course through the lens of someone who works in the field of web design, but I don’t see why you couldn’t apply it to other creative or technical pursuits as well.
Here is what worked for me, and what I’d recommend to others starting out:
Starting as a hobbyist
There’s no easier way to test whether you’d like something than to just try it out on a personal project. I knew I liked to make websites because I’d been making terrible personal sites since I was 11 and thought that Geocities and animaged GIFs were awesome, and I’d continued to make cringeworthy websites through my teenage years. Of course, they were terrible by today’s standards and I’d never include any of them in a portfolio, but being a hobbyist without any professional pressure was a great way to slowly nurture a skill that I grew to enjoy and eventually become pretty good at. If you want to be a designer, experiment with some personal projects (perhaps try a logo or a business card). If you want to be a writer, start keeping a journal or start a blog. Nobody even has to know!
My first website ever, circa 1997. It featured a delightful colour scheme, gorgeous typography, and a state-of-the-art table-driven layout. It’s still an integral part of my portfolio, obviously.
Volunteering your skill for someone in need
Because I’m largely self-taught, I needed a lot of practice to hone my design and coding skills. The best way to do this without selling your soul is to volunteer your time and skills for people or groups who need them but could never afford a professional. Note! I’m not talking about responding to shady, exploitative Craigslist ads that ask you to work for free for “exposure” or because “it’ll be a great portfolio piece”. Barf. In my case, this initially meant volunteering to make websites and marketing materials for student groups while I was in school. It was a great way to practice in a fairly low-stress but real environment. I also ended up improving my web skills and gaining experience by volunteering for Stand Canada, which is entirely run by volunteers. If you’re a student you have a distinct advantage because student-run groups are always in need of talented volunteers, but if you’re not, there are plenty of worthy causes out there that could use your help. Ask around!
Although there are plenty of self-taught geniuses in the world, it’s sometimes difficult and overwhelming to teach yourself everything you need to know. It’s important to have some foundational knowledge, at least in design or development. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself copying and pasting recklessly without actually knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing.
You can choose to go to university or college for your chosen profession, but if you’ve already graduated from school and don’t have the time, money, or inclination to go back for another full program, there are other options. Most colleges offer continuing education, which is less of a time commitment than being a full time student, but still offers the structure of being in a class. As for me, I enrolled in a 3-year graphic design program right after graduation, but I left after the first semester, because it turned out that 7 years of consecutive post-secondary education didn’t seem so appealing after all.
If the traditional classroom isn’t quite your thing, that’s cool, too. There are lots of great free and paid resources on just about every topic. Personally, I find that paying for something means that I’ll actually use it more. After all, I’ve spent money on it, so if I don’t use it, I’m being wasteful and I’ll feel guilty about it, and guilt is obviously a good motivator. In the past I had a subscription to Lynda.com, which I found quite useful, especially in learning how to use Adobe CS programs. Then there’s iTunes U, where you can take courses for free from schools all over the world, which is pretty crazy when you think about it.
And of course I have to give a shout out to Ladies Learning Code (one-day workshops) and HackerYou (longer, more in-depth courses), both of which I am/have been involved with as a mentor. If you’re in Toronto, check ’em out.
Practising on family and friends
Now, let me clarify here: if you’re not that skilled yet and someone you know and love needs a professional job done, it might be awkward and a little painful if you try and take it on as a beginner. It’s always best to be honest with yourself about your skill level. However, there are lots of ways to practise your creative skill on friends and family without immense pressure. Do you have friends in a band? Make them a gig poster! Someone you know starting a new hobby? Make them a business card! Tell everyone you know about your burgeoning skill, and they’ll keep you in mind for future projects. I also want to note that doing things for free or very cheap for people you know is probably only a good idea when you’re just starting out and really need the practice, and aren’t yet at a skill level where you’d feel comfortable charging for your work. Once you’re past that, working for free or super-cheap is generally not such a good idea, both for yourself and for your industry. (That is, unless you’re doing it as a gift — then go ahead, you kind person, you!)
If all else fails, there’s always one client you can count on — yourself. I used to go through countless iterations of my website and “brand identity” (though to be honest I didn’t know enough to call it that back then), and this gave me tons of good practice that I could use in, or as, my portfolio later on. Doing work for yourself is a bit of a mixed blessing — although you have the freedom to do whatever you want, often we’re our own worst critics, and it’s extremely difficult to make something for ourselves that we’ll actually be satisfied with. This in itself is a mixed blessing as well, because creative dissatisfaction is a great motivator for trying new things and improving your skills.
Working your way up by working in-house
So, you’re starting to get good, and you’re on your way to finding a first real job in your chosen field. Hurray! A great way to start growing your skills if you’re talented but not yet an expert is to work in-house at a company, as opposed to working at an agency. I’m sure there are about 1000 exceptions to what I just said, but in my experience, working as an in-house designer or developer (client-side) is far less pressure than working with many clients at once (agency-side). Working at one organization generally means that you’ll be focused on fewer projects at once, and that you’ll be working on them for a longer period of time. It can be really enlightening to stay with a project from inception all the way to post-launch, and truly experience the outcomes of your decisions and work.
I was going to continue with what didn’t work so well for me, but this got so long that I’m going to cut it off here. Let me know if you found this useful, or even if you entirely disagree!