Over the last 12 years, I’ve worked as a designer, art director, illustrator, animator, writer, all sometimes blurring together, depending on the task at hand. I’ve worked in a number of different fields, from interactive to product, platform to content, VR and gaming to feature films. Tools have evolved and changed. Industry standards become old news, quickly replaced by something new. I’ve embraced the idea that learning new skills and being versatile is a necessary part of the job. It’s helped me to succeed professionally as well as realize my own ideas and projects.
Invest in Yourself
Paying attention to self development and professional growth is important for me to stay interested in what I’m doing. I’ve spent considerable effort building a link between my life and my work so that they complement each other. When I’m energized and excited about what I’m making, I’m more inclined to be the same way with my life choices—eating better and exercising regularly. When I’m feeling good, I make better things. Keeping this in mind helps me get things done once I sit down at my desk.
For me, a project almost always starts with the people. But the challenge of the brief is a close second. In any new project I’m on, I consider how it might become an investment further down the line. How will I learn from the people around me? How will I grow? Aside from the technical, (acquiring new new skill sets etc.) how does accomplishing something great for this client in turn give back to me to apply to something in the future? What kind of creative doors open for me later, if I spend my time and energy here now? Getting paid to make things for people is awesome, but don’t deny yourself the possibility of gaining something else along the way too. Take the opportunity to learn from the people around you, stay humble and stay interested.
What before how
A solid understanding of toolsets is important to turn your ideas into reality. There are no shortcuts. Simply put, time plus effort equals results.
Figuring out what works for you is a very personal journey. In all its unapproachable subjective glory, I think it often gets overshadowed by the pursuit of technique. It seems a bit backwards to give it so much energy, since I eventually want the tools to get out of the way completely and just be there to help me generate my ideas. Focusing too heavily on technique can also mean that I’ll be more likely to pick teams, and not view tools for what they are—just tools; a means to an end. The question of “which____software should I use?” is lazy, and ultimately a dead end. Start with the idea, then find the best tool to make it with. No allegiances needed.
Find people who inspire you
I think it’s important to have a collection of people to look up to, setting the pace. I constantly look to them for inspiration and motivation. There is always someone out there working harder and certainly smarter than me. In fact I’m counting on it. As long as I’m not taking an unhealthy detour into self-comparison, learning from them is good fun, and keeps me motivated and engaged. It’s important to stay connected to your audience, as well as people excelling in your field of interest and I regularly interact on with them on Twitter and Instagram. Additionally, if someone’s work inspires you, reach out and let them know. I love hearing from people, respond to everyone, and as a bonus, feel good doing it.
Recognize and embrace imposter syndrome
The inevitable ups and downs of making things makes the process bittersweet. The ups are amazing and the downs really suck. Often, the fear of imposter syndrome creeps in and nothing seems to work. Whenever I’ve moved on to a new field, I’ve spent so much time and energy feeling like a fraud that it immobilized me completely. This would happen like clockwork, and I would struggle through it, mad that I had lost whatever creative fire that was there before.
At some point I stopped getting frustrated that I felt down and uninspired, and the situation became a lot less dramatic. I stopped making myself feel like a failure and instead accepted that it was there, and that it would pass. Instead of hating life, and letting the guilt of being unproductive set in, I focused on something outside my work. Going for a walk, reading a book, or spending time with friends seemed like simple things, but helped me get over the stress of not getting anywhere, and let go of the weight of looming unfinished projects.
Cultivating good habits can be hard, but they will pay off in the long run. For me, getting over feeling guilty about the bad days helped me relax and enjoy the process. There are definitely still times when I get frustrated and inspiration doesn’t come, but returning to these things has helped steer me in the right direction. I hope they will do the same for you.
Originally published on The-Human-in-The-Machine