I’ve been a design practitioner for almost fifteen years now — and for the first time in that fifteen year run I’ve found myself without a job. No clients. No deadlines. No pitches or presentations. Just myself with some time on my hands. It’s uncomfortable and daunting. I’m a busy body and don’t do well when left alone with big chunks of unstructured time.
I’ve always moved from one job to the next when an opportunity presented itself that I thought was a move in the right professional direction; a new path that would allow me to grow in new ways and exercise that new growth. That pattern has proven to be an invaluable one. One that has presented me with enumerable lessons along the way and allowed me to engage with a caliber of colleague and client that I couldn’t have otherwise imagined.
Looking back, I don’t think I would have altered that path in any way, even though there were many times when I thought I had chosen wrong. That dissonance always seemed to disappear and give way to dedication to the tasks at hand and a drive to do a good job.
However, that dissonance is back. This time away from my practice has given me some space to reflect on questions that have been — if I’m honest with myself — ever-present.
- Do I enjoy what I’m doing?
- I’m I passionate about the work I’m involved in?
- How does my expertise and my work serve the common good?
- Do I want to continue down this same path?
- Does my work make me happy?
- Is there something else out there that might be more meaningful for me?
I’ve often spent large amounts of time asking them, but a disproportionate amount of time actually trying to answer them. I suspect that I’ve avoided really digging into finding answers for a fear of, well, actually finding some answers and then not liking them. I’ve been exploring these questions again during this gift of time that I’ve been dealt and have found some answers that are shaping the next chapter of my professional practice.
Out of the questions above, one seems to be the root of what has been driving the others:
How does my expertise and my work serve the common good?
If I take a hard look at the work I’ve done over the course of my career, a pattern emerges that warrants examination. While I can say that my work has served a purpose, that purpose has always felt transient and superficial. I’ve helped startups launch products and scale them. I’ve helped small and mid-size businesses get their message out and connect with and grow their audience. I’ve helped schools and universities improve their admission rates. I’ve helped SaSS companies improve their user acquisition, retention, and engagement. My work has contributed to growing bottom lines. But have I ever truly affected positive change at scale? Has the work that I’ve done as a designer fundamentally made a difference in a way that improved the world around me? I honestly can’t say, and that doesn’t sit well with me.
How can I use my skills and expertise to serve those who could truly benefit from the power of design? That’s the question that I’ve been sitting with and one that I’d like to dedicate some time to answering.