Cycles & Phases

A New Race to Run

I find myself in the same spot again, but this time it is a little different. I am in another transition phase: the work with my current clients is coming to a close or slowing down and I will be on the search for new work and projects. There is underlying anxiety and uncertainty. Oddly, this time I also feel confident to face the challenge.

When I graduated, I applied at design agencies and studios. Yet, a common factor that I lacked was not only the required expertise, but also experience. How could I gain enough experience to work in the industry? I was competing with designers with more knowledge and education and extensive workplace experience. It was an uphill battle. But with the help of friends and contacts, I got my start. An unexpected start: I started freelancing.

Even in school, instructors informed us that in the creative field freelancing, contract or commission work would be inevitable. Design positions can change or expire just like contracts do. It seemed like an apprehensive road to take, especially starting out. My classmates and I hoped to find some work, develop our skills, learn more about the industry and gain experience before thinking about freelancing. But for me, gaining experience, no matter where and for however long, was my only option. In order to be relevant in the creative industry and establish a flow of work does not have a cookie-cutter solution.

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
— Albert Einstein

All the skills and knowledge I wanted to gain would be found in the workplace. Projects would be given, the tools provided, help when you needed it. At least, that was what I always thought. But the world is changing and it feels like you need to jump to find where you are when you land. I really did not know much, although I wanted to learn, where can you go?

Networking turned out to be the most important skill of any professional. It is easy to think that your skills and expertise will lead people to come to you. And for some, that is true. At the start, your job is to go out, learn and connect with the industry to want to be a part of. You can discover, that some preconceptions are wrong or different, that things are changing and where you are going and what you are doing may not be the place you want to go.

Taking a freelancing or contract working path challenges you to learn and grow every day. You dictate where you go, what you do and what you gain out of it. Work stops coming in when you stop looking. You miss out meeting people when you do not put yourself out there. Simply, you receive what you give. There are times when you feel like you do not have anything else to give, yet find somewhere deep inside of you, something that keeps you going: a dream, a goal or a standard. Every time you complete a project or a contract you have gained an experience. In time, these experiences will built the strong foundation you want.


What’s Wrong With Being Confident?

I am still hesitant to confidently say that I am a graphic designer. Although there is still so much I need to learn, I have been fortunate to have come some far. Even this blog is a testimony to my journey. You can not really grow if you do not know where you are starting from. It will get messy, irregular and chaotic. The platform we create on and with is constantly changing. What can stay consistent is your positive attitude and resolve to keep solving problems creatively.

At this familiar cycle of the journey, I am feeling confident. If you are in the same boat, be confident, too! Did you send a project proposal to a client you are dying to work with? Are you participating in a workshop? Have you completed your first design project? That is great news! Celebrate these milestones. Cherish these experiences and grow from them. A start is a start.

We are bringing some new skills and experiences to the table. So keep updating your portfolio with your latest work, improve your skills through tutorials, take a design or entrepreneurial class, participate in a conversation feed or networking event. The opportunities are out there. Be confident with what you have accomplished and keep moving forward, because there is more to learn and experience.

When I think of the times I told myself: If I had more time, I would do this … If a time like this comes to you presently, make the most of it. Be active in this phase: a time of transition, looking between projects and work, any free time. Why? Because we do not know what is just around the corner. What is all this knowledge and experiences for? To prepare us for what is next.

I think employers and clients look for someone with a lot of industry know-how and expertise because they want someone who is prepared to solve any design problems that comes to them or even prevent or foresee issues that may come. So we are constantly preparing for that. It is not to say that we will not hit walls ourselves. But when we do, will we know how to go about solving it? Will we have the skills and expertise to understand the situation? Will we know which solution to prescribe? Will we have contact with the team to complete the project? It makes sense when we reverse-engineer the concept.

You see problems - figure out to solve them. Each problem you solve is a completed project. You are onto the next level, where the puzzles get trickier. Keep figuring out how to solve them. Gaining the expertise to solve problems takes time, multiple cycles even dozens of phases. So take each race as a creative problem, and solve problems creatively. ■

Patricia Atienza