I am the kind of person that wants to give a great first impression. Deep down I’m an introvert, but my experiences of living in a foreign country and working in retail kind of pushes you out of that comfort zone and into a new one. Yay! I’m not so awkward when talking to people. But now, I want others to remember me and for good reasons, too!
A danger that I have experienced when trying to impress everyone is agreeing to help out for anything or everything. This quickly took up a lot of time and energy and gave too much stress as the result. If this is a situation you are in now, take it from someone who has been there - it is okay to walk away from certain opportunities.
I understand, dealing with projects and clients can be stressful, but you need to decide, which projects and clients are worth your time and efforts. I can understand at the beginning, not all of us have the luxury of being picky. But these decisions should align on your goal. Other important factors are your time, skill level, determination and practical do I really need this because this is going towards rent? reasons.
I always thought having a lot of choices was a good thing. For example, in high school we take classes we think will open the most doors only to get to university not knowing what we really want to do. All I figured out in high school was what I was bad at: math, science, history, etc. So I stuck with what I was good at and what I liked doing was art. I was sure that I wanted to be in the creative field.
Decision making continued into post secondary with which university or college to go to and which design program to apply for. I opted for a college design program rather than a bachelor of arts in a university. I was not sure if I could live up to the standards of an art school, let alone a 4-year program. Nonetheless, in college, I discovered my love for design! But I did not get a job after college and the doubts and fears crept in. I later interned and worked a couple months until the contract ended. I decided to study in Germany and came back after a year and went back to school. And all the while living with my family or extended family.
Even now I am well provided for. Factors and advantages such as these have defined my choices in life. A big career decision was to to become a freelance graphic and branding designer. It meant a lot of things: building my brand and serving a clientele to earn a living. All I can offer in the mix is my time, effort, skills, passion and expertise. So, how I choose to apply myself now can bring me to my goal in 5 years or 10 years.
It is hard to freelance in the creative field. It is highly competitive and constantly changing. But I knew I wanted to earn the responsibility, challenges, financial independence and freedom that comes with it.
All Opportunities vs Focused Opportunities
When I started out as a freelance designer I signed myself for anything. I sent out resumes for job applications, I joined various meetups and sought volunteer opportunities in my community. Have you ever been in a rut? I have, and I hate doing nothing because I feel like I’m going no where. It is a dark, lonely, anxious and depressing place. So, this driving force to get into something, anything at that matter, was adamant.
In time, putting myself out there returned some good feedback. I got a couple of contract jobs and some perspective design projects with personal clients. I considered volunteering. But life can change in an instant and all the opportunities that I signed up myself for began to pile up into a massive backlog in my inbox.
Suddenly, I was stressed because I had too many opportunities. What I needed was to refocus on my goal. And when I prioritize opportunities in reference to my goal, I realized only some options actually work with my current schedule and will get me where I want to go.
Discerning the Path to Your Goal
Some decisions are difficult because one option may not always be clearly better than the other. Both choices can have seemingly good merits and advantages. So what do you do? Look at the choices with a critical eye: Which offer the best outcomes and results? Which works best with your current schedule? Can you commit to this right now?
A great instructor of mine told me that a great way to impress a client is to promise them little and deliver a lot. This applies to a lot of things. Especially when you are starting out, you may be building a brand, a clientele or networking. You want to be reliable and trustworthy to a client’s eye, right? Then you have to be present and available to them while serving your other business and personal commitments. In a client’s point of view, a reliable designer that delivers more than what is asked and it constantly available is remembered better than a designer who promises a lot but delivers mediocre service.
Filtering through a lot of opportunities was not really a bad thing. It gave me insights of what I really want to do while trying and committing to new things. It is a process of discovering what works for you and helps you towards your goal. Something can work out for a couple months and then not anymore. I believe that opportunities are everywhere and the right opportunity will be made known to you at the right time.
So it is okay to say no. A good friend told me that when you are in a good situation: go and give it your all. But, when you are unsure, stressed or confused, take a step back and protect yourself. Feelings like stress is an indicator to reflect on your current situation. Is this stress just around this project because I did not manage my time better? Or is this commitment hindering me from my priorities and standards? We have the ability to make any situation better, but we have to recognize where we are first.
Goal Defined Criteria
I challenge you to define your criteria for your goal. What helps me is reverse engineering my goal. I want to be a successful freelance graphic and designer travelling and working around the world. Then that means gaining professional design and business experience, networking internationally, building trust, great references, a killer portfolio, and creating a brand that offers quality and reliable design services. I know I am not perfect and I still have a lot to good habits to build and design challenged to experience. Overall, I know my decisions now will affect my future.
For example, a graphic and branding design portfolio full of brochure designs will only lead to more brochure design projects because that is all clients will see. A portfolio with various projects from logo design to illustration to layout or branding will open the doors you want, if that is what you want. It depends on your niche or how specialized you want to be. Simply, do the work you want to be doing.
Your goal affects how you prioritize your commitments and decisions in finding new opportunities. Constantly keep your goal in mind, and you will see how it changes your decisions-making process to a more focused path. Trust your gut, your mind, and your choices. ■