At the start of this week, I had a bit of a meltdown and felt it was best to step aside from my freelance/design work for the week. I wrote a journal entry to help clarify my thoughts and to see where I was. I didn't plan on sharing this with anyone, but I'm hoping my honesty will help other people.
Before reading this, the main thing to know is; it has been a year and a half since I left a creative agency in pursuit to start my own freelance illustration business. I got a day job unrelated to graphic design to keep my bills covered and to avoid burn out.
The journey hasn't gone to plan as I still haven't met any of my financial goals. For the past two months, I've felt incredibly down on myself and felt like a failure. When writing this, this was the first time that in my hardships I'd clarified where I was at fault. Up and until this point I kept blaming other circumstances, whereas when I wrote this, I realised my lack of experience was to blame.
Hope you enjoy the read!
I think the reason I left the agency boils down to two main reasons. The first would have been my abilities and level of self-creative awareness, and the other one was the environment. I was hired as a junior and wasn’t around the most supportive or nurturing mentors. Sure I learnt a lot on my own, but with their light direction and my lack of abilities, it was becoming stressful and disappointing for me as to how much I was underperforming.
Every day I showed up I always felt like I’d miss the mark, and as it was my full-time job, this felt crushing, hurtful and disappointing. Consistently feeling like I’d let my bosses and peers down, I felt like I should walk away.
Not in a derogative way, but one of the designers I looked up to the left and his replacement was let's say “not showcasing the most inspiring creative solutions”. Again I don’t want to speak ill of my peers, but I was working with people who weren't very encouraging of taking risks or nurturing how a creative person can expand. The business's focus was on getting the job right and out the door. Which to be fair is what you need in an agency and is smart business practice.
This mindset wasn’t expanding on my weaker areas. I didn't feel like I was improving on the areas I wanted to improve on, from working there. I think I mastered the “technical” and could flush out layout based jobs in a heartbeat. Though when it came to providing unique, custom and inspiring solutions-I had no clue how to execute such work. For the longest time, this job felt incredibly difficult for me. Was constantly stressful trying to satisfy other people when I wasn’t satisfied with my abilities.
All this built up stress caused a lot of negativity in my life and made me feel hopeless. In short, I was around this community of people that wouldn’t inspire me to take risks and try things and to live life on my terms.
So I left the agency. I felt this weird guilt of “am I giving up on myself”, and at the time it felt like the right thing to do. As time went on, there was this weird guilt where I realised I was to blame. I left in a headspace of “they didn’t understand me, they didn’t get me”. Though looking back, I was just an egotistical kid who wanted the world without putting in the work. I didn't have the creative abilities required for this job.
At the time of writing this, it’s been a year and six months since leaving, and the amount I’ve learnt has been phenomenal. My full-time job has been in a customer service role while I’ve been breaking my neck working away in the background at what I kept calling a freelance career. Throughout a more extended period, I tried all these different avenues within a graphic design context that interested me. I kept trying to work on projects I always wanted to work on, and for the first ten months, it felt overwhelming. I was finding it quite hard with the lack of support and direction from my peers.
From Instagram, I came across Dina Rodriguez’s add for a lettering mastermind group. It was here I decided to join to help and assist in the struggles I was having. From the first meeting, she said I had to create five pieces of lettering per week. Which was impossible. It was draining, stressful and I got to a point where I felt like I exhausted my creative output. Worse off I felt defeated. Two chapters of my life didn’t seem to work out, and I felt like perhaps an artistic career wasn’t for me.
Thankfully I was investing in support. Dina gave me some sound advice in the midst of a vast crisis. I was at a point where I was creating pieces I hated and was feeling very unfulfilled. She said that “If you’re not happy with the work you’re creating it’s time for a big change. It’s time to create something that is personal and unique to you that no one else can do. Focus on your likes and passions, and you’ll find the right subject matter”.
She couldn’t have been more right. The next pieces I started creating, I became incredibly selfish, and was willing to take risks. I was ready to attempt things I was a huge fan of and were outside of my comfort zone. From taking this approach of “creating things I’m a fan of” and “taking risks on each piece” I felt like I finally found my creative voice. Which after around six years of being around design (including study) I never felt like I had a grasp on my approach.
I kept worrying and focusing on calculated formulas to provide solutions. Feeling that “stagnation” in my work, I felt my creative output needed to change. Now when I draw thumbnails, I let my intuition do the talking and have a mindset of “refine as I go”. Instead of stressing out about having resolved the artwork in the thumbnail from the get-go. I've found me, and I found my intuition.
After realising these arguably simple things, I started to beat myself up. I can’t believe it took me so long to find myself creatively. Though we don’t pick our misfortunes, we try to rise above them.
If it weren’t for Dina giving me the stressful task of creating five pieces of lettering per week, I wouldn’t have say ironed out the severe kinks in my habits and style. I wouldn’t have arrived at the necessary point that I ultimately needed to. In these last six months, I feel like I’ve learned more than I ever did when I was studying or in my first two years at an agency. I’ve acquired by doing what I thought was impossible.
It’s funny how you hear stories about people working at things for like ten years plus before they hit the big time. And it makes sense. We have so many different influences, and we get told so many things. I guess it just takes us this long to make things work and put it to fruition in a way that it works for us.
I read this a week after I wrote it and after feeling like I have gotten nowhere, this was inspiring and uplifting to see how far I've come. At the moment I've lightly been working on my portfolio and have been carefully exploring the idea of going back to an agency for my day job.
When I left, I couldn't articulate my skillset or have a broader perspective as to where I could improve on. Only recently, going back to an agency is a "possibility". I've looked at my abilities and said: "what do you need to improve on, what did you struggle with and what can you offer an agency that a lot of other graphic designers tend to lack".
I've been looking at my work and saying "what would I want to see. Which has helped push my pieces and my artwork along.
The main take away I feel from this story is admitting when you were at fault and moving on. Stop trying to blame other people and other facets of a situation. In isolation and put harshly, it's taken me a year and a half to realise that I merely need to do better work.
If I'm not getting the results I want in my pursuit, I merely need to be better at what I need to do. I need to push barriers and step up my work. And that's what I'm going to focus on at the moment. Being the best creative possible and standing up to the competition and showing the world what my capabilities are.
For anyone facing similar struggles and ups and downs in their career, I highly recommend starting journaling and writing. The level of self-awareness and those problematic issues you can't solve all become crystal clear. Don't be afraid to start being more open!