Building a career is complex

October 21, 2015 is the day Michael J. Fox’s character, Marty McFly travelled to, in the film Back To The Future 2. That movie was released in 1989 and that means now is officially 'the future.'

I remember the day I first watched that film like it was yesterday—my friends and I had cut school and we spent the morning at the movies, time-travelling with Marty McFly, Dr Emmet Brown and the bully Biff Tannen. I marvelled at the thought of the year 2015. It seemed so distant and so far away. It was too hard to imagine.

At the time I wondered if my children would be getting about on hover boards and if I would be astounded by 3D holograms as I walked to work in the morning.

I might not be hover-boarding my way to work, but the world has changed significantly since 1989. In the years that followed I’d be stepping out into the world, seeking entry into design studies and eventually seeking work as a designer.

My journey wasn’t smooth, it didn’t unfold in a neat sequence and I didn’t climb a long, towering ladder from junior to mid-weight, to senior and beyond.

My journey was filled with mistakes made because of my own sheer ignorance, fear and sometimes lack of self-belief. It included navigating assumptions and myths told to me by high school teachers, Tafe and University lecturers, ‘friends’ whom can only be called ‘friends’ if we enclose them with inverted commas, and everyone else who thought their opinion mattered to my future career success. 

I didn’t have the courage to seek the guidance and mentorship that great professional relationships can offer. I lacked the self-confidence and belief in my ability to achieve because I was too embarrassed to ask the questions that were swimming in my head.

I tried, failed a few times, I learnt a few things, I changed course many times and sometimes I adjusted my own expectations and assumptions. I simply had to.

The one thing I did do throughout the last 25 years of my career was to continually ensure that I was moving forward through every setback, through every detour and every pitfall.

Even though today is ‘the future’, some things still remain true: 

  1. Stepping out into the professional world and beginning a career is scary. 
  2. Learning how to deal with everything there is to deal with when trying to build a career, is complex and overwhelming. 
  3. Asking questions you’re embarrassed to ask, is embarrassing.
  4. Knowing where to start is difficult to say the least. 
  5. Meeting people in the industry is difficult.
  6. There are so many things that school doesn't actually teach you.
  7. Building a career is complex.

I hope this journal—in some way—provides you with some of the answers to your questions, and also paves the way for you to explore and seek the answers to other questions you might have.

There are no hard and fast rules in building a career as a Designer, though advice and guidance should be plentiful. But with any advice and guidance, including that in this journal, take it with a grain of salt.

Select the parts that make sense to you and use them – the rest, place on a shelf for reference and keep moving forward.

Think life, not work

A thing or two about mentors