Lessons Of The Grind

After doing consistent design work for over a decade, I’ve observed many phases of the career. I’ve also come to my own conclusions and basic philosophy, that I’ve also watched evolve over time. Anything that I thought I knew would soon be replaced by a new perspective. So, as firm as I may hold on to my ideals, I also realize how fleeting they are, and that my stance, however solid, is only temporary.

This year, 2013, has been the most transitional year of my life. The hurdles I’ve jumped through for the past eight months have tested every aspect of my personality, and more specifically, how I manage to complete my work.

I could bore you with all of the details in another post. Since the general tone of this blog is design-oriented, I’ll leave the specifics out. The paraphrased version of my year is this:

I started the year, in January, with a goal to put my head down, and to take on and complete as much work as I possibly could. I wanted to stretch myself to the limit, in hopes of pushing that limit – getting out of the year more capable than I began it. That was my only focus. Simple.

In the third week of January, my wife and I found a “dream property” that we could only wish for. Every thing we had hoped that our life could be someday seemed possible on this ten-acre piece of land near our town. However, if we were going to buy this property, we would have to act quickly. So we pulled every string we could to be able to make an offer on the property, but we would have to keep our current house in the mean-time. January is not a good time to put your house on the market.

Our predicament would be to buy the new property, and lock that down. Then, we would move on to getting our current house up for sale. To make matters even more complicated, we would plan an extensive renovation to the small house on the new property — a renovation that we, working from home, would not be able to live through. The only option: move into an apartment during the renovation.

In nailing everything down, in the months of May, June, and July, I found myself with a mortgage payment for our current house, a mortgage payment for the new property, and a lease for the apartment for the interim. My monthly bills tripled. All the while, bouncing from bank, to contractor, to architect, to realtor, to radon mitigation, to roofers, to hvac, to… you get the picture. All of this, while still maintaining the hefty work load that I had challenged myself with. This is the type of stress that goes beyond ramming your head through a wall, to a focused effort to keep from spontaneously combusting. If there were ever a time for me to completely explode, it was this past summer.

But after a long ordeal, we sold our house, quickly, for way more than we paid for it. We found a contractor and an architect for the renovation on the new place, and we found an apartment to live in, for the interim. I am currently living and working in the apartment, while I bounce building plans back and forth with the architect and contractor.

For this entire year, I have somehow managed to work 5-6 days a week with the largest work load of my career.

All this, to focus on what I’ve learned through it all…

When the time comes to shut up and get work done, you find out what type of designer you are. Many of us worry about where we stand amongst some design community, some of us want to be the best designer ever, some of us obsess over our Twitter followers or Dribbble likes, and some of us are terrified and unsure of every single decision that we make. This year, I haven’t had the time to ask those questions, or focus on anything else but the work. I’ve had no other choice but to become a machine.

I’ve realized that at the end of the day, if us designers do not have the ability to silence, and grind work out — then the longevity of our careers may hang in the balance.

The idea of being an artist, or the pride we take in being creative means nothing if we cannot back it up with hard work. Pure, gritty, sweaty, work. There is no squeaky-clean suit and tie in my world. My world, the one that has allowed me to make a good living as a freelance artist, is a dirty pair of overalls, one that’s exhausted at the end of the work day.

In time, I’ll learn how to have a great career AND room to breathe, but for the first decade or two of my career, I want to know that I spent it grinding. I want to know that I’m capable of doing an amount of work that others view as impossible. Before I ever put some suit-and-tie on to accept a meaningless award– I want to know that I pushed myself to the limit to get there.

You’re artistic. You’re creative. You’re gifted. Congratulations.

Now, let’s see if you know how to work.



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