The Curse of Ambition Pt.1

The gift of a constant stream of ambition is one that I’ve been so lucky to have been given. I’ve always had an idea, and then found myself bound and determined to achieve that goal, or at least to give it my best try, and have a lot of fun in the pursuit. Either in the pursuit, or in the success of completion, we are fulfilled by simply being immersed in what we sought out to do.

In remembering the ambitious ventures that I’ve went after throughout my life, I’m realizing that there was one other factor that allowed me to pursue such endeavors with such vigor, and reckless abandon – necessary, in some amount, to actually achieve any amount of success. That factor, I’m now realizing, was that I had nothing to lose.

Nothing to lose. What a powerful motivator. It singlehandedly removes all fear from any ambitious idea. The disgusting truth, one that I’m so ashamed to admit, is that having “nothing to lose” is a luxury that fades as we enter further into adulthood.

As I inch closer and closer to the milestone age of 30, I’m so increasingly annoyed with the fact that I do, in fact, have a few things to lose.

The main thing I have to lose is the incredibly steady and stable income that freelance graphic design gives me. I’ve been so lucky to continue to have work, and work that I enjoy, for all of these years. I may be among the few that truly feels like being a freelance designer is the most dependable and steady style of work that I could possibly be involved with. Crazy, right? I’m a freelance designer, and am convinced that I have more job security and stability than the majority of Americans? It’s crazy, I know, but it’s true. I’ve been ridiculously lucky to get the amount and nature of work that I do, and for that I am insanely, and eternally grateful.

But that’s just it. That’s exactly what I have to lose. This wonderful, dependable stream of work. As time has gone on, work has continued to get better and better. So I’m left here, with an occupation that people would kill to have. I love what I do. So there is, in fact, a tremendous amount of blessings that I have to lose.

So what’s the problem? The short answer? Nothing. The long, and more honest rambling? Here goes…

My favorite thing in the world to do is to design graphics, specifically for the music industry. Yes, that’s exactly what I do for a living. But, my second favorite things in the world to do include music, clothing lines, writing, video, house renovation, blog posts, facilitating creative community, having great conversations about things I care about, speaking, etcetera, etcetera. I would love to put a decent amount of time and effort into all these other avenues, but I can only find the time to focus on the amazing freelance design workload that is always sitting in front of me, this freelance job that allows a comfortable life for my wife and I, puts food on our table, and pays our mortgage.

So my struggle, now, is figuring out how to inject these other interests and passions into my life on a regular basis. It only seems right to make design my absolute priority, but that leaves hardly any time for the other things that make me happy.

Many designers who have spent the last decade or two devoting their time to 50-60+ hour work weeks probably feel a certain threat from the up-and-coming designers. While I wouldn’t yet call myself a veteran, I have been around long enough to be able to look back on the way I was when I was just starting a career in design. There is this fire and excitement that allows you to do anything that pops into your head. Whether it be personal projects,  or 3-4 blog posts a day, you have this passion that makes you want to create non-stop, as it’s all so new, fresh, and exciting. As time goes on, however, you begin to know when it’s best to stop. The wife has dinner on the table, and your brain would be better off if it could have a break.

The frustration is that you see the young excited designers, and you envy their “nothing to lose” attitude. They make anything they want because they haven’t yet began to care about a client, or a client’s needs. There is also the envious commodity of time. Those young designers seem to have plenty of it – and use it for tweeting, blogging, website starting, and making something out of any idea that pops into their head. They have so many unused ideas, and nothing to lose.

Now, before anyone rolls their eyes at this (still very young) 28 year old’s rant, I fully realize that I can be viewed as one of these youngsters, and thrown right in with having all of the aforementioned luxuries. My point, though, is that I see the division between the young pup and the old dog, and I recognize that I have to do what I can to stay a young pup in some areas of design.

I must maintain a certain amount of reckless abandon when it comes to pursuing my ideas. I must be ready to learn from failures. I must not take myself too seriously. I must allow myself regular time to do the things I love. I must not be afraid to pursue an idea that pops into my head. I must stay a little crazy. I must stay a little foolish. I must not turn my career in design into a corporate rat race job – I am an artist, and it’s okay to act like one every now and then. Finally, I must be okay with doing less freelance client work if it means that I can fulfill other passions.

As I get older, I’m learning that life is about more than just staying happy, it’s also about staying excited. All of the “play it safe” mentalities didn’t get me to where I am today. So, they shouldn’t hold as much weight as I proceed in life. “Playing it safe” is a quick ticket to a life of boredom and regrets, and I have no plans of either.

The ambitious have been blessed with an amazing gift that we must not suppress. People would kill to have the ambition and capability that many of us designers possess, and it’s imperative that we don’t let it go to waste.

Read Part Two 

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