Last week was one of those perfect storm weeks where the timelines of three different projects converged at the most design-intensive point.
So I spent almost every hour of the day either sketching logo concepts, designing in Photoshop and Illustrator or writing custom code in the catacombs of both Wordpress and Squarespace. Two websites, one menu, one new logo... and a partridge in a pear tree.
And while I emerged from the week on Friday with my eyes slightly glossed over from probably too many hours staring at a screen, I had a grateful moment where it suddenly struck me just how far my skills have come in a few short years.
To give you some perspective...
- One year ago I had NO idea how to even attempt programming a website by myself.
- Two years ago the only thing I knew about Illustrator was how to open the program.
- Three years ago I may have known a cohesive brand when I saw one, but I had no idea how to put one together myself.
- Four years ago my Photoshop knowledge was pretty much limited to drawing shapes and text.
Today I use all four of these skills on a daily basis. (And did I mention I get paid for it? That's pretty cool too!)
But how did I learn these skills? And how did I know it was something I'd be good at?
Did I just wake up one day and say... "One year from now I shall know how to use Photoshop!" Um... not quite.
It was actually out of curiosity (and necessity) that I developed these skills over time.
More on that later, but first, a quick story...
Back in college, when I declared my major as advertising, I found out that there was this whole creative side of advertising where you could be an art director (make things look cool) or a copywriter (make words sound cool.) I thought both sounded pretty enticing, so I paid a visit to my professor to learn more about how to turn that into my career. Here's how that conversation went down:
Me: "This! This is so awesome! I want this to be my career! I want to be a creative in advertising."
My professor: "You'll never get a creative job in advertising without a portfolio."
Me: "Okay... tell me which class teaches me to make a portfolio. I'll sign up right now!"
My professor: "Sorry, we don't offer classes like that. You'd have to transfer to the Fine Arts college."
That conversation was unbelievably deflating to me, and it's why I didn't try to pursue the creative side of advertising. At the time it seemed like college was the only way to gain "reputable" skills, and because my program didn't offer the classes I need, I felt out of luck. Instead I chose to pursue a more business-related advertising path, which ultimately led me to a Media Planner position that just wasn't for me.
But I was wrong.
What I NOW know to be true is that if you have a genuine, insatiable curiosity for something, you have to ability to teach yourself how to do it.
My senior year of college, I actually introduced myself to basic Photoshop because I was tired of having a boring Word-formatted resume. I was still pursuing the business side of advertising, but I figured having a well-designed resume would help me stand out from the crowd. I couldn't pay anyone to design it for me, so I actually bought a used Photoshop manual on eBay, found a 24-hour computer lab on campus with Photoshop installed, taught myself the basics, and put together a unique resume with pops of color and non-standard fonts. (Now that I think about it, the fact that I was blowing off going to the bars to spend hours tweaking my rudimentary design should have been my first clue that design was my passion.)
Once I got a taste for that, I was curious about what else I could do with the program. There was a guy in my advertising program that had a summer internship at a design agency, so I convinced him to let me go to his apartment and literally sit behind him at his iMac, watching him design freelance projects. (No doubt he got sick of hearing "Wait, wait, show me how you did that again..." )
When I started my first blog in 2011 (on Blogger), I was pretty unimpressed with the lackluster templates they offered, so I used to stay up until the wee hours of the morning Googling little snippets of code to customize my template - my first introduction to writing code.
I Googled. I Skillshared. I voraciously bookmarked tutorials and blog posts and how-to's. (I still do all of it.)
All I did to develop these skills - these skills that are now a huge part of my career - was follow my curiosity wherever it led me.
With each new skill I was cultivating, I also made it a point to immediately apply what I was learning so that it became second nature to me.
Now, I promise I'm not sharing all of this with you to pump up my ego or to say look at what I've done.
I just want these stories to serve as an example that it's possible to cultivate skills completely on your own and to take control of your own career.
You don't know what kinds of opportunities you'll find at the end of your quest.
That's why I named this list "Self-Made Society." Because I believe we all have talents within us, and with this glorious thing called the internet, we have the ability to teach ourselves whatever we want to learn.
Talent is a dormant little seedling waiting for the right conditions to come along and let it bloom.
There are talents within us all that are just waiting around, begging for a way to express themselves.
Had I not followed my curiosity to hone my design skills, had I been satisfied with what that professor told me about not being able to learn how to build a portfolio, I may never have known that design was a talent or a passion of mine.
So, this week, ask yourself: what are you curious about?
And better yet, where is that curiosity leading you?
Carve out time this week to learn something new about what you're interested in. You never know where it could lead.
Wishing you all the best in your various quests. And thanks for your emails week after week - it means the world to me that my experiences can be helpful to some of you out there chasing down your dreams.
Let's make it a great one, friends!
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This post first appeared in my Monday newsletter to Self-Made Society -- Made Vibrant's email community for soulful creatives. Sign up and you'll get instant access to my e-book, A Year Made Vibrant, with over 50 of my past weekly newsletters.