Learning to Lead

I am the listener. The quiet one. The benevolent one. The “Barb” from Stranger Things. The “Jane” from 27 Dresses. Let’s just go ahead throw in all supporting actresses from any romantic comedy too. I feel more comfortable living in the background. Too comfortable, actually.

Struggling to Communicate

When I began my career as a designer, I didn’t familiarize myself with the skills needed to be a designer aside from, well, designing.

Designers need to know how to partition their mind, like one would a hard drive: one segment goes to actually designing, the other segment goes to communicating, and the last segment is about management (project management, goal management, time management, so on and so forth).

The communication part was what really jostled me. I didn’t realize that I would eventually have to stand up in a room full of people and explain to them what design was, what they’re looking at, why they’re looking at it, and why it was worth spending money on. It’s always a huge challenge for me to get out of my own head to communicate consciously, clearly, and loudly enough to commandeer a room.

Finding a Voice

“Courage isn’t the absence of fear or doubt. Courage is overcoming it.”

I’ve grown less terrified and more accustomed to speaking louder (or speaking at all), regardless of whether it’s in a meeting, at a networking event, on a panel, or in front of an audience. It’s not necessarily because I’ve grown comfortable with it (because trust me, I’m not) but as I get older, I’ve not only become more confident in myself as a person but also being in my own skin and not putting too much thought into what others think about me.

(Maybe that’s what comes with being in your 30s.)

One of the things that I’ve also learned is, regarding situations and events in life that induce stress, fear, or worry, that the energy it takes to be afraid of something is the same amount of energy it takes to be strong.

Choose to be strong.

The Turning Point

Becoming a stronger person and being confident in yourself is one hell of a turning point. As these things change, my perspective has started to drastically shift.

Popularity Isn’t Everything

I used to be inspired by the über-talented designers. The ones that happen to have thousands upon thousands of likes on their Dribbble posts or the ones that received all of the aw(ww)ards. I‘m not sure if I was inspired because of the actual design work or because of the popularity of it, or both.

“Maybe one day, we’ll have 50,000 followers and 10,000 likes on our Dribbble shot, too!”, my desires would tell me.

As designers, I feel like we all strive, at some point, to be recognized for what we love doing. We collect the followers and likes. We chase the trends. We curate and schedule our Dribbble shots to garner as much attention as we can because it’s work we’re proud of showing off. We find ways to market ourselves in a vain attempt to stand out. We do things with the hope of accolades.

It‘s great to be recognized; the validation that your peers think you’re a good at what you do is indication that you’re doing something right. But at some point, there’s going to be a desire for more.

For me, none of those things are as satisfying as they used to be. There’s a new desire to find ways to make a longer-term impact.

Talent Comes in All Shapes, Sizes, and Titles

I also used to believe that a “talented designer” meant someone who produced beautiful work and could knock conceptual design out of the park.

That’s until I realized that I was completely wrong (and naive).

Talent is more than design output. It’s about tenacity, a desire to keep pushing, do better, and know more, a fighting spirit to never give in and never give up, the courage to keep going and keep challenging. It’s about attempting to put fear aside to do something you’re uncomfortable with.

It also has nothing to do with titles–Junior Designers, Senior Designers, Design Directors–because those don’t (and shouldn’t) determine how much of a positive impact someone can make, how much respect and trust they deserve, or any other stigmas that come with the hierarchy.

I find that there’s more inspiration to be found in someone’s ambition and character than there is in what they’re producing or their ability to produce.

The Last Straw

Awhile back, I was having a conversation with a friend about the structure of a design team (which is related to the above) and, oddly, it left me feeling pretty somber. Something didn’t register correctly.

I eventually realized it was because I didn’t agree with his perspective anymore. It opened my eyes and led me to ask myself a question I’ve never given much thought to before: what kind of legacy do I want to leave behind?

Embracing the Change

“Before you are a leader, success is about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is about growing others.”

I touched on this during an Epicsode that we filmed with Dann and it was the first time I blurted it out publicly (and on film, nonetheless). It’s something that has been on my mind since I’ve stepped into a Design Director role at Funsize: I’m ready to become more than just a designer.

What can I, normally the quietest one in the room, leave behind? How can I make an impact?

Carving a New Path

For the last half of 2016, I’ve been finding inspiration in those whom I admire most for their leadership, wisdom, and readiness to share everything they know with anyone willing to learn. They find ways to give back.

One of those people is my husband and business partner, Anthony. I get to watch him, day in and day out, lead an entire team and also mentor, teach, advise, and be a thought leader to people including myself. He’s the greatest teacher and mentor I could’ve ever asked for. I’m sure I’ve said this before but I say it often because it’s true: without his guidance and support for the last 10 years, I wouldn’t be the designer that I am today.

It’s also because of him that I now know what kind of legacy I want to leave behind: I want to be a good leader. I want to teach at least one person the skills needed for them to start a successful career and continue on to flourish years afterwards. I want and hope to inspire someone as much as Anthony has inspired me and that it continues to get passed down through the sands of time.

I don’t want my legacy to be some grandiose story, or about me or something I’ve done or created, but about how I was able to help others grow and realize their potential.

A Step Closer

It’s definitely not an easy feat and I don’t think I’m quite there yet. Actually, I have a very long way to go and a lot to learn but with this shift in mentality, I’m inching closer.

As for now, I’m constantly reminding myself:

Be patient enough to teach.

Be selfless enough to listen.

Be compassionate enough to understand.

Learn to lead.

And now, I leave you with this.

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