As someone who entered the advertising industry in 2020, I am writing this letter to myself as a newbie and a veteran at the same time. After all, between lockdowns, working from home, and early morning video calls, my first 365 days working did feel 8 years long. These new normal resolutions are my humble attempt at making these unprecedented times feel precedented again.
1. Get bored more often. (And I don’t mean on Zoom calls.)
Between leaving home for college, 5 new cities in the span of 4 years, endless summer internships, moving back home, and beginning work, the last six years were spent dealing with constant change. Then came 2020.
No more crowded commutes, no more rushed office canteen meals, not so much as sitting in a cab for an hour to shell out a week’s pay for watered-down drinks in bars. After spending years not knowing which city I’d be in 6 months later, 2020 forced me to confront that I was going to be in the same environment, around the same people, staring into the same screen for the foreseeable future. For the first time in my adult life, I had the opportunity to get well and truly bored. We all know what happens when a Gen Z-er is left alone with their thoughts:
But turns out, getting bored can get your brain working in whole new ways. Because while you’re baking banana bread, (yes, that phase was also in 2020), washing dishes you didn’t even know you owned, or sweeping the floor and hearing the sixth lockdown being announced (gasp), your brain is getting a chance to do something it rarely did in a world where you were constantly stimulated- wander aimlessly. A lot of great work in 2020 didn’t begin in brainstorm sessions or even during work hours. It began because people were bored. It’s probably the closest you can get to meditating without actually meditating.
2. Stop wearing long workdays on your timesheet like a badge of honour.
If you’ve been working from home since March, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that long workdays from home don’t look anything like long workdays from the office did. (In an ideal world, we’d have fewer 12 hour days no matter where we work from, but baby steps.) You probably didn’t spend the 12 hours finishing 3 meetings, a brainstorming session, quick chats over coffee, and rapidly ticking things off your to-do list. More likely, your day disappeared between different rounds of approvals or trying to find the one spot in your house where other WFH-ers aren’t also screaming into their phones. Next thing you know, it’s dark outside, and you’re exhausted without having done very much at all.
While putting your laptop away at 6 PM might make you feel like you are sneaking in a half-day, it also helps you plan better, start on time, and hold yourself more accountable for your part in the workflow.
3. Make time for play in work.
It’s Friday evening, and the semi-exciting idea you pitched on Monday morning has been battered beyond recognition by endless rounds of client feedback. When Cannes turns into can’t, and the post was supposed to go live an hour ago, the last thing you want to do is push, especially if the idea wasn’t one you were proud of in the first place.
Try to pitch fewer ideas because you think they’ll get approved, and more ideas you’d be proud to add to your portfolio. Make time for play in work, and you won’t have to wait for the weekend to work on passion projects.
4. Stop planning your career like you’ll retire at 25.
The internet has made being a graphic designer easier, but not simpler. A quick scroll through Behance or Instagram can give you access to the largest visual vocabulary the world has to offer.
The catch? That work is usually made by a 23-year-old creative director, a 25-year-old head of design, or a 27-year-old founder, creative director, and CEO of a design agency. So if you, too, grew up scrolling through these sites for inspiration, your dream career trajectory probably looked like this:
Age 21: Graduate
Age 22: Start your own studio/ agency/ join one as a senior designer
Age 23: Get promoted four times and become a creative director
Age 24: Add Head of Design/ ECD to your LinkedIn bio
Age 25: Give lots of interviews to design publications after winning a Grand Prix
Age 26–58: ?????????????
There’s nothing to be said against aiming high early in life, but don’t plot out your first five-year plan like it will be the last. Instead of planning milestones in terms of awards and designations, make your 2021 goals more about the art than the artist. (It’s still okay to stalk every design 30 under 30 winner list, though. Slow and steady.)
5. Don’t reject yourself.
Picture this: You’re watching a movie, or talking to a friend, or making yourself a midnight snack, and suddenly, there it is: The Idea™.
Maybe it’s a potential pitch for one of your clients, maybe it’s for that competition brief you read about a month ago, or a passion project, simply something you are excited to work on. You grab a pencil (or your notes app, you do you), and jot it down. But when you wake up the next morning, all ready to run it by your team, you suddenly begin to notice a few holes in your airtight, award-winning idea. By the time that appointment with your boss is nearing, or you’ve waited until the eleventh hour to submit the competition entry, you have so many doubts about it that you’re sure they’d reject it anyway.
So you end up doing their job for them: You reject yourself.
You don’t pitch it to your team, you don’t turn in your application, you don’t even start sketching the idea out. It takes longer than it should, to realize that it is not realistic or healthy to apply only for opportunities where you are 100% sure of winning. If you feel out of your depth while applying for a competition, remember that your chances might be low, but never lower than they would be if you didn’t apply at all. Sure, the idea won’t technically be rejected, but it will also never see the light of day, or get the chance you thought it deserved when it originally came to you.
So in 2021, leave rejection to the experts: the panel of judges sitting halfway across the world, or the client who’s sure he’d have been a ‘creative type’ if he hadn’t done his MBA. Focus on what you want to be an expert on instead. It could be art, writing, or simply thinking of ideas that remind you why you chose to work in this field (be it from the office or from home).