Go on a Quest
Everyone dislikes some aspect of his/her job. This is OK. Work can be like that. But, if you feel shitty about what you do, day in and day out, you should give the problem some consideration.
I’ve felt stuck by work a few times. Typically, I respond to the, “what’s the problem, here?” question with superficial answers. For example: “I should make more money,” or, “I want more exciting projects.” Neither of these reactions is ever the case, though. The answer lies deeper.
What’s the real issue? A lack of meaning.
Yup—that’s it. If I think my work matters in some way, I feel better about doing it. Alternately, if I think the work doesn’t serve a purpose, I tend to feel aimless and shitty—even if the gig pays well. Maybe this is a luxury. Actually, I’m sure it is. If I were broke, my opinion would change. That said, left with any choice, I’d rather do something I find meaningful (even with less financial benefit).
I get that as a designer, I can only do so much. I’m not preventing climate change, feeding hungry children, or taking guns off streets. What I’ve come to learn, though, is that this doesn’t matter. I’m not a saint. I’m not going to cure the world’s ails. I just want to do things that have some resonance.
The work that most motivates me tends to feel like a quest. For example, Eric Shelkie and I want to help people learn from one another. So, we created Officehours, which does exactly that. This isn’t an easy thing to build, nor, is the promotion of it always fun. Still, this pursuit feels worthy.
Will we change the world with our project? Not likely. Might someone walk away from a session having learned something they didn’t before know? Probably. (Actually, I’m sure some already have.) This notion alone is enough to keep me going—even on days that feel tough.
A lot of organizations write mission statements. Unfortunately, these are vague, or so grandiose that they become useless. Consequently, these morph into tag-lines, or pitches, instead of directions that focus people. A quest is different. It’s quantifiable, often relatable, and there’s typically personal motivation behind such a thing.
The point of a quest isn’t just about completing it. Rather, it’s about finding—and doing—work that means something to you. In this, you can achieve a personal fulfillment, even if your quest is unsuccessful. (I think most of us would rather fail at something we care about than fail at something we don’t.)
This sort of thing is easy to write about, but harder to decode when you’re faced with such a choice. I know this as well as anyone, and floundered for many years, trying to find a quest that felt worthy. What I’ve since learned is that I didn’t need to be so picky.
I could have worked on a fitness app, because I believe in healthy lifestyles. I could have built a community for artists, because I think creative acts are wonderful. Or, I could have helped bring design education to kids/teenagers, because I know the joy of making things.
Put in the parlance of a quest, I could have: brought health to people; helped showcase the power of creativity; or, enabled young makers. Actually, these all sound pretty good. Additionally, they sound much more relevant than what I talked about when I started out as a designer. All I seemed to care about then, was, “creating ‘amazing’ design work.”
Take a second look at what I started my career with. There’s something notable in that statement. That phrase doesn’t show how I’d measure the “amazing-ness” of said work. (Without a means of measuring it, I was unlikely to ever achieve this goal.) More importantly, it doesn’t speak to whom I’d help through my work. A little self indulgent, no?
This is the part you should take away from this post: the best quests are about people other than yourself. So, find something you care about, and do your part—even if it feels small. This’ll do wonders for your peace of mind and your happiness.