Be who you are, do what you want to do.

I’m in the process of doing a deep-dive into UX Design, cultivating my existing knowledge to find out everything there is to know. It’s been a while since I felt this excited about the future, which triggered some unhelpful thoughts like, “Why couldn’t I have found UXD earlier?” and “What have I been doing these last 10 years?” With my super inquisitive mind switched on, I decided to look into these thoughts in more detail.

After school I enrolled on a computer studies course at college. My mum suggested that I retake my English Language GCSE in a night time course, which I agreed was a good idea. It was fun, I met new people and the teacher who walked with a cane had us in stitches with jokes about anyone who didn’t like cats. I bumped up my grade and received another certificate to add to my portfolio. After my college course finished I got a job in a prestigious firm of chartered accountants. It was full of stiffs, I was forbidden to wear my favourite jacket and was told to remove my new earing because it didn’t comply with the standards of the business. I realised this was not what I wanted and sought out another evening course to boost my skills, this time in graphic design, learning Photoshop, Illustrator and err, Quark (this was 1994, remember). I was a sponge for knowledge and became immersed in learning, arriving home from work, then pain-stakingly going through the 500-page Photoshop manual one page at a time until I knew everything there was to know. I was onto something and people admired me for committing so much of my time. I was being praised and complimented, which as a young insecure adult meant latching on to the idea like a leech and doing it constantly in order to receive more compliments. In my mind this translated to connection and validation. Once I had done the basics in graphic design, I was making my own birthday cards, mixtape covers, posters etc. and was buzzing with creative flow. But the hunger for more didn’t stop. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to better myself. I wanted more of those compliments that validated that I was doing great at what I did.

A couple of years later I started French, continuing what I had scratched the surface of at school. French lasted a couple of years, but the progress was not as fast as graphic design and it became clear how much time and effort is needed to become fully fluent, I decided to leave it in favour or something else.

I picked up web design next. It was fun, but back in 2000 web development was more about information access than it was about users completing tasks online. It felt less pure, less technical and less creative as graphic design did back then. If print design was creating a classic painting, web design twenty years ago was like sketching mickey mouse with a felt tip pen from the pound-shop. I moved back to graphic design and found a job as a manager in a reprographics studio. I was responsible for all the graphical requirements of the business and I rediscovered contentment and creative flow.

But the learning didn’t finish there. Many people around me had a degree, something many of my peers had not done as we had chosen to go straight into the job market. I found an Open University course, one that allowed me to earn points that would accumulate into a BA Hons Degree. What I started in 2009 as a part-time course would eventually take me six years in total to finish and one of the biggest challenges of my life. I worked full time and afterwards I went home and studied until bedtime. The same routine extended to weekends, but once a month I went into the city and enjoyed a night out or treated myself as a reward. I finished my degree in 2014 and it felt amazing, as I had completed the next stage of my 5 year plan (move to mainland Europe, learn a language, get a job, finish the degree, write a book). The next step was to immerse myself in creative writing, building up to a larger project. I remember sitting in front of my screen, all the free time in the world, ready to start on any project I wanted. But nothing came out. I tried and tried, but it was as if my brain was depleted of creative energy. I found a creative writing group and spent each Sunday with them in the centre of Brussels, tinkering about with some prompts that got me writing again.

It wasn’t until the last year of my degree when my mate Sam asked me, “You certainly like to learn new things, don’t you?” Whether it was just a passing statement or a prompt to get me to see the light, I’m not sure, but I sat there and thought about it for a moment. It was an a-ha moment to admit that I held this belief that the more I learned, the more people would validate, connect and value me. It was all based on those compliments that I had received a few times when I did that extra bit of learning after school. I wondered whether I’d done the same with my career choices. I have pushed and pushed and found myself in some challenging roles, but each time I proved that I could adapt to conquer any situation, learn everything there was to know and mastered any system.

I wouldn’t be in this place today without the last twenty years. I wouldn’t be on the road to becoming something new and exciting had I not spent my entire adult life on a constant path to learn new things. After returning to something I love after doing something I didn’t is like having the vitality I had in my twenties. I’ve rediscovered my creative flow, often losing hours in my new found passions, sometimes struggling to write down my ideas fast enough. I’ve finally found the recipe for a good life and that’s, “Be who you are, do what you want to do,” – nothing more, nothing less. My future is as clear as watering a plant to make it bloom. When I go to bed I can’t wait for the next day to start. Everything happens for a reason, and that’s why I spent twenty years learning graphics, project planning, creative production, marketing, client services, creative writing and the Adobe Creative Suite. They all lead me here to where I am right now, deep-diving into this amazing career of UX Design. 

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards, they try to have more things or more money in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are then do what you need to do in order to have what you want. ”

Margaret Young

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Next: Adobe XD

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