The following are a couple thoughts on happiness and satisfaction in your job as a designer from Frank Chimero (@fchimero) and a brief exchange regarding those thoughts with Neven Mrgan (@nevenmrgan) that I grabbed off Twitter one day.
I don’t know either of these guys, but respect them (and their work) greatly. I also thought this exchange was excellent and worth repeating here.
On Design and Becoming Whole
We all look to our job for significance at one time or another. It’s not a bad thing. I think that our jobs and, in a greater sense, our careers are a huge part of our lives and we can find purpose in them. However, in the design community we’ve created what I believe is a false pretense that design as a career is so powerful and important that it can, as Chimero says, “complete us.”
If you’re a designer and you’re becoming disappointed that not every project you do fills you up, makes you happy, makes you feel whole, the answer doesn’t lie in another job or even another industry.
We talk about design winning elections, saving lives, changing behavior for the greater good—and it can, in its own way, help to do those things. But it won’t complete you and make you whole. In fact, no career will. If you’re a designer and you’re becoming disappointed that not every project you do fills you up, makes you happy, makes you feel whole, the answer doesn’t lie in another job or even another industry.
Don’t mis-understand me—I’m not being cynical—design as a profession can be incredibly fulfilling. But there isn’t one single thing that can completely define your purpose.
But Can Being a Designer Make Me Happy?
Happiness is a feeling—it’s something that happens in the moment…
Happiness is a feeling—it’s something that happens in the moment, not a permanent place you can consistently find yourself in. When I look at my work and the times that I’ve truly enjoyed what I do, they’re exactly as Neven suggests: I wasn’t worrying about how to be happy while doing the work, I was challenging myself, exploring new things, learning, and, most importantly, trying to do work that could be considered great.
This is another term that can get us in trouble if we get too lofty about it. I want to have a career of great work. But I will also (always) have to do things in my job that I dislike or that don’t bring me immediate satisfaction. Doing great work means have a long-arc view of your life and career. You make decisions in the moment differently with a longer perspective and, over time, you begin to build a body of good work and you begin to recognize which projects you should take, which you should pass up, and where to best put your time.
For work to be truly great, it has to earn that assessment from your peers and other people.
I make a distinction between good work and great work. I don’t think you can assess whether or not you’re doing great work. For work to be truly great, it has to earn that assessment from your peers and other people.
I try to work well. I try to do good work—the best work that I can—and, hopefully some of the work that I do will stand the test of time and be considered great. But that isn’t in my hands—it’s not something I can control—and so it’s not something I lose sleep over. Ultimately, it’s working hard and helping others that make my job fulfilling.