Keeping your place
Written byCameron Adams. 7 comments
What happened to your passion for the web? It can be hard to stay excited when you get bogged down in the minutiae of RFPs and invoicing clients. It's time to get your mojo back.
…it was held that in a unilateral contract i.e. one where the act of acceptance is also consideration of the promise offered; that there is no general proposition that once the offeree commences performance of the act of acceptance, the offeror is not at liberty to revoke the offer. There may, however, be an ancillary contract not to revoke, or an estoppel against deprivation of the chance of completing acceptance…
— Some lecturer in Cameron’s law course
When I fell asleep listening to this lecture I convinced myself I wasn’t cut out for law.
Still, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do otherwise. But who really does when they’re at university? Luckily, I’d somehow managed to get the local student publication to become reliant on my Photoshop skills, developed late at night in my secret dojo/bedroom. That tiny morsel of experience gave my resume enough gravitas to distract someone who was looking for a desktop publisher from the fact that I wasn’t actually in desktop publishing (does that even exist now, or is it just called publishing?) And from there, it was just a hop, step and a jump into web design.
What I’m trying to highlight here is passion. Pretty much everyone I know who makes stuff for the web has a similar story. Army recruits who became front-end coders, zoologists who are now search engine optimisers, dive instructors who design. We’ve all chosen to be here because it excites us. Sometimes it excites us so much that we go home from our jobs and do exactly what we’ve been doing all day at work. We are where we are because we’ve found our (professional) passion – the thing that makes us happiest.
But even after you’ve found a job you love to do, it’s still a lot of hard work to keep it that way. Before you realise it you can be neck deep in accounting or mired in management and you’re back at square one – a job you hate. You know that excitement you had when you first discovered web standards? When you had no idea about floats, but you read that article about how to make two columns without a table and suddenly it just clicked? Well, now that’s turned into a potential client, a 23 page proposal to win their project, which you did, but they took four months to actually decide that you did, and they didn’t bother to change their six month deadline, so now you’ve got two months to do four months of work.
Why were you excited again?
What excited me – still excites me – about the web is its combination of discovery and creativity. Discovery of this new world where there are no rules, just people making things up as they go along; finding new ideas and new ways of doing things. Alongside this are the creative possibilities of design – making something from nothing, crafting an experience. It’s these elements which keep me passionate.
Most people don’t know my motivations, they know the product of them. Clients couldn’t care less about whether you want to explore the use of Perlin noise fields for the particle simulation of flocking behaviour. They just want you to deliver on your promise of making something cool and/or useful. And that’s the problem with work. It has a tendency to be one step behind you.
“Can you make me a logo like the one you did for BizzyCorpSoft?“
“I really don’t want to do another … How much? Well, if you’re going to give me that many truck loads of money, then …”
Just when you’ve packed your bags and are about to move onto the next place they pull you back in with money, guilt, laziness, or an irresistible combination of all three.
Staying passionate about your work
It’s often hard to stay self-focused when so many people are demanding your attention. Here are some tactics that I use to keep the flame alive.
#1 Do what you want to do
You will become known for doing what you do.
Jonathan Harris (creator of wefeelfine.org)
People will ask you to do what they know you can do. There’s no point sitting there wishing that a client would come along and ask you to make that 3D underwater iPhone shopping application you dream of making, when you’re best known for converting product catalogues to PDF.
So, if you want to be paid to make semi-submersible e-commerce sites then you’ll have to make your first one on your own time. Or you might be lucky enough to sneak it into an existing project. But you’ll still have to put in the hard yards because your client’s unlikely to pay you a premium for it. It’s a lucky thing you’re passionate about it.
#2 Don’t be afraid to change
A period of economic crisis is probably not the best time to quit your job and fulfil your dream of becoming a yodelling portrait artist. Then again, maybe it is. I’ve always believed that you’re much better off doing something you love. However, you don’t always have to be so dramatic; sometimes it just requires a change of costume.
Thankfully, in the age of the internet it’s quite easy to cast off the shackles of a previous persona. If you don’t think that your blog about web development is the right place to introduce your inner gourmet chef, then start a new blog! If your day job feels like 8.5 hours on the rack, cultivate your ultimate career at night. This immediately gives you the clean slate you need to start focusing on what you really want to do.
The internet makes it easy to get attention. Once you start promoting your work and ideas, it feeds into point one above – you get known for doing what you do.
#3 Create something new every week
This has a twofold purpose. It gets you into the habit of doing something that you’re not currently doing, and it gets you to make something tangible.
Having to make something tangible means that you actually have to work through the process of creation, not just think through it. But most importantly it gives you something to show people.
You don’t necessarily have to show it off on your blog. It’s possible to get creative satisfaction from a quiet sense of personal achievement, but if the aim of this exercise is to ultimately let you work on your passion, then it makes sense to let it wander free – see point one above.
#4 Keep up-to-date in an area you never work in
Everyone has outside interests, but it’s easy to give them a low priority when you’ve got more ‘pressing’ matters to attend to. I make it a point to keep up-to-date with the latest in architecture, whether it’s on BLDGBLOG or in the pages of Monument. It has no direct relevance to my job as an interface designer, but it’s a superb source of cross pollination for aesthetic ideas and general day dreaming. The same can be said for computer games, automotive design, or quantum physics – all sorts of weird and wonderful connections can be made with your professional life. And who knows? You might even be able to merge two of your passions.
Whether you make use of my advice or not, the most important thing is that you have passion for what you do. It’s easy not to notice as your dream job slowly morphs into paid drudgery, so check every now and then to make sure you’re in the right place. If the train to the next town looks appealing, buy a ticket and jump on board.