Burnout, Layoffs, and Fyre Fest: The Art of Bouncing Back from Failure

Burnout, Layoffs, and Fyre Fest: The Art of Bouncing Back from Failure

Whether they’re big battles or small indignities, times where we fall short or times where we fall flat on our face, the ability to come back swinging is what transforms a debacle into a lesson learned. The art of bouncing back is really code for resilience, that elusive and invisible backbone that, like a Black Panther suit, can turn jabs, discouragement, and burnout into more fuel to your fire.

From an HR lead getting the rug pulled out from under him in his own feedback session, to the self-doubt of being downsized, to the designer behind the infamous Fyre Fest, we talked to six creatives about how they learned to pick themselves up, brush themselves off, and start all over again.


For a long career, look for the patterns of burnout

Keri Elmsly, Chief Creative Officer, Second Story

I spent a long time taking on very ambitious never-been-done before projects [like the first-ever live Drone Orchestra for John Cale of the Velvet Underground]. I was an executive producer in a very close collaborative relationship with artists and designers. And it was amazing. But the ambition of the projects was so huge that, by the time we launched them, anything that was imperfect became such an acute thing that even though things were successful and they were practically impossible to do and we did them and people came, the level of dissatisfaction was quite profound. It actually undermined everything that we built and every success that we had. You come out the other side and you’re almost unable to acknowledge the beauty, the power, or the success of what you built. It really affected my relationship with the people I collaborated with.

So, I took a pretty deep look at ownership and attachment. It made me realize: if you’re going to take on epic projects you’ve never done before, you need to plan for recovery and you need to see the patterns—the peaks and troughs that you go through. It’s not worth it to let the anger, frustration, and disappointment undermine everything. In clinging onto that tiny detail of disappointment, you lose the value of the experience you created for thousands of people. That enabled me to form a much more resilient approach and be able to say to my teammates, “This is where we are in the process, this is why it feels bad right now.” Or to give people space to say, “I’m really stuck and I’m not feeling good.” 

Once you identify a pattern, you can zoom out a bit. You can create a little bit of space to coach people through because you know the high of success will come. Or just acknowledge the crash that comes after, so you can get up and start all over again. For a long career in this world you have to see the patterns, adjust the patterns and ask yourself do I need to keep being like this? Because you might not. 

Blast self-doubt with staying busy

Leo Jung, Creative Director, The California Sunday Magazine

A number of years ago, I was asked to come into an impromptu meeting. Like anyone caught by surprise, I grabbed my notebook in case I needed to take notes. I didn’t need to take notes. I was being let go.

I had heard many stories of mass layoffs. I thought to myself, “that could never happen to me; I work my ass off, I’m well-liked, and my work speaks for itself.” To be fired without grounds was confusing. That’s not how the world works! There are rules! Aren’t there? Yes, but they never broke any of them. It says right there in the contract when you sign on to the job: “We reserve the right to end this contract for any reason.” And they exercised that right.

I believed the world operated a certain way: you work hard, show your worth, and people will notice. I still believe that to be true. But that’s not the only way the world works. When I learned that that can be taken away from me, and without grounds, it shook me. I really did wonder what I could’ve done differently. It’s human nature to want a reason so that you can make sense of things.

You can never mentally prepare yourself for the self-doubt that creeps in and plants itself right in the part of the brain that contains all your self-confidence. When doubt in your abilities overtakes you, it doesn’t magically go away overnight. It drips away slowly like a tiny pinhole leak. When I started interviewing again, I noticed how I focused on what had happened to me instead of what I could contribute. I needed people to know I wasn’t laid off for incompetence. It was a pride thing. But telling people your sad story doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s like telling them your pet fish died—for twenty minutes.

It was tough for me to get over, but I knew that holding grudges was exhausting and unhealthy. Instead, I channeled my energy towards something I could be proud of. You’d be surprised at how motivated and focused you can become after a layoff.

It wasn’t until I interviewed for California Sunday and Pop-Up Magazine that things took a turn for the better. The opportunity felt risky (I’d never worked for a startup before) but incredibly exciting at the same time. Almost five years later, after three National Magazine Awards and back-to-back “Magazine of the Year” honors at The Society of Publication Designers, it’s unbelievable how far we’ve come. Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened had I never been let go. I realize that hardships, as challenging and frustrating as they are at the time, often pave the way to something better.

If someone is speaking a different language, start with listening

Nicole Jacek, Head of Design, Wieden+Kennedy

I closed my company NJ(L.A.) at the end of 2017 to join Wieden+Kennedy and took over a 100-person team to build out the design offering.

I was incredibly naive to think that it was going to be a walk in the park. I learned I would spend more time managing (and learning to manage) versus doing creative work. I learned that often design in an ad agency means “execution” and “production,” or in other words, “comps” and “decks.” There was also a massive perception gap between “creative” and “design.” How is “design” not “creative?”

My gut reaction was, “Have I just lost everything I believed in? Have I lost all my integrity and ethics? Am I dancing with the devil?”

I know that I tried their patience, as they tried mine. There were some disappointments. I realized I needed to earn the trust for what I’m trying to do. Little did I know that we are so similar in thinking and process. Slowly we started meeting and working with amazing people here. It’s like having a hot bath. You sit still and adjust to the temperature. First, I made sure to listen. To listen a lot.

If you want things to change, stop complaining. Just do it. Get a solid support team around you and make sure to hone in on your communication and leadership skills. Because it takes a village.

Build a culture of feedback to save yourself big surprises

Alex Seiler, Senior Director, Global HR, WeWork

I was in a situation where I managed a much bigger team where I was constantly seeking feedback and asking, “What could I be doing better?” And they were not being transparent with their responses. And it came to a head when I did a 360° [review] as part of getting an executive coaching engagement. A lot of feedback came out in that.

I called everyone together and said, “Listen, I’m not trying to call anyone out but I received this feedback as part of a 360 and I don’t know where it’s coming from.” I had previously been opening the floodgate to get that feedback. But just because you ask for it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen.

It hurt but I used that as an opportunity and I said, “We’ve built a high performing team and I’d like to think that you can come to me about anything.”

What it came down to, from their perspective, was that they had left it too long. They said that they should have said something earlier, specifically around burnout and capacity issues. But they let it linger. They took ownership of that. I also took ownership for the fact that, as much as I like to push people, maybe I push them too hard.

In the future, what I would do is bring the team together and set operating norms. I would highlight on a more consistent basis that, as much as I’m giving you feedback, I expect you all to be giving feedback as well. You have to build that culture from the get-go.

Talk to people you trust during tumultuous times

Kristen Dudish, Executive Director of Product Design, The New York Times

I moved into my current design leadership role as part of a larger reorganization of our product development teams. It was a huge challenge and I had to figure out a lot, quickly. My new responsibilities included: managing more designers than I had ever managed before; hiring, interviewing, and on-boarding; collaborating with a new product partner to establish a strategy; and nurturing a healthy team culture amidst all that change. All of this while wrapping up a huge product launch where I was still the hands-on design lead! On top of all that, my incredibly supportive manager went on parental leave for six months.

I felt truly in over my head for the first time in my career. I was juggling more than ever before. I didn’t have enough hours in the day to stay on top of everything. How do I manage all of these meetings I need to attend while also working closely with engineers to launch new features? How can I be a great manager when I’m not able to check in with my reports? How can I make sure the design work is on the right track when I can’t be in all of the conversations around it? I couldn’t give everything 100%. Was I set up for failure? After a few weeks in my new role, I found myself dreading the commute to the office.

I knew I needed some help. So, I reached out to people I trusted and admired. I talked to colleagues and friends who had gone through similar transitions. I discovered that I had a much bigger support system than I realized. Just by letting people know where I was struggling, I got so much great advice and offers of help.

The biggest takeaway is that it’s truly impossible to do it all. I’ve gotten better at carving out time for focus, planning, and my team. I’ve grown to lean more on others when I find myself trying to juggle too much. It’s been an exercise in discovering where to let go and where to take control. I’m still figuring it out.

Sometimes, just go to an island

Oren Aks, designer and former Jerry Media strategist for Fyre Fest

I had a job at Thrillist as an editorial graphic designer and then I met the guys from F*ckJerry and they poached me. It was the best job ever, in the beginning. My life was looking good, feeling good, and Fyre Fest was, no pun intended (pun intended), fueling that.

You know the story. It all crashed and burned. I stuck around for six months at the agency because I couldn’t afford to quit. I was living paycheck to paycheck. It was a very confusing time. I felt really guilty and no one around me understood what I was going through and I didn’t know how to talk to people about it.

One week before the end of the month, a new apartment I found fell through. I said, “This is it. I’m leaving New York. It’s not meant to be.”

And then the documentaries came out. I was really scared in the beginning. I thought, “Fyre is bad. I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s move on.” Then, I started to see the positive: I can talk to people about what I’ve been internalizing for two years. But with that, I struggled with the question of how to handle all of it. I wasn’t prepared. On one side, it was great because I was meeting really interesting people every day and had so many opportunities presented. But I would come home tired and without energy to work on the things that I’d just met with them about. So, I decided to go off the internet to focus on what I actually wanted to do.

So, right now, I’m in this teeny tiny little village of 75 people in Greece for a month. There’s no grocery store, there’s nothing here. I’m up at five. I’m in bed by 9:30. I do yoga in the morning. It could be too much isolation for some people if you don’t use it right, or challenge yourself, or put yourself in fun situations on purpose. For me, I have to plan something and make sure that there’s a point.

Strategic isolation allowed me to focus on working on what I’m passionate about. It’s for bettering yourself through a strict regimen. The big difference is how you feel and how you work when you are in control, not the client or a deadline. Being stuck in your daily routine doesn’t allow you to do that, so it can be really healthy to separate from your own world. Sometimes you need to take a step back to make a leap forward.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/2XR8MHq

When the Personal Shapes the Professional

When the Personal Shapes the Professional

We show up to our work as whole people, unable to compartmentalize our lives into personal and professional. Our careers influence our relationships, mental and physical health, social lives, and personal decisions. The inverse is also true. Personal experiences shift the way we view ourselves as creatives, how we show up to our work, and why we work. Here, three creatives open up about life-changing experiences, how they navigated them, and how their work transformed on the other side. 


Designer and creative director John J. Custer’s family struggles led him to find stability as an independent creative.

John J. Custer’s college graduation was a milestone marked by complicated emotions—his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer during his sophomore year. Motivated by a desire to impress her and fear she might die, John put extra pressure on himself to succeed. It paid off when he landed an internship at Nike and graduated with a top portfolio. Post-graduation, he moved home to help support his family while his mom continued treatment and his dad searched for employment after being laid off in the 2008 recession. 

Back in Dallas, John accepted a full-time role at creative studio Tractor Beam. Then a mentor suggested John intern at Pentagram in New York. John’s application was accepted, but he turned down the initial offer. “I felt it was my responsibility to stay in Texas. I was the only one in my family who was healthy and had a job.” John later reapplied and was accepted. He moved to New York City sight unseen in the summer of 2010, but it didn’t turn out to be the dream internship he’d hoped for. Instead, his responsibilities felt like a step back from his internship at Nike and full-time job at Tractor Beam.

When the internship wrapped, John stayed in New York and worked as a production designer at a bold-name agency. He was told he’d be creating graphics for commercials and ads, but after a change in clients, the role became less creative. Six months later, John quit after pulling yet another all-nighter. A friend reached out for freelance help, so John took the contract. He never looked back. Since then he’s built a freelance career working with clients like Collins, Dress Code, Fahrenheit 212, and Oliver Munday. 

John C. Custer by Sam Weber

John J. Custer’s path to a successful freelance career involved family responsibilities and several setbacks. Photograph by Sam Weber.

After his family’s situation improved, John focused more on himself. “I went through a big breakup and then got serious about therapy. It helped me connect the dots between my parents’ experiences and my choice to go the independent route.” Now he uses his position as an independent creative to speak up in hopes that his peers won’t be taken advantage of. “When we’re told, Do what you love, but I need you to do it at this pace for this price, it ruins what you love.” John urges his peers not to agree to ridiculous situations, timelines, and budgets just to get by because there are many paths to success.

Artist Mandy Blankenship’s complicated journey into parenthood helped her embrace imperfection.

Greenville-based artist Mandy Blankenship majored in English, was trained in photography, and now works with textiles, using her own natural fabric dyes. Her path as an artist has evolved as has her path has from daughter to sister, partner, and mother—the new role which she says has taught her much about herself as an artist. After trying for four years to become pregnant, genetic testing revealed her baby would likely have Turner Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects about one in every 2,000 baby girls. A girl with Turner syndrome only has one normal X chromosome, rather than the usual two.

Mandy reflected, “I was shocked and felt like a different kind of failure, but then I dove into research and realized it wasn’t my fault. We had looked forward to our dreams coming true and then it was doctors, doctors, doctors.” Mandy developed preeclampsia at 34 weeks and was rushed to the hospital. Her daughter Etta was born at 3lbs 10 oz. “Hopes were dashed, but also fulfilled. It was complicated, but the fact that she’s alive is a miracle,” says Mandy. 

Black and white portrait of Mandy Blankenship.

Artist Mandy Blankenship’s journey to motherhood shaped her artistic practice in unexpected ways. Photography by Mollie Greene.

After a month in the hospital, Etta joined her family at home as they navigated their new life together. That’s when Mandy realized she was struggling with postpartum depressed and sought counseling. “I didn’t know I could be in such a dark place or have that level of sadness. It was circumstantial and hormonal.” Counseling was critically important for her: “All of these things were unlocked. Suddenly I was walking in freedom and clarity. I felt better every time I went.” As she was ending therapy and weaning Etta, a surprise hit—she was pregnant again. Mandy said her second pregnancy was a dream and she gave birth to her son, Moses, 2 years ago.

Mandy has returned to her work with a different approach. Mandy draws inspiration in the language her daughter Etta’s uses, the way she makes marks on the page, and how she dresses up as a princess in scarves and random found garments. Mandy says, “I’ve been on this trajectory of asking what I can do with what I already have rather than thinking I need new stuff to make the work. It’s become more about the process rather than coercing perfect outcomes.”

Writer and podcaster Jennifer Newman’s divorce challenged her to realize moving on isn’t a bad thing. 

Sacramento-based Jennifer Newman was ready for a change, but it didn’t happen how she planned. After building a business for seven years, she planned to look for full-time work. “My business was doing okay, but not awesome. It was time to figure out the next step, but I intended to do it slowly to make sure it was aligned with what I wanted.” And then her marriage ended abruptly on a Friday night. Jennifer began applying for jobs the next day. “I wasn’t just figuring out what my new life would look like, but what my new normal would be from a career perspective.

Jennifer’s main goal was security—she wanted to know she’d be okay financially. During her fifteen-year relationship, nearly ten of those married, Jennifer’s husband made more. She was also on his health insurance. Jennifer said she had fallen into a pattern in her relationship and had convinced herself she was small. Yet she promised herself  to stay focused and keep moving forward.

Portrait of Jennifer Newman.

After a difficult divorce, Jennifer Newman’s approach to life and work shifted dramatically. Photography by Jonathan Herre.

Soon after, Jennifer landed her first day job in seven years as a director of brand marketing for a statewide nonprofit. The lead came through a guest she had interviewed for her podcast, Creating Your Own Path. It was a huge shift and culture shock to go into an office every day after working for herself so long, but the financial stability she was able to provide for herself was worth it. It also allowed her to afford support through therapy. Jennifer said she sees herself having a day job for the foreseeable future and that as a self-proclaimed entrepreneur, this path is okay. There’s no shame in having a day job. 

Jennifer now carves out time before and after her nine-to-five to work on her business and publish new episodes of her podcast. Her approach to this work has shifted: “I talk about career paths on my podcast. Now I’m opening up the narrative to include more people who work for companies and are perfectly happy. We don’t all have to be entrepreneurs. The way I want to have conversations about careers has changed.” And so has her perspective on transitions and letting go. “Moving on isn’t a bad thing, whether that’s divorce or grieving the loss of someone or letting go of a career path for something new.” 

What helps to thrive on the other side:

  1. Let go of what you can’t control. 

Mandy noted letting go as a foundational step. “I always want to get in the future and figure out what’s going to happen. But that’s not how life works. It was a deep time of learning how little I can control and how my response to things is critical for my sanity.” Jennifer’s experience was similar as she wanted to control the narrative and her trajectory. “We can obsess over the next move and worry if it’s the right one.” Instead, she said yes to a job opportunity that was right for her at the time and helped her move forward. 

  1. Reach out for support. 

John, Mandy, and Jennifer all turned to professional support in the form of therapy. Additionally, they reached out to their communities. John’s friendships carried him through a period when family wasn’t able to offer as much support. Out of this came a close-knit creative community and his involvement in Maker’s Club, a free monthly meetup hosted at spaces around New York. Mandy sought support from her husband, had regular video chats with family, and enlisted her in-laws to babysit regularly so she and her husband could enjoy kid-free date nights. For Jennifer, family and friends provided emotional support, but also helped with logistics of rebuilding a solo life.

  1. Care for body, mind, and spirit.

Jennifer turned to reading and journaling as a way to reflect and process. John used the Headspace app to start a meditation practice, which helped him recognize and accept what he’s feeling. Hailing from a religious background in Texas, which he no longer practices, John said, “This is what prayer is supposed to be.” For Mandy, her faith was vitally important as was yoga, “I never liked sports because I’m a perfectionist and I didn’t like losing. Yoga is me against me. I can go to whatever level of intensity I need that day.”

  1. Be open to how your work changes. 

“I’m still getting over the idea that this wasn’t what I had planned, even though it’s arguably better,” said Jennifer, “But now I’m able to separate who I am as a human from my career. I couldn’t do that prior to my divorce.” For Mandy, the journey to parenthood has transformed the images she created in her artwork, expanding the iconography she’s interested in. “Last year was one of contentment,” said John as he noted that he had paid off debt, started to date again, was nurturing family relationships, and felt more like himself. “Now I want to figure out how to work and play,” he said.

When life-changing moments happen—and they will—it can be tempting to try to control the outcome for our work and lives. But the more helpful approach is to embrace the process rather than attempting to coerce perfect outcomes. We don’t know how things will turn out on the other side. Instead, we can let life shape us into the people we need to become, transform our work, and leads us into new possibilities. 


from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/2lyr11T

Stephanie Yung: From Fertility to Identity, Design Can Dismantle Isolation

Stephanie Yung: From Fertility to Identity, Design Can Dismantle Isolation

Smart’s Director of Design, Stephanie Yung gave a standout talk at the 99U Conference this year about her process of turning the experience navigating the fertility process into an app. Smart Design has long been a proponent of the idea of “design for one”—which zeroes in one a single user’s specific needs versus that of a large audience. This time, Yung turned the design for one process on herself to track the triumphs and adversities of fertility as a single parent. 

Ultimately, Yung’s life expanded to include a baby named Sigrid—only 6 months old when Yung spoke at 99U—and the beta version of a new app called Project Junior, which aims to bring together data, community, task tracking, and reminders to smooth out a fragmented and stressful fertility process with a bias toward designing for couples.

Yung (and her baby) joined us for a longer conversation about how her design process helped her cope with the fertility process, how apps can build community instead of isolate, and what it’s like to lead for a new parent dramatically rethinking her identity.  

Q. You used to work for an ad firm in Toronto and ten years ago you switched industries, jobs, and cities by joining Smart Design in New York.  Did that feel like a big leap to do all at the same time?

A. I’m kind of like that. I’m pretty much an all-or-nothing type of person. It’s probably evident with me having a baby on my own. That’s just me.

Picture of a woman in a red romper carrying a baby down a city street

In building a fertility app, Yung applied her personal experience to Smart’s history of designing for one user.

Q. What did you think of New York?

A. I will say, I didn’t love New York. It’s almost like having so much inspiration at your fingertips makes things actually more challenging. I think creativity is really boring without constraints. 

Q. I’ve heard you talk about the idea of designing for “real people.” Is there a Smart project that you really felt epitomized that?

A. It’s seemingly a small project, but it was really important for me. We were looking at repositioning birth control to women. There’s a lot of stigma around it, and problems with general awareness and access. A big part of the project was meeting the people we’re designing for across America—in Delaware, North Carolina—and understanding what’s really troubling them and preventing them from seeking help.

Q.  I’m picturing you having these conversations across the country. And then we get to the idea of designing for one. Is that a totally opposite idea? 

A. It is seemingly counterintuitive, but “born from the same place” is a great way to put it. Designing for one is born from inclusive design [something that Smart has been practicing for over 30 years]. You’re deep-diving with one person for a longer period of time. 

Four screenshots of mobile phones

Project Junior helps manage tasks, share info, and connect community during the fertility journey.

Q. How did you become the subject of a designing-for-one project? 

A. I was 40, single, and had just had gone through a breakup. I understood that a breakup was not going to kill me, yet I was so upset. I realized it was because I wanted biological children. And I hit this moment where I said, “Get over yourself. You could do this on your own.” It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. 

“I think creativity is really boring without constraints.”

Q. How did your experience with fertility become a design project?

A. I noticed so many things wrong with the process, and it was just too emotionally taxing. I couldn’t have done it unless I applied my work-thinking to my personal life. I called it Project Junior.

Q. What was the Project Junior design process like? 

A. I had a Google spreadsheet. I did the journey maps, drew the stakeholders, identified my pain points. 

A picture of a baby sitting on a woman's shoulders

“I’m pretty much an all-or-nothing type of person,” says Yung.

Q. What’s an example of a pain point?

A. Often the most important information is relayed when you’re basically naked, after an invasive procedure. I was having my fallopian tubes X-rayed, with my feet in stirrups, and my doctor told me my next step was to buy sperm, and that it must be CMV negative sperm. It’s not like I had a pen, or even a phone on me. 

Months later, I ended up buying the wrong sperm. Luckily I went back to my notes, just to look, and figured out I had to return the sperm. If I had been inseminated with the wrong sperm, it would have increased my chances of miscarriage exponentially. 

Q. The Project Junior app helps by collecting data and showing you where you are in the fertility process. Why is that so important? 

A. Stress can be a major reason why, if you’re trying to get pregnant, you’re unsuccessful. It’s like the ultimate birth control. The app is designed in the hope that women, or people—I shouldn’t only say women—could focus on what’s most important at that moment. 

A woman in a white shirt and black hair against a white background

Yung says motherhood has changed her thinking on leadership.

Q. A lot of the functionality of Project Junior aims to connect you to your community. How did that come about?

A. That’s the mood indicator, which lets you inform the rest of your community how you’re feeling and where you are in the process. The story behind that is that I had been inseminated and took an at-home pregnancy test. And it was negative. I was meeting a friend that night who I hadn’t seen in a while. He asked “How’s everything going with the fertility process? You’ll make such a great mom.” And I was so upset that I lied. There were just so many situations like that where I didn’t have positive news to share, but I still wanted to be around people instead of home wallowing. 

“Designing for one is born from inclusive design. You’re deep-diving with one person for a longer period of time.”

Q. How does the mood indicator solve situations like that?

A. It shows where you are in the fertility journey, so you don’t have to tell everyone a million times. The mood indicator removes an awkward interaction that can be very emotionally taxing. It just says, “This is where I’m at.”

Q. That could be useful in so many situations.

A. The idea of people wanting to help out in healthcare situations goes beyond fertility. I see its use when grieving or with other major emotional situations. There’s really nothing to facilitate that right now.

A woman in a white shirt against a backdrop of windows

Yung says the fertility process, as it stands, is designed with couples, not single parents, in mind.

Q. How do you think about parental leave now that you’re on the other side of it?

A. You’re essentially shifting identities and trying to find who you are again, while trying to keep a baby alive. I think it’s a necessity. I come from Canada, where it’s not a benefit, it’s a right. 

Q. What kind of thinking around your identity did you experience? 

A. Who am I? Who are we? That’s the biggest thing, from “me” to “we.” What are your priorities? What will it look like going back to work? It’s not going to be the same and you’re not the same person. And that’s okay.

Q. What have you found works well as a new parent diving back into your career?

A. The first thing is setting a schedule, communicating it to people, blocking it off and being absolute about it. I’m in the studio from nine to five, and then I’m off the grid for about two hours. I’ve got to put my baby to bed. Then I can be online if I have to. 

A woman in a red romper plays on the floor with a baby

Yung says one of the biggest mental shifts in motherhood is the switch from ‘me’ to ‘we’.

Q. Speaking of working with other people, you’ve done a lot of mentoring. Has the idea of mentorship shifted now that you’re a parent?

A. Mentorship is important to me. It’s important to be responsible about what designers we’re putting out there in the world. Who is going to be designing the future for my kid? 

Q. Has there been a shift in how you think about leadership? 

A. I’m more self-aware as a leader. Much like with my child, my team sees what I’m doing and how I react to and speak about things. I feel the importance of projecting and leading by example. I have a high standard, and that’s how I primarily used to lead: “This is an example of the quality of work we really need to aim for.” But now I realize it’s just as important to lead by showing the other things that make your career fulfilling and make you a good teammate.

Q. You do a lot of public talks and you teach, all as you’ve just gone through a transition. What is it like to share your experiences as you find that new voice?

A. You learn by doing. I could think and theorize all I want, but I’m learning more about myself, through experiences like this, talking to you. I don’t know how I feel about it until I talk about it. It’s going through these experiences that is helping me understand where I want to be. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/2XW4Nsd

Working From Home: A Beginner’s Guide

Working From Home: A Beginner’s Guide

On its surface, working from home is the dream. You can’t beat the commute, and can (in theory)  save countless hours otherwise wasted on small talk, pointless meetings, or any of the million other distractions that pervade office life.  

The reality is more complicated. Getting out of bed each morning to face a to-do list alone, without the inherent structure of a work day, colleagues, and a dedicated office and desk can be as disheartening as it is exhilarating. 

For nearly every upside – of which there are many, including no traffic or subway delays – there  is a corresponding downside, such as the lack of a clear divide between work and home life. That said, once you get into a rhythm, working from home can be a gift. 

Below are work-from-home tips I’ve learned since leaving my office job nearly two years ago, along with advice from fellow freelancers and remote workers about what it takes to get stuff done outside the traditional confines of an office. 

But first a quick caveat: None of what follows is written in stone. The beauty of working from home – along with much of the struggle – is the ability to personalize your schedule and routine. And depending on the situation, your flexibility might fluctuate. As a freelancer, I largely have the autonomy to determine when, where, and how to get work done. If you’re a full-time, remote employee on a team, your schedule might be more established. 

1. Figure out when you are most productive.

One of the most liberating parts of moving from a full-time job to freelancing was the realization that the structure of traditional workday needn’t apply. An extreme morning person, when I worked in an office I’d frequently arrive long before everyone else. I didn’t feel comfortable packing up early, though, which meant my workdays often ended long after my productivity had sputtered out. 

Thankfully, as a freelancer, and often as a remote worker, you have the ability to schedule your day outside the confines of the standard 9-to-5. Now when I wake up at 5:30 a.m. or 6:00 a.m., I head to my couch and start typing. And when my productivity flags in the afternoon, I don’t feel guilty (or more accurately, as guilty) taking a midday break or even calling it a day. 

If you’re a night owl the opposite schedule might apply. Figure out when you are most productive and whenever possible, organize your work day around those periods. 

2. Set a schedule.

After you’ve determined your periods of peak performance, it’s time to establish a routine. “Try to get up at a certain time and be working by a certain time, otherwise, it’s easy to fall into the mentality that every day could be a day off,” says Daniel Stump, 27, a freelance copywriter based in Portland, Ore. 

Having set parameters for when and how long you’ll work helps keep you on track. In some cases, it’s also mandatory. Kim Shandrow, 44, is a senior editor at the New York City marketing firm Group SJR who lives in Long, Beach, California. A full-time employee, her day starts with the rest of the team on the East Coast – which means she’s up and logged on by 6:30 a.m. PST. 

Decidedly not a morning person, she’s made it work by sticking to a routine (and lots of coffee). “I’ve found that having a hard start time and committing to it is key,” she said. “I start every day at the same time just like I would if I was going in to the office.” 

3. …but be flexible about it.

While structure is important, give yourself room to make modifications as needed. One of the gifts of working from home is that you have more flexibility; it’s a waste not to use it. 

Personally, this means giving myself permission to sleep past my normal start time or take a nap midday if I slept poorly the night before (sleep-deprivation is, shockingly, not great for the quality of my writing). Even with a more rigid schedule, Shandrow takes advantage of the flexibility of her remote status. A mother of three teenagers, she will end the work day early for doctors’ visits and other “mom appointments.” She also takes breaks throughout the day to walk her dog. 

4. Work weekends…or don’t

When I first started freelancing, a successful freelance writer told me she owed much of her output to sticking to a strict schedule: she worked from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday, and took weekends off with no exceptions. This haunted me for a good six months. I couldn’t maintain my focus for that long and found myself working in blocks that collectively never came close to approaching a nine-hour day. To compensate, I’d regularly work on weekends and then feel guilty, like I was doing it all wrong. 

Since then, I’ve come to realize that I actually like working on weekends, at least in two-to-three hour bursts. The time feels less cluttered because I don’t get as many emails, and I enter the week feeling ahead, rather than scrambling to catch up. 

In general, the freelancers I’ve met are split on this. For Stump, weekends are reserved for his personal life – otherwise he feels like he forfeits any semblance of work-life balance. “You certainly could work all the time, but I don’t recommend it,” he says.

5. Either way, set boundaries. This includes taking time to exercise, get outside, and eat real meals.

Working from home, which does away with a clear distinction between one’s professional and personal life, can easily translate into working all the time. 

“I have to force myself – and this is a constant battle – to stop,” Shandrow says. After a rough period, in which she found herself “working on the side of a sports field” and answering emails on the couch at night, she’s enforced a hard end point to the work day. “It’s about asserting, to myself and to coworkers, that I am not available after this time.” 

Sarah Gray, 31, freelanced for more than a year before accepting a full-time position at the digital news publication Business Insider. Like Shandrow, she found the lack of established boundaries disorienting. “It’s easy to lose the balance between life and work, but you still deserve that balance,” she says. 

As a freelancer, Gray received emails and requests at all hours of the day. She responded to them in real-time, until she realized it was up to her to establish restrictions. “Either set an ‘out of office’ every night that explains you are offline, or clearly set expectations of when you are online vs. offline when you start a new project,” Gray recommends. 

An integral part of successfully adjusting to a freelance or remote schedule is the realization that taking time “off” time isn’t a weakness – it’s a strength. Early on in her stint as a freelancer, Gray resisted taking breaks during the day to work out – until realizing that not only did she physically feel better when she exercised, but her thinking improved, too. Staring at a screen for eight hours straight is a recipe for numbed cognitive abilities, whether you’re in an office or not. 

Shandrow, Gray, and Stump all stressed the importance of taking a real lunch break. Eating a meal away from a screen is a built-in opportunity to recharge. And unlike in an official workplace, replete with microwavable containers, sad sandwiches, and takeout salads, you can make yourself a real meal. “People in offices have to plan ahead with packed lunches or go out to eat every day,” Stump says. “You don’t! Save yourself some money with some easy cooking or leftovers.”

6. Take days off!

Again, one of the hardest things about working from home is the feeling that you could – and therefore should – be working all the time. This, of course, is a recipe for burnout. 

“Take days off when you want them,” Stump says. “You’re a freelancer for a reason. You don’t get healthcare or paid vacation, so take advantage of the perks you do have.” 

Before I started freelancing, I pictured myself taking advantage of the unconventional schedule by going to matinees and visiting museums on weekday afternoons. For the first year, such spontaneous trips remained more fantasy than reality. The anxiety of not working during regular work hours made forays into the world emotionally draining. 

As I’ve developed routines and adjusted to life outside an office, however, I’ve come around to the pleasures of a fluid schedule. Access to the world at a time when most people are trapped behind their desks is a gift. An afternoon wandering through a place that, on a weekend afternoon, would be packed – gyms, museums, landmarks, laundromats, grocery stores, pharmacies – feels like golden, stolen time. 

Whether you’re freelance or remote, the ability to set your own schedule also means you can decide when a stubborn bout of unproductivity might be better addressed tomorrow. Routines are crucial, but “if you stick to them too rigidly, you may find that your productivity starts to drop,” Stump says. “Rather than spending six hours procrastinating to accomplish two hours of work, go take that hike you’ve been meaning to and come back to your work refreshed and ready to go.”

7. Combat loneliness.

An introvert, I didn’t think I’d miss the mindless, often awkward, back-and-forth of office small talk. I was wrong. 

In my first few months of freelancing, I found myself adrift, craving the office’s ambient sense of connection. For me, filling this void consists of making more plans than I ever have in my life – to meet friends with office jobs for lunch, to grab a drink with former colleagues at the end of the day, to seek out those with more lenient schedules so we can find a place to work, alone, together. 

For Shandrow, working from home, even as part of team, bred a particular breed of social isolation. Despite being a full-time employee, “I felt like an outsider,” she says. To combat this, she made a concerted effort to get to know her editors and colleagues over workplace communication tools, like Slack and gchat. She also wasn’t shy about suggesting a phone call if she sensed there was a breakdown in communication. “Sometimes you have to pick up the phone and talk through it.”  

She also rented an office space a few miles away from her house from a friend who also works for herself (their kids are around the same age). The setup gave Shandrow “a reason to actually get dressed in the morning.” More importantly, it provided built-in connection. “The whole point of having an office is human interaction,” she says. 

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/2YL3R7d

Ten Human Skills for the Future of Work

Ten Human Skills for the Future of Work

We’ve all heard how we must practice being more human to avoid turning into robots. But how about practicing humanity to make sure we don’t become monsters?

Whether it’s the emotional cues spinning by in a meeting headed for disarray, curiosity that could turn a business-as-usual day into an internal spark reminding you why you got into this darn job in the first place, or the art of making space for conflict resolution that’s going to save us all, here are ten ways to salvage our better selves and keep us from mutating into workplace monsters.

  1. Empathy Mindset

Empathy gives us the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes so we can see and feel from their perspective. It is a mindset and a comprehensive approach to being – in the workplace and in life.

  • Listening: The first step in understanding is to ask questions. Then pause to hear how your colleague explains what they are thinking and feeling. By listening you’ll gain valuable context for where they’re coming from.
  • Appreciation: Showing sincere appreciation and celebration of others’ contributions allows you to show that you value them.
  • Self-Awareness: Part of feeling what others feel is also about understanding your own biases and limiting beliefs.
  • Judgment: When people seek advice or share a problem, they are not looking for your criticism. Consider that they may already have the answer, which you can help tease out. Sometimes just acknowledging what they’ve said is the best first step. 
  • Presence: Before meetings, take a moment to think about who you’ll be with and what they are dealing with at work – and in life. Time is one of our most valuable assets, so be there fully.
  1. Emotional Intelligence

This is primarily about the self: building self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Being cognizant of how your behavior affects others is at the heart of emotional intelligence.

Think about these questions: What types of behaviors drive you crazy? Where does your anxiety show up? What do you do when you don’t feel heard? How do your resentments show up in interactions with others?

  1. Effective Communication

What gets in the way of good communication? Frustration, lack of trust, stress, and avoiding problems, which all add up to endless hours wasted. It’s important to start from a place of active listening, and consider the following principles.

  • Intention: Know what you want to say and be clear about your objective. None of us are mind readers. 90% of communication is non-verbal so make sure the words you are using accurately convey the point you want to make, and that you’ve dealt with your feelings before speaking.
  • Organization: Take the time to organize your thoughts and deliver them in a straightforward way.
  • Framing: The courage to say what’s really on your mind is important, but remember that “I think, I feel” is much more effective than starting with “you,” which puts people on the defensive.
  • Affirmation: Do people understand what you are saying? Asking if information makes sense may reveal a potential problem. 
  1. A Growth Mindset

“Becoming is better than being.”

― Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

So much of what we do is driven by fear, even in the workplace. This fear mindset promotes a culture of anti-change, even in “innovative” companies. Allowing for calculated risk-taking is essential for new product development and innovative solutions. Rather than stigmatizing failure, a growth mindset embraces it as a necessary part of progress. As Stanford University Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck points out, proactively finding positive outcomes despite any challenges helps build resilience. 

  1. Curiosity + Instigation

Curiosity is a natural part of any creative cycle. It paves the way for “possibility thinking,” rather than business as usual. Instigation is an invitation to challenge quick fixes, lackluster solutions and mediocrity. Start by embracing discomfort and the unknown, allow space for dissonant ideas, diverging opinions, and seemingly improbable outcomes. Challenging rigid ways of thinking and working enables new ideas to form. Allow yourself to experience moments of awe and wonder, and bring that practice to your work. Great ideas often arise when the mind is still and at ease. 

  1. Strategic Analysis and Analytical Thinking

People often jump into the execution phase right after discovery. The missing step, strategic analysis, ensures the right questions are asked before a team moves into problem solving. Strategic analysis helps to identify complex problems by providing a top-level view into the interconnected web of what can often seem like isolated issues. 

Analytical thinking enables people to suspend emotional decision making, and instead look logically at evidence-based research and tests. As part of the analytic process, one looks at everything from cause and effect to pro versus con to cost benefit analysis. It’s a mistake in any product development process that strategic analysis and analytical thinking rest on the shoulders of just one person. The most successful project requires that solutions are sourced from a multidisciplinary team. 

  1. Complex Problem Solving

Complex problem solving is most effective when members of a team look at a project brief with the eyes of a strategist. Long before solutions are offered and significant time is spent, make sure to identify the real problem before jumping into solutions. In order to get into problem-solving mode, you need to understand the true problem at hand, identify challenges in the way, resist simple solutions, identify constraints and pathways to feasibility, and, above all, make sure you’re open to experimentation. 

  1. Conflict Resolution

It’s inevitable that conflict arises in a team at some point or another. It arises most frequently when roles aren’t clearly defined, there’s been a breakdown in communication, when assumptions are made, and when workflows and processes are poorly designed. Most of us have little to no training with expressing negative emotions: frustration, hurt, outrage. Our default reaction is to avoid discomfort, pretend nothing is wrong, or unconsciously become passive aggressive. Allowing conflict to fester can be hugely detrimental to morale and productivity. Among the most effective skills to learn in order to resolve conflict are mastering deep listening, mediation and facilitation. Giving people the benefit of the doubt and leading with curiosity are also powerful tools. 

  1. Negotiation and Persuasion

On top of understanding another’s perspective and being resilient, work demands that we find pathways to being effective. This requires negotiation and persuasion. It’s not just for the sales team. You need to be clear about what you want and what you’re willing to let go of to get it. 

Given the future of work and the growing gig economy, more and more professionals will be forced to become more entrepreneurial. Part of what makes an entrepreneur successful is the ability to pitch and sell their services which is where negotiation and persuasion will fit in – not only for freelancers, but also for in-house employees.

  1. Leadership

A great leader recognizes that trust, transparency, inclusivity, and respect are essential pillars upon which a vibrant company culture is built. They understand that it’s not enough to build culture, it needs to be protected and maintained. A great leader also needs to make difficult decisions and hold everyone, including themselves, accountable. 

Ultimately, being adaptable to the shifts happening in today’s workplace is about putting these human skills into practice on both an individual and organizational level. While technical skills and needs may change, understanding how to interact and be more human in the workplace may remain the only constant. 

This piece evolved out of the masterclass DLW presented at the Adobe 99U Conference in 2019.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/2XANdGf

Why We All Need A Mentor, Or Two

Why We All Need A Mentor, Or Two

As creatives, we’re on nontraditional paths without a template for success. We have an opportunity to design our careers in many different ways. However, without a model for moving forward, we can feel overwhelmed by choice. How do we know we’re making the “right” decision? What’s the best path forward? No one can predict how our careers will unfold, but mentors can provide support as we figure it out. They know what it takes to be courageous in the face of fear, and they know what it feels like to regroup after a failure. They’ve already traversed some of the ambiguous landscape we’ll walk as creatives so their support can help us move forward. 

I’ve had mentors during most of my professional life, but as my career has evolved so has my view of the mentor-mentee relationship. Curious about others’ experiences, I spoke to three creatives about what mentorship has looked like in their lives, the role it has played in their careers, and insights they’ve gained along the way. From support during big leaps to lessons about living with as little regret as possible to encouragement during major life transitions, mentor relationships can become a catalyst for growth and change. 

Dedicated mentors have encouraged entrepreneur Erik Rodin to take big leaps.

London-based Erik Rodin left behind the known to do something big and scary multiple times. The first was when he quit his job in advertising to explore innovation and learning design. Encouraged by Christina, his then-boss and chief strategy officer, Erik took the leap. “It was a tough conversation to have, but she was supportive of me pursuing what I wanted to achieve. She gave me the push because I was uncertain.” It’s been nine years and Christina and Erik still check in by phone every six to eight weeks: “She has been there to give outside perspective that is honest and direct.”

Most recently, Erik left his full-time role with August Public to start his company, Able, which helps create organizational change in startups and companies of all sizes. He looked to what he calls his “personal advisory board” for support. “There was no way to be 100% prepared. As a company of one who doesn’t want to scale, having mentors has given me trust and confidence that no matter what I’m faced with, I’ll be okay.” 

Mentorship provided Erik with support during big transitions. “We all have blind spots,” he said, referencing the Johari window, which defines blind spots as what’s known to others but not to yourself. “Having someone who can hold a mirror up to me and hold me accountable and say ‘I don’t believe you,’ or ‘This doesn’t make sense,’ has given me the courage and ambition to take a leap at times when I’ve been nervous to do so.”

An unexpected mentor helped designer Pavithra Dikshit find reasons to say yes more.

Designer and artist Pavithra Dikshit who works as a Senior Designer at Landor in Mumbai, found guidance in an unexpected place—her home. Jawaharlal Ojha began working for her father as a personal chauffeur when she was 14 years old. “He was a person who was always there. I didn’t really think about it. He was with us through many things that happened—sickness, loss, and moving.” More than her dad’s employee, Jawaharlal became part of the extended family, which Pavithra notes isn’t an uncommon thing in India, but also an inspiration and guide for her.

When Pavithra studied at Rachana Sansad College of Applied Arts and Crafts at the University of Mumbai, Jawaharlal was always available to enthusiastically lend a hand and help Pavithra build out art projects. “For him, no job was too small, he took everything as an opportunity to learn, and he used what he had. He was good at Jugaad, which is an Indian word that means to innovate with what is available and think on your feet.” 

And then, an unexpected turn: Jawaharlal saw a specialist for concerning medical symptoms and was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Pavithra spoke with Jawaharlal on the phone, but never had the chance to say goodbye after he went to the hospital for emergency surgery and slipped into a coma. Jawaharlal left her with one final lesson: Rather than make excuses, she now finds reasons to say yes to the things she really wants to do, like traveling or working on personal projects. “I put the filter on it: Will I regret not doing this? If so, I do it.”

Mentors at milestone moments helped photographer Aundre Larrow move forward. 

Brooklyn-based photographer Aundre Larrow says his mentors have been present for specific milestones in his life, but he hasn’t had one dedicated mentor over the years. Instead, he is open to small moments of guidance that have big potential to shape his work and life. He notes that a variety of mentors have helped him “normalize the process and the ebbs and flows” of building a freelance business over the years. 

As an eager college student, Aundre’s photography teacher John Kaplan helped define his interest in storytelling. “I pitched a commercial campaign, which he told me would be hard to execute. I was setting myself up for failure.” Kaplan suggested Aundre do a project closer to home about the people he knew, which led to more personal projects that evolved into the work he does now. 

After college, Audre worked for Walker & Company, which specializes in health and beauty products for people of color. There he met Mari Sheibley, their then-creative director, who pushed Aundre to develop his talent and wasn’t afraid to say no to work that didn’t measure up to his potential. “Having that guardrail is important. If someone knows you enough to say no, then their yes matters even more to you,” said Aundre. 

In the spring, Aundre experienced mentorship from the other side when he taught his first Intro to Photography class as a CUNY adjunct professor at LaGuardia Community College. When asked what he learned, Aundre reflected, “You have to know when to listen so you can provide a moment of clarity. It’s about augmentation versus trying to take control.”

You don’t need an invitation to reach out. 

Mentors are everywhere, as Pavithra noted. Her mentor relationship was informal and Erik echoed this approach of taking off the pressure to formalize it. He said it’s important to find someone “experienced in life, whether personal or professional, who is willing to be open and give advice. They need to care, but also challenge you.” Who already exists in your life who cares and might be willing to offer guidance? You don’t need an invitation. As Andre said, “if someone shares their work and it’s important to you, reach out to them. The internet is an exciting opportunity to meet people you can learn from.”

Mentor relationships can help normalize the natural ups and downs of navigating our careers, through both the expected and unexpected moments. The guidance of mentors gives us confidence to own and pursue our ambitions. Their wisdom challenges us to be open to new approaches when we feel stuck. Their thoughtful questions can help us shift our perspective and connect the dots in new ways. Whether the relationship is formal or casual, whether it lasts years or just a moment in time, the influence of mentors can leave a lasting legacy in our work and lives. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to reach out.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/2LuYZPI

Tim Brown: Engage With the Unknown

Tim Brown: Engage With the Unknown

In this conversation with Courtney E. Martin, IDEO’s Tim Brown discusses the arc of his career, and how creative industries have evolved, from the early socialization of design thinking to the changing relationship between design and engineering to the urgent challenge of design ethics.

About Tim Brown: Tim Brown is the CEO and president of IDEO. Ranked independently among the ten most innovative companies in the world, IDEO is the global consultancy that contributed to such standard-setting innovations as the first mouse for Apple and the Palm V. Today, IDEO applies its human-centered approach to drive innovation and growth for the world’s leading businesses, as well as for government, education, health care, and social sectors. Tim advises senior executives and boards of Fortune 100 companies and has led strategic client relationships with such corporations as Microsoft, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Steelcase.

About Courtney E. Martin: Courtney E. Martin is an author, entrepreneur, and facilitator. She has written and edited five books, including The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream and Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists. She is also the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and has consulted with a wide variety of organizations—like TED, the Aspen Institute, The Obama Foundation, and The Sundance Institute—on how to make impactful, story-rich social change.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/2ISIGKT