How did you overcome your darkest days in your career?

almost 7 years ago from , Associate

Every designer and developer whether working as a freelancer, full time at an agency or running an agency is bound to have experienced days and even weeks when things just didn't go their way and questioned the profession they decided to take.

Would be nice to share your experience. How did the bad times occur? how did you overcome it? and most importantly what would be your best advice you'd like to share?


  • Philip WeberPhilip Weber, almost 7 years ago

    I was leading a team of 4 designers. We all got laid off a year ago. It's a complicated story of startup politics. It ended abruptly, and I blamed myself. It was the darkest working experience I've had by far.

    The first thing I did was focus on our now defunct team and the friends we left behind at the company that were still in a bad situation (they all were eventually laid off, too). Is everyone ok? Does anyone need help finding work? Recommendations? Feedback on portfolios? Just venting and making sense of it all?

    Next I found something that I enjoyed that I could throw myself into. Something intentionally useless. Something that wasn't design or career building or money making. Fallout 4 had just come out and I let myself "waste time" with it to my heart's content. I really needed that.

    After that I picked up photography for first time. It opened up an entirely new world of creativity for me to learn about. Unlike interactive design, which I'd been doing for a decade already, I didn't even know the most basic principles, and, maybe more importantly, I could make photographs just for the sake of doing it. They didn't have to solve a problem. I could just enjoy making things.

    Eventually my interest in design came back, but now with more direction, perspective, and sense of purpose.

    13 points
    • , almost 7 years ago

      Thanks for sharing Philip. Really great of you to look out for the team.

      While you decided to waste time, did you keep getting thoughts of guilt? That you should be working and not wasting time although it was intentional. If yes, then how did you overcome the guilt ?

      1 point
      • Philip WeberPhilip Weber, almost 7 years ago (edited almost 7 years ago )

        The experience ended so abruptly that it was like a speeding car coming to an immediate stop. The design problems I thought I'd spend years working on stopped being my responsibility in an instant.

        I didn't want to jump to the next available design job just to keep busy. After ten years of being a workaholic, I wanted to force myself to take time off and think deeply about the meaning and direction of what I spend my efforts on.

        Doing fun things that felt to my brain like work kept me sane.

        As far as guilt goes, everyone on the team who needed work was able to find it quickly, so I struggled more with self doubt than with guilt.

        1 point
  • Tyson KingsburyTyson Kingsbury, almost 7 years ago

    I graduated from college in 94. In Toronto at the time, it was very difficult to find any kind of position as a designer. It was the tail-end of a recent recession, and no one was hiring. I spent the year between 94-95 pounding the pavement and getting a lot of rejections. 'What real work have you done?' was a question I heard more than a few times. Well. I just graduated! Exactly what kind of real work have I had a chance to work on yet? I finally lucked out and got a gig designing billboards. It was a perfect 1st job in design. But within a few short months, the company decided to re-locate to Texas of all places (a long way from Toronto).

    So it was back to pounding the pavement again.

    The 2nd time was easier. Now I had some legit work in my folio that I'd done for real clients.

    the next job was doing photoshop work for a photography company. Fixing and repairing old destroyed photographs. Not much for creativity, but was huge in building my knowledge and speed in Photoshop.

    AAAAAND the company went under. 4 months in again....

    This time I was saved by a super fantastic Asst Manager at the place.... We'd become great friends, and he marched my ass upstairs to an Ad-Agency on the floor above us. 'The word is you guys are looking for a new Junior Designer...well this guys the best'.... I started work at the Ad Agency the very next day. That act of kindness...I've never forgotten it, and have payed it forward as much as possible. (and also was able to track down, years later, that Asst Manager and thank him from the bottom of my heart)

    aaaaand that ad-agency went under 6 months later.

    Seeing a trend here?

    the mid to late 90's had a huuuuge amount of small boutique Ad and Design agencies. I was able to go and work at several of them over the next few years. Some would last, most would not. But at each one, I learned something.

    The lingering effect of all this was fear. Fear that my current job was not going to last. Fear that my understanding girl-friend would finally leave. Fear that her Dad would say 'jesus...what's wrong with this guy...why can't he keep a job?' Fear that this career I'd chosen wasn't exactly the most stable.

    I finally achieved some stability in 97, working with some old friends from that Ad-Agency that started their own firm. that lasted 2 full years, and allowed me the money and whatnot to finally get on my feet, and lead me to the next gig that propelled me into a great career. in 1999, i joined a large consulting firm that was looking to get into offering design. it was the begining of the dot-com boom, and man.... it took my career into overdrive.

    the TL/DR of all this, is despite all the setbacks, I knew from the beginning that this was the career for me. You just have to stick with it. Never give up, and keep pushing forward. Learn EVERYTHING you can.

    5 points
    • , almost 7 years ago

      Hey Tyson. Thanks for sharing. Well on you to keep trying despite all the downfalls. During the short terms did you ever question your own luck?

      0 points
  • Caleb SylvestCaleb Sylvest, almost 7 years ago

    That's a very big question, my quick thoughts:

    Short term:

    For those days where you feel pathetic or don't know what to do or just have the blues.

    1. Mow the yard. Then edge it real good. Nothing beats doing something so straight forward and doing a good job that you can see instant results. And hardcore edge the yard. Man it makes you feel good. I also think a lot when mowing, and tend to recenter.
    2. Learn something new. And don't try to be creative doing so. Find a tutorial for something you are interested in and follow it step-by-step. No riffing or thinking of other ideas or designing things for Dribbble. Just follow the tutorial and learn. (this works best for code tutorials)

    Long term:

    This isn't really advice, and long term will be different for each person. But this is sort of what happened to me in a round-a-bout way.

    1. Quit your job
    2. Have a baby (or your wife has a baby)
    3. Cry a lot
    4. Buy a house
    5. See a therapist
    6. Consider medication (if necessary, it's not right for everyone)
    7. Take a trip
    8. Start a new venture

    Btw, don't have a baby, get married, or buy a house on a whim.

    4 points
    • Adam RasheedAdam Rasheed, almost 7 years ago

      This is great advice! One thing I'd change is instead of going straight to medication, improve your diet for at least a week straight. Add green vegetables. Add protein. You'll fee results in your energy and mood in less than a few days!

      1 point
      • Caleb SylvestCaleb Sylvest, almost 7 years ago

        Good call, I should have added something like that. Prescriptions are not right for everyone and shouldn't be used unless truly needed. In my personal experience I've struggled for the past 15 years, so it was time to try something new.

        And yes, clean up your food intake. I'd also suggestion trying non-prescription supplements. Check out this guide on Reddit for nootropics, but start small. Supplements like HTP-5 are completely natural and help produce serotonin if you think that could be your issue.

        Nootropics for Beginners on Reddit

        2 points
  • Apurv RayApurv Ray, almost 7 years ago

    I was roped into leading design at a startup straight of out Graduate Design School and the pay was pretty decent so I took it. It was at their R&D office in India and I was coming out of a Design Strategy and Innovation masters plus a 6-month co-op in an innovation department at a large Italian company.

    The people at the company had no idea about what user-centered design means and would ignore all my suggestions and then when it didn't pan out with the executives in NYC would throw me under the bus. I had no way of escaping the chain of command in India nad convince people at the HQ and during the three months there I was at a very very dark place.

    I started questioning my own skills and everything design school and previous work experience had taught me. That is when I said enough and quit the job. It might have been a really juicy paycheck in India but if you don't get to the do the work that you love and became a designer for these reasons in the first place ... PLEASE LEAVE.

    No amount of money would restore your confidence if you let the incompetence of others damage it. If you're not happy, leave. Something better will always come along. Trust your guts.

    3 points
    • , almost 7 years ago

      Apurv, I totally feel your pain. A few of my clients are from India too. Most of them have been great while a few turned out to incredibly hard to work with because of their lack of appreciation for design and constantly suggesting bad design orders (not even requests)

      0 points
  • Yehyon Chung, almost 7 years ago (edited almost 7 years ago )

    I agree with Philip Weber. For severely dark days, a healthy distance and new found curiosity is what brings us back to this field.

    I had also ended up in a position where I couldn't help but question everything that I've done. Spent days thinking that I'm such a failure. However, fortunately/unfortunately because of health reasons I ended up in a situation that made it impossible for me to do anything with my life other than watch a lot of tv shows and play ipad games while stuck in bed lol.

    After months of nothingness, all I wanted was to do anything with my life and I missed design so much. I was hesitant to go straight back into design, however, so I signed up for a front-end coding bootcamp (one of those three+ months ones that runs 9 to 6 everyday). It was such a refreshing experience to use writing and letters to create a visual output that I've always been able to create so easily with sketch or adobe products.

    I'm back working as a product designer, but definitely with a stronger sense of purpose and a richer perspective as Philip Weber has described. Sometimes you just need to take time and venture elsewhere to find what you need.

    1 point
  • andreis .andreis ., almost 7 years ago

    When I'm in a rut, I always think of an advice my Creative Director once gave me - we are used to have bad and good days, but sometimes it can be a bad week or a month, as long as you accept that it happens and treat yourself nicely during the tough times (no self shaming or guilt) you'll get through it unharmed.

    1 point