You’ve Given Up A Good Thing. How Do You Get It Back?


Sometimes we meet people a bit late in their design careers.

A few days ago, we received a timely email from someone who needed advice dealing with a tough career decision. With his permission, we’re going to share his journey with you. Here’s how the email started.

“I’m a well-rounded strategic design thinker with solid management skills. Over the years, I’ve made connections with auspicious companies and have built an impressive resume along the way.  I know that with my experience and qualifications, I could be vying for the few VP positions available; I had all the management experience I needed to move up and had done work that significantly impacted the company I was with. By all accounts, I was a prolific creative professional and should have been exactly where I wanted to be career-wise – but that wasn’t what happened at all. I was passed over for promotion after promotion and the longer I stayed in design, the more difficult it became to find opportunities suited to my expertise. I’m still unsure if it was a lack of VP positions or an increase in competition; whatever the case, I was burnt out and after spending years in the design industry, I couldn’t stand it any longer and I just wanted out.”

We get messages like this all the time from creative professionals lamenting their experiences dealing with the growing difficulties of being in the field of design and to be frank, we understand. The design industry is definitely a daunting landscape. Design professionals are in constant competition for the next project, promotion, or position – made even more challenging by the influx of design graduates stepping into the field every year. It used to just be rival design agencies but with the premium put on good design today, nearly all businesses are clamoring for astounding creative talent but they don’t know how to find you or value you.

Our client’s message went on to talk about his struggles with all the politics and headaches of working for a big corporation. With all that noise, there simply came a point where he just couldn’t handle the stress of designing any longer – but he couldn’t seem to get that next promotion.

“My last few positions made me feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day,” he explained. “Initially the roles seemed new and exciting but in the end, I was just in the same role, with the same routine responsibilities.”

He just couldn’t seem to make any progress further up that corporate ladder; it seemed like there wasn’t very much room at the top, and it wasn’t likely that someone would willingly step down for him to climb up. He couldn’t take another project, half-baked proposal, or worst of all, the feeling of his work being undervalued in favor of someone else’s. So he hung up his sketchpad, bade his stunned coworkers goodbye, and set out for more “opportunity-laden” fields.

Here’s where his message took an interesting turn. After all that moaning and groaning about all the pitfalls and drawbacks he had faced as a former designer, he shared that “...despite all the difficulties I had faced in the design industry and all the success I’ve had in the work I’ve pursued since, I haven’t felt that same sense of fulfillment, corny as that sounds. I see all the strides in innovation being made by agencies I had worked with and creatives who were once my peers, and I can’t help but feel that I might be missing out. More than that, I’ve lately been getting the sense that I may not have exhausted all my resources as thoroughly as I could have. The point is, I feel like I’ve quit design prematurely and I want to give it another shot. I hate to say it but hindsight is 20/20 and I honestly didn’t fully realize what I had until I gave it up – and now I don’t understand how to pick up where I left off and get back into the swing of things.”

Unbeknownst to many, this is actually quite a common occurrence. Former creative professionals come to us all the time, wondering if stepping away from design was the right thing to do. They have gone into nonprofit work, have opened their own small businesses as restaurateurs or shop owners, real estate brokers, started coaching programs of their own, and have found their way into many other industries; yet, many of you still want to come back.

The burning question remains: did you give up too soon?

It’s a fair question. Once you’ve had a taste of design thinking, how could you turn your back on it just like that?

Let’s face it: you may have left design, but you miss it.

Returning to design is a tricky reentry point that’s difficult to master. We’ve seen people try time and again, and still fail to get back into the orbit of design.

The creative field is becoming more and more over saturated with competition, and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to climb up that corporate ladder. Employers don’t seem to understand you and they have consistently undervalued your work, making you question your value as a creative professional – but if you’ve only explored the creative industries that you’re familiar with, how are you supposed to learn what else is out there for you?

Despite the ever-growing pool of competition in the design field, there is still so much untapped opportunity to be found.

We constantly meet individuals who are in this exact position, many of them seasoned design professionals who simply aren’t aware of the skills and value they possess. In fact, the most alarming thing we’ve come to learn upon meeting these design professionals is that most of them still have the expertise, aptitude, and vast potential to make it in design – they just don’t understand what is holding them back.

If you’ve forsaken design but can’t stop wondering if you gave up too soon, our Thrive By Design program can help you explore previously untapped areas of opportunity and growth that align with your skills and potential. Book a Breakthrough call so we can help you figure this out; let’s help you see if you’ve still got some legs in design yet.