“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”
I read that once, and blew it off. Years later, that statement is like an ice cream laser beam to the forehead, because it came true for me.
Fast history: 18 years in ad agencies. Good agencies, working with good people. Deep pocket clients like Bose, PINK, Lilly. A ton of interactive design since 2001. My day job in 2015 was what some folks dream of: VP title, good pay, corporate perks. Plenty of collaborations, creative sessions and drawings shared with clients and fellow designers. I was a maker by title and, in part, by task. Problem was, my fire was out. The making wasn't satisfying anymore.
Concurrently, outside of that day job situation, a few projects happened, and they altered my career.
Giant client, small team
The first project came from Ryan Scott of Ubivue. He had pitched an app to Subaru of America and needed an interactive designer. I jumped at the chance, since I loved working with Ryan in past freelance jobs. Also, Subaru. The project team was very small: half a dozen people, and we launched Subaru Motorsports' first app to the Apple and Android stores in three months. Let me run that by you again: 6 people. 3 months, start to finish, for a big corporate client. The numbers of that scenario would be nearly impossible in a normal ad agency.
Better, the project was fun. And it paid well. And it hit me: I missed the efficiency of a small, focused team. Video below created by Ubivue.
For the love of...
The second project found me in the garage, plastering posters to an empty wall. There was plenty of leftover space, so I started drawing without a formal plan. The word "ART," several feet high, happened first. Inside those letters, I created a spontaneous, stream-of-thought illustration about aliens, UFOs, Bigfoot and several wild-eyed humans all reacting to one another. I missed meals and sleep to complete the wall. But I was fired up, totally energized by the experience.
I wondered, When was the last time you stayed up late for client work... and remained full of energy—happily compelled to push on—inspired to create deep into the night? What was different here? I was drawing, freestyle, for the love of drawing.
Let us pray...to Motem
The last project was personal. It was born from a gentle but necessary encouragement from my wife, Janet, to unplug. And I did, pursuing a completely unplugged, analog project instead of being glassy-eyed over a device screen. I decided to build an effigy to the idolization—worship, really—of my devices. The sacred nature of a totem pole seemed a proper vehicle, and over the course of several months, Motem happened. The sculpture appears as a human sized Native American totem pole. But a closer look reveals that Motem is made of devices and device parts: iPhones, HTC, and flip phones. My favorite part: a vintage portable TV fixed at head height, staring back at you.
Motem pushed me in several ways. It's weird, colorful, and cathartic. It reminded me of the pleasure of making for making's sake. And more importantly, making something completely by hand.
Never saw it coming—but you might
Three unexpected projects, and from them, three unexpected but critical realizations:
- I missed the efficient workflow of a small, focused team.
- I loved the surge of energy from illustration and lettering.
- Making something handcrafted gave me a primal satisfaction. Drug-like. I wanted more, immediately.
Ultimately—and in short time—these realizations became catalysts for a career change. But more on that later...
'Til then, a few questions for you:
- What do you find yourself creating in the off hours? Or, as the quote says, creating while procrastinating the day job?
- When you're creating that stuff, do you blaze past meals and sleep, and still feel energized?
- Do you find yourself awake, thinking about that creation? Like, how you can tweak it, make it better?
Your answers may push you in all kinds of wonderful, fulfilling directions.