Advice #47: Can I Make A Design Career Work With Kids?

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I am 19 years old and recently became pregnant. It was unplanned and a surprise but has kicked my future goals into high gear. Lately graphic design has been something I’m interested in, and seems like it could be a reliable career, but I don’t have a clue where to start. I will be in my second year of community college and I plan on learning all the Creative Suite programs and the latest in design and typography before transferring to another school to get a bachelor’s degree. So my questions are 1. Where should I begin as a newbie in pursuing a career as a graphic designer? and 2. Is graphic design something that is manageable with a baby?

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Never stop learning. Stay focused.

First off, I commend you for staying focused on your education and future! From my perspective, it sounds like you’re doing everything right, including taking an affordable route to kicking off your education (I’m a proud community college graduate myself). It sounds corny but a thirst for knowledge will get you far. The very best designers started out just like you — everyone begins with limited knowledge and through schooling, internships and experience, we all get better. Four years since graduating, I still feel like I’m learning something new every day and truthfully, the learning never really stops. Since you’re already in school, my two suggestions for supplementing it would be to subscribe to and watch as many videos as you can and secondly, to read as many design and creative industry blogs as possible. The more you learn and the faster you’re able to pick up the basics, the better. Also, joining AIGA can help you make design industry connections.

To answer your second question, you’re not alone in thinking about how to make a design career mesh with being a mom. It’s on a lot of other women’s minds as well so take comfort in that. Designer Promise Tangeman recently wrote a great article on the subject (the comments are super insightful as well) as did new mom and designer / blogger Joy, who explains in detail how she makes it all work for her. Finally, the book Mom, Inc. will hopefully inspire and empower you to find a way to crete a routine that works for you.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this; working as a designer is really demanding even without kids. But I also do personally know plenty of moms who make it happen every single day (and somehow make it look easy!) I’ve heard many moms (and moms-to-be) talk about how there’s never going to be that “perfect time” to have children and balance that role with their careers. And of course, everyone has an opinion on the subject but when it comes down to it, the only opinion that matters is yours.

Once you are finished with school, you can take two paths:

1. Work for someone else. From my experience, working in-house tends to be a lot less demanding than working in an agency environment. This is because when you’re in-house, you have one client: your company. And, the lines of communication are much more direct. In comparison, when you’re at an agency, there are many clients who are setting the deadlines and demands for you to answer to. Realistically, if a presentation is due and you have to work until midnight or god forbid, pull an all-nighter, will you have a reliable option for childcare? I wish I could say that crazy hours are something you won’t have to worry about in this industry but depending on who you work for, they are often the norm.

2. Work for yourself. If you decide to run your own studio, you’ll have more control over your hours. The biggest trade-off is that you’ll be in charge of your own health benefits and the paychecks won’t be steady, at least in the beginning. But having that freedom to be with your child may be the best reward.

Note: I felt that this was an important question to address but at the same time, I don’t have kids of my own and they’re not in my future plans so I can’t put myself in someone else’s shoes who does. Readers with kids who also work in a creative industry, please weigh in and share your advice. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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