Category Archives: Advice

Little Lessons #7: Stop Overthinking It

Nubby Twiglet | Little Lessons: Stop Overthinking It

It’s been exactly one week since we launched Blogcademy Home School and the response so far has been enormous. I’m so glad we just went for it and didn’t overthink it.

Do you have those people in your life that seem to move quickly and do things effortlessly without ever seeming fearful or breaking a sweat?

I do. My brother, Carey has always been that way. He never overthinks things. He goes, he does, he makes things happen…and figures out the rest later. Because of that, he has friends all over the world, juggles multiple careers and has so many hobbies that it drives me crazy (if another motorcycle part shows up in our house, I’ll scream).

I’ve always admired that quality in him and at times, I’m envious of it. I’ve never been that type of person. I’ve always been more of a planner, a little quieter, a little more cautious.

Nearly two years ago, I began to break out of that mold.

It all started when I nervously hit publish on a blog post I’d spent the weekend working on. I’d taken a short break to cross the border into Washington to catch a Motley Crue and Kiss show with my brother (we showed up without tickets — remember, he’s the spontaneous one!). Afterwards, I raced home to put the finishing touches on The Blogcademy site. Stepping out on a limb before everything was perfectly prepared and publishing that post (even though I was beyond nervous) was a domino effect that changed my life for the better.

When you have a good idea, act on it. Otherwise, it loses juice and in turn, you lose momentum.

Last week, I joined Kat and Gala as we did the same exact thing with Home School. It’s true that we did do a little more planning. But, considering that there were 10 separate videos, a brand new website to build and over two dozen worksheets to produce, we moved pretty fast!

Did we know if this new format was going to be a success?
You never really know.

Did we have any idea what demand would actually be?
Not a clue.

Did we spend countless hours doing endless market research to find out?
Not at all.

The bottom line? We felt good about it so we just went for it.

I want to encourage you to stop focusing on perfection. Perfection doesn’t exist. Own what you excel at and share your knowledge with the world. It’s doesn’t need to be polished to a high shine. Real and relatable is almost always better and it’s a whole lot more endearing.

Show us what you’ve got.
We’re listening and waiting.

Photo: Death to the Stock Photo.
Check out even more Little Lessons here.

Advice #44: I Am Not the Best. Should I Refer Work Elsewhere?

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Hello, I was wondering about referring work and clients. I am a very good graphic designer but I know that I am not the “best”. I occasionally get work from clients that I think friends of mine could do a better job on. Should I refer the job to them or not? I’m afraid that it will look really bad to the client when I can’t deliver the best possible outcome. Help!

This is a fantastic question and brings up a much larger issue. As creatives and humans, we’ve all had those moments of self-doubt and feeling like we’re not the best. Well, I’ll let you in on something that will hopefully shift your perceptions: in almost any field you go into, there’s always going to be someone that’s better than you in some way.

So, take a moment to free yourself from those self-deprecating feelings and move on. Let go. Instead of wallowing in self-doubt and contemplating whether you’re good enough, focus on the big picture of your career. What have you accomplished and where would you like to go? Are the clients you’ve done work for happy with your output? Think about it: if your clients are happy, you’re definitely doing something right.

Self doubt is normal but be realistic.

Design is an extremely competitive field and I remember the self-doubt I felt during my first agency job fresh out of school. All of the designers on my team were much more skilled (and in my mind, that equated to way more awesome) than me but you know what I quickly realized? I was comparing myself to designers that had 5, 10 and even 15 years more experience! I was a fresh graduate trying to be as good as them! Obviously, I was setting myself up for failure with the “I’m not good enough” mentality. Once I realized that I’d been comparing apples to oranges, I was able to relax, put my guard down and go with the flow. I was aware enough to realize that everyone on the team was friendly and willing to help me when I asked — I was the one with the issue.

“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” — Anaïs Nin

Back to your question — clients are coming to YOU. I’ve always felt that if someone is choosing you out of the hundreds, even thousands of options they have out there, it’s because they admire your work. They want to work with you. Go above and beyond and most of the time, you’ll have a return client.

Know when to say no.

At the same time, if you feel very strongly that you’re not the best fit for the job, refer that client to the best person you know. After all, it’s better to be really amazing at something versus a jack of all trades and master of none. For instance, I’ve done my fair share of print and web design and feel confident in these areas but I’m aware of my limitations when it comes to retail environments. I can concept and whip up production files for banners and second-surface graphics for store windows but developing the entire look and feel of a full retail location or trade show booth is beyond my scope. If you feel like a project is way over your head and far outside your comfort zone, don’t commit. In the end, nobody will be happy!

One of the hardest things to admit is that as individuals, some projects are bigger than us. Some of the work I’m most proud of was created with teams, often including an art director, a copywriter, a producer and multiple designers. The client had a big vision and a team was needed to pull it all together. So don’t beat yourself up if you’re not seemingly awesome at everything! Remember that a lot of the big campaigns and projects you admire often weren’t the work of a single individual; they were the work of a team.

Surround yourself with the best.

Finally, consider this: if you feel that others around you are “better,” this can actually be a good thing. Strive to surround yourself with successful people. They give you goals to work towards and a reason to push yourself further. If you truly felt that you were already “the best,” would you work so hard? Probably not. Remember though that the people around you should be as supportive of your efforts and goals just as much as you are with theirs. It’s a two-way street.

The bottom line.

Put in that extra bit of effort to always deliver work that you’re proud of. Knowing that you’ve done your personal best (even when a project has dramatically shifted from the initial brief) is important. You may not want to put every single project in your portfolio (trust me, there’s campaigns I’ve spent two months of my life on that nobody’s ever seen) but knowing that you gave it your all is what’s important. If you’re good at what you do, your clients will notice. And remember that confidence is built over time, as we gain experience. We’re all a work in progress. As creatives, we all want to be better and do better. Take comfort in that.

“There are no short cuts to any place worth going.” — Beverly Sils

Advice #43: How Can I Manage the College / Life Balance?

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I’ve been stuck in a real rut lately. Being a college freshman taking six classes, I feel like I’m running myself dry creatively, or perhaps more so, motivationally. I keep dreaming up all these grand ideas, but by the time I get back to my dorm I just want to go back to bed. I know schoolwork should come first, but I’m having a hard time focusing on that when I’m dreaming up creative design projects. I feel like I am putting all this time into useless projects for class and I’m losing valuable time for my personal projects and potential business. How can I avoid getting swept up into to the crowd of becoming just another college student?

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Do All Things With Love.

When you’re in school, the work / life balance can seem almost impossible to achieve. I know all too well how this feels (see below). But do remember that you have the rest of your life and career ahead of you — plenty of time to make your dreams a reality. I had the same issue as you — my mind was constantly racing with ideas for personal projects during classes but time was scarce. What I have since realized is that just because you can’t act on your ideas right this second doesn’t mean that they’re going to suddenly evaporate or become less-thank-awesome. My solution was to carry a notebook everywhere with me to jot down those ideas. And, I did come back to many of them later on.

Though it’s hard to see now, while the projects you’re working on for class might not seem directly valuable to you at the time, the takeaway is usually more abstract. It could be that you’re learning a particular skill or gaining experience that you’ll be able to draw upon years down the road.

When I was 26, I began my second and final year of design classes. My schedule looked like this for a full year:

Monday: School // 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Tuesday: Agency Internship // 9:30 – 6 p.m.
Wednesday: School // 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Thursday: Agency Internship // 9:30 – 6 p.m.
Friday: School // 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Saturday: Retail Job // 10.a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday: Retail Job // 11.a.m. – 5 p.m.

Notice that there were no days off. Looking back, the constant rotation of tasks with a new place to be each day often left me reeling. Balancing so many commitments on top of blogging five days a week (I’d started this blog the year before) was bordering insanity but I pulled through because I had a set of goals at the end of the tunnel: 1. I needed to finish my design degree to get into the agencies & studios I admired. 2. I had to work because there was rent and bills to pay. 3. The internship was at an agency I considered my top choice for post-college employment.

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Hold onto your inspiration. It’s not going anywhere! (source unknown)

If I hadn’t had goals, I probably would have dropped to the floor at some point, given into the exhaustion and cancelled some of my commitments. Even though I pulled through this stressful time, I won’t lie, it was definitely one of the hardest years of my life. But I got through it day by day, week by week and it taught me some key points:

1. Good time management

Even though you’re short on time now to work on your personal projects, this is something most of us will have to cope with for the rest of our lives. As we move from school to careers, to managing households, the time crunch doesn’t usually get much better post-college. School might seem like a drain now but if you have a very strict schedule and a very limited amount of time to complete particular tasks, you’ll find a way to make it happen. That drive to follow through with the seemingly impossible in a short window of time will come in handy later in your job.

2. Rating the level of importance of tasks

With a list of school assignments a mile long, you’ll quickly learn how to delegate and fly through completely different tasks in record time. When you’re at your post-college job and the boss rambles off a list of random items, you’ll be able to smile, respond with “no problem” and then rate, delegate and conquer.

3. Negotiation

There are going to be times where you’re expected to do two things at once. Or, worse yet, to be two places at once. During my final year of school, the agency I was interning at wanted me to come in on Fridays. One little issue: I had school on Fridays. It was in my best interest to work on Fridays because 1. the internship was paid and 2. it was where I hoped to work post-college. I negotiated with my teacher and she agreed that as long as I got my schoolwork done, I could work on Fridays instead. Think outside of the box when it comes to your schoolwork; most teachers are human and are willing to compromise with you if you show a willingness to meet them in the middle.

In Closing

While school can be a bumpy ride at times, remember that nothing lasts forever. You have an awesome opportunity to gain an education — try to embrace the experience now instead of rushing through assignments. Your ideas will still be with you once you’ve graduated and the life skills you learn in college will follow you through the rest of your career.

Advice #42: As A Teen, How Can I Jump-Start My Career?

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Today I’m answering a question from one of my high school-age readers. This question really resonated with me and hopefully they’ll have the opportunity to discover their passion for design much earlier than I did.

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Image Source


I am a sixteen year old aspiring graphic designer and blogger and I am avid reader of your blog. I am interested in creating a website showcasing my personal style, graphic design, and my photography. I have grown up around technology and design and would very much like to become a successful designer and blogger but I’m not exactly sure where to start. What would your advice be to someone my age who is still in high school and aspires to become a household name in terms of blogging and design?

First of all, I have a deep admiration for teenagers that are so focused on knowing what they want to achieve career-wise early on in their schooling. As much as I loved art, I definitely didn’t have a clear vision for what I wanted to accomplish post-high school. It took me years of trial and error, working my way through various college courses and jobs before I found my true calling. In hindsight, it all seems so clear but at the time, I definitely felt lost. To get a head start on your chosen path, I’d recommend the following:

1. Start your blog as soon as possible.

Get started with your blog now to showcase your style, design and photography. If you don’t have the means to build a custom site, start up on a free platform like Blogger (there are tons of online tutorials that can show you to customize it). I spent six years blogging on a free platform before I launched my self-titled blog and that time was extremely valuable for developing my focus and making many of the online friends that I still have today. The web is extremely malleable and you can always go back and make as many changes as you’d like to your design and content but the idea is to start building momentum and recognition now.

2. Develop your own lesson plan.

If you’re too young to enroll or unable to afford college courses, seek out design tutorials. Smashing Magazine has some great ones and is fantastic for perfecting specific techniques. Also, subscribe to design and lifestyle blogs that excite you. Gather inspiration at every turn and pin it for future reference. All of this will build your confidence while helping you to develop your own style.

3. Seek out a mentor.

Being both a designer and a blogger is hard work and as you begin your journey, you’re bound to have many questions. If you can find someone that’s already been down that path, they can offer you insight and advice about what to expect along the way. Four years ago, a recent design graduate emailed me and on a whim, we met for dinner. Since then, I’ve critiqued her portfolio and recommended her for freelance gigs. At the same time, she’s been really supportive of what I do. It’s really rewarding to develop relationships with people who share a creative bond. If nobody around you shares your interests, many school counselors are pretty savvy these days and can help you form a career plan.

4. Never let peer criticism get under your skin.

Often, when you’re young, determined and talented, peers will try to get in your way. It’s important to ask yourself if these folks have your best interests in mind or if they’re simply threatened by your talent. While I have many fond memories of high school, I have many negative ones too. Looking back, I wish I’d been even more strong-willed when people put my style and aspirations down. We all have bad days but if you have a strong sense of who you are, you’ll overcome most challenges.

5. In Closing

At sixteen, you have so much power to dream big and with some planning, there’s no doubt that you’ll shape your future life into exactly what you want it to become. I have the utmost faith that with the determination and thirst for knowledge you possess, you’ll have great success with both design and blogging. It’s never too early to get started.


Advice #41: How Do I Stay Motivated?

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You seem very motivated! But, how do you keep that motivation? Do you ever get hung up on a piece/project? If so, what do you do to get out of that funk?

I would consider myself to be very motivated but that motivation is mostly tied to doing things that I love, most visibly design and blogging. Conveniently enough, these are the two pieces of me that you happen to see online. When it comes to other parts of my life, trust me, I’m definitely not as motivated! Like most people, I strive to share what I’d consider to be my positive attributes online; this is done an effort to motivate others and to nurture their creativity. My blog is a snapshot of my life so it’s not going to show everything.

But, back to your question. Staying motivated can be incredibly difficult but I’ll let you in on something that I face on a daily basis: when you’re getting paid to do what you love and are up against deadlines, it doesn’t matter how bad you may feel. You have to deliver work to clients no matter what! Like everyone else, I have my bad days. Doing eight straight hours of production, having proofs come back with muddy colors and facing all-nighters to make a deadline can all be draining. But even on those days, I’ll complain in one short burst, get it out of my system and move on. Holding in the negativity will do nothing to help you (or your mental health). Find a release to wrap up a long day whether that’s gossiping with a friend or going to the gym and get a good night’s sleep. I bet you’ll wake up feeling fresh, motivated and inspired once again!

When I am lacking motivation, I switch up my routine to force myself to think in a fresh, new way. Sometimes, I’ll do a 10 minute yoga video. Stretching and clearing my mind really do make a world of difference. Also, working in a different medium for a short while can also help. When I’m feeling stressed, I’ll collage into my Fashion Notebook — focusing on piecing together colors and themes reset my brain. And, stepping outside of my normal work area and sitting somewhere with a notebook and pen also can do wonders. Give yourself the freedom to briefly walk away from anything that’s giving you trouble and see what comes out onto that paper, even if it’s nonsense. You never know; a brilliant new idea may be right around the corner.

What can you do to stay motivated?

1. Get Inspired.

Create a folder on your desktop and spend 30 minutes searching for fresh visual inspiration. Three great places to start are FFFFOUND!, Designspiration and We Heart It.

2. Make To-Do Lists.

Whether it’s typed into your iPhone or scribbled into a planner, making a list is a simple way to hold yourself accountable. If you’re just storing everything in your head, it can become jumbled, overwhelming and difficult to prioritize. Facing down exactly what you need to get done puts you on a mission to make progress. And it feels so good as you make your way through, crossing off each item, one by one.

3. Set Deadlines.

If the items on your to-do list are too open-ended, there’s not much motivation to get them finished. Hold yourself accountable by setting firm deadlines. If you can’t get something finished, carry it over to the next day’s to-do list until it gets crossed off. That way, it will haunt you until it’s done!

4. Keep A Schedule.

One of the best ways to stay motivated is to set a very structured schedule. Knowing that you only have a certain timeframe to complete a task keeps you focused and sharp. If you don’t have a defined schedule, everything just keeps flowing into the next day and so on because there’s no pressure to follow through.

5. Learn To Say No.

You’re only one person and there are only 24 hours in a day. If you’re consistently finding yourself to be lacking in motivation, ask yourself why. What are you filling your day with? Do you make time for your passions or are you just existing? Make a list of what you love to do and even if you only have 10 free minutes in your day, give yourself a much deserved break. Don’t let the world pass you by; give yourself the time to dream big, then set benchmarks that lead to accomplishments that make you happy. If you have a goal to strive towards, the motivation will follow.

Readers, what do you do to stay motivated? Any tips or tricks that you swear by?