An email from a long-time reader just landed in my inbox and I think it’s something we can all relate to. What happens when you feel like your creative spark has dried up and you’re just going through the paces, trying to do your job but nothing feels inspiring?
I graduated high school in 2010 and during those years I felt so inspired by every project and was given 100% creative freedom. When I enrolled in college, I learned more structured things about design, how I couldn’t just paste pretty pictures wherever and that it had to have meaning.
Now I’m into my first real job with a real paycheck in marketing. I’ve been here about a year and a half and somehow I feel like all my ambition I once had is gone. I’ve become so used to doing everything how the client wants that most times I no longer feel like a designer but a middle man clicking and dragging things in InDesign.
How can I get that passion back for design I used to have in a job where everything is based on templates or dictated? What are some things I could do outside of work to help? I no longer create much of anything and don’t even draw anymore. How do I overcome the fear of failure when I try to create and it isn’t as good as when I was practicing/using my skills weekly?
Let me start off first by saying that this isn’t a permanent feeling. It’s not the end of the world. With a little effort, it can get better.
Secondly, we’ve all been there. Remember, what you see online is only part of someone’s story. Most designers only show the hyper-creative, stylized work they want more of because that’s what makes sense to build their business.
The truth is, most designers have other gigs, some on the side a few hours a week and some full-time that pay the bills. These other gigs allow them the wiggle room to take on the fun, creative jobs that are often lacking the big, juicy budgets while giving them the opportunity to build out their portfolio and attract more of the right kinds of clients.
Quite a few years ago, when the economy was dismal, I took a long-term freelance gig that was mostly production work for sports brands. I loved the people I worked with but the work I produced wasn’t exactly what I was passionate about. Still, I stayed for over a year because that steady paycheck allowed me the freedom to take on freelance jobs I was excited about on the nights and weekends.
Thanks to that job, I was able to set aside extra money to travel and stay inspired. I was able to splurge on beautiful letterpress business cards for my freelance business. I was able to design the branding for a makeup company that had a smaller budget. I was able to pay all my bills on time. So, while the job wasn’t the perfect position I’d dreamed about, it covered my basic needs so I had the luxury to explore the creative side of things on my own time.
A job is only as uninspiring as you let it be
Yes, you have to listen to your boss and the clients you’re responsible for but you can find ways to still have fun.
At my past jobs, I would often do a version of the design I was told to do but also include a second version of what I thought it could be.
You might not always have the time to do this on quick turns but when you do, flex your creative muscles.
Between projects, I would scroll through Pinterest and look at design and style blogs to get a creative jolt.
There’s a world of inspiration out there and it is also a great reminder that your current position is temporary if you want it to be.
When I felt really uninspired, I would walk to the nearest coffee shop.
A few minutes away from what’s dragging you down can provide much needed clarity.
On really bad days when I felt like I needed to quit immediately, I called my agent, Dan and he gave me pep talks.
Find that one person who can help you keep things in check. Your situation isn’t that bad.
No Job Is Perfect
I’ve gotten hired at places I thought were perfect from the outside and they weren’t. Branch isn’t perfect, either. It’s always easier to think the grass is greener on the other side.
Think of every job you have as a stepping stone. Each place you end up teaches you something new. The jobs you struggle the most at will also teach you the most.
The times where I felt uninspired, exhausted or was driven to the point of tears felt completely unbearable in the moment but I learned a lot about myself, what I was good at and where I fell short. Those moments taught me what I wanted more of in my career and what I should steer away from all costs.
The only way to learn these things is through life experience. It’s not fun…but it makes you stronger and it makes you a better designer.
Your Job Is Not Your Life
Outside of your job, do whatever it takes to get inspired and bring that energy with you to work.
Make friends with other creatives who are driven and motivated. Invite them to classes, events and parties.
Commit to creating a self-initiated project that will keep your skills fresh.
Make time to visit bookstores, museums and coffee shops.
Always carry a camera, even if it’s your iPhone. Pay attention to what you’re drawn to.
Remind yourself that creative slumps are normal. Nobody is “on” all the time.
Being a designer isn’t easy and you’re going to have plenty more ups and downs. But, I think the ups far outweigh anything and you’ve got this under control. Good luck!