Exactly one year ago today, I left my job to pursue independent consulting full-time. I took a big leap of faith. I had faith in myself that things would work out. I had faith that even with the odds stacked against me, I could pull it off.
I stepped out on my own because I knew that I wanted a different lifestyle; in my heart I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to fulfill my true calling while working for someone else in a traditional corporate environment.
It was entirely possible that I would fall flat on my face. I had saved up about three months of expenses and had a decent pipeline of work, but it was at a time when we were staring at the beginning of the worst recession our country has seen in more than half a century. I told myself that if I couldn’t find user experience work, I’d just go get a part-time job at Barnes & Noble and do whatever it takes to make ends meet. Total failure just wasn’t an option.
Less than four years out of college, some people might have said that I lacked the experience necessary to be a successful business person, that I still needed to work within a larger team in order to continue my growth as a practitioner, to have direct supervision and built-in resources, that I’m just too “junior” and wet behind the ears. In fact, they did say it. I still have detractors. Some of them tell it to my face, and others hide behind pseudonyms and anonymity. What I don’t think they realize is that they give me even greater confidence to trust my instincts.
The past year has been a roller coaster, but throughout it all one thing has remained clear: I am meant to be doing this.
Quitting my job — a steady paycheck, amazing benefits, a hefty semi-annual bonus, an annual $2,500 “professional development” budget, mentorship from a manager and peer designers, access to a wealth of resources, and fascinating design challenges — was far and away the best decision I have ever made.
My life couldn’t be more different than it was a year ago today: My schedule is a war of attrition. No two days are alike. I’m in constant selling mode just trying to keep my pipeline full. At any given time 15 things are dividing my attention. I’m almost fully booked for three weeks out, but I couldn’t tell you for certain where I’ll be in three months. My expense report would scare small children, and my timesheets would knock them dead. I chase down money like a mobster. I clock more miles around New York City than a traveling salesmen, and yet I probably spend more time at home than anyone else in my building. I don’t have a boss and yet I have more people to answer to than ever before. I’m constantly doubting myself and constantly reassuring myself and constantly thinking I’m insane and brilliant and insane. I feel like a shark that will sink if it stops swimming. Manic doesn’t even begin to describe my state of mind.
And yet despite it all, the craziness and insecurity and instability and vulnerability and doubt and total disarray, I am unequivocally the happiest and most at peace I have ever been in my entire life.
Looking back at what I wanted then, I’m amazed at how much of it has come true in such a short period of time. I wrote:
I don’t want one or two clients. I want 50! I want to be involved in as many domains and as many product types as possible. I want to design for the web, for the desktop, for mobile devices, for household gadgets, for kiosks and touchscreens and interactive billboards. And I want to have ownership over my designs, involvement in the strategic process, collaboration with the most influential stakeholders and the guys on the production line.
In the past year I have worked with 17 clients, in finance, healthcare, entertainment, media, marketing, publishing, education, and non-profit spheres. It’s a staggering amount of work that I’m only now looking back on as a whole. I’ve worked with Fortune 500 corporations, well-known agencies and little-known startups, conducted intense research projects and scrappy usability tests, set new strategies for companies and developed their first-ever products or revamped existing ones that were in much need of some love. And most importantly to me, I’ve positively impacted tens of thousands of users’ lives.
None of this would have been possible if I were still sitting behind the same desk, just a cog in the wheel, doing the same old routine.
Reading the end of my August 22, 2008 post, I’m actually moved to tears.
I know it’s going to be amazingly difficult. I know I’m going to have periods of self-doubt and insecurity. I know that some months it might even be a struggle to pay the rent. But in the end, I’ll have no one to blame but myself, and no one to thank but myself. Independence will bring strength, greater influence, greater competency, and most of all, pride.
I’m young and I have a lot to learn, about the world and about myself. But failure simply doesn’t exist. Every mistake I make along the way will be a lesson. And every disappointment will be an exercise in humility and courage. Failure is doing nothing when your heart is telling you exactly what you want.
So I’m doing it. I’m cutting the cord, and I’m ecstatic for what’s to come. More of the same will get you nowhere. So here’s my message to the universe: shock and amaze me. Make every day different. Create hurdles and boundaries. I’ll never give up on myself, and you’ll help me prove it.
I’ve done myself proud and I’m not too shy to admit it. Mostly because I know in my heart that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. I still have so much to learn, about my profession and myself, that I’m humbled by how far I have to go. But I’m going there. I’m always going there. And I know I’ll never get there, but I’ll never stop trying. That is what my life has become. No more plateaus. No more easy comforts. It’s a constant climb. My mind aches and my body aches and I can hardly see the rocky, steep path above me, but I know it’s there, and I know my legs are strong enough to carry me no matter what terrain lies ahead.
I strongly encourage you to find your mountain and never stop climbing it. Life has never felt so grand, and my biggest wish is for you to feel it, too.
May the next year be more challenging, more rewarding, more frenetic, more strategic, more delightful, more frightful, more impactful, more extraordinary than ever.
All I want less of is fear.
Thank you for being here through it all.