Getting Comfortable with Reinvention in Life and Business
The most common question I’m asked is, “Tell me again, what is it you do, exactly?” My mom still doesn’t really know. And you might be wondering the same thing. I’m a designer, writer, business owner, mom, brand strategist, and digital media consultant. I wear all these hats under a brand called Wit & Delight.
The job of a designer is different than it was 10 years ago. Above is a smattering of work I’ve produced over the past couple years. The lines have been blurred between graphic design, content creator, video editor, copy writer, product designer and art director. These days agencies are in hot pursuit for the elusive “swiss army knife” creative.
Reinvention isn’t new for designers. We all have to face the process of reinvention throughout our careers, and while it’s full of unknowns and what ifs, we’re really, really good at problem-solving. We’re blessed with a design education that uniquely equips us to turn what-ifs into things you can touch, feel and experience.
But what often happens when you spend your career solving hundreds of “what if” problems a year? We forget to turn the lens on ourselves.
Like many of you, my career path is punctuated with a series of roadblocks, or as I like to call them, pivots.
When something doesn’t go your way, or a roadblock presents itself, we have to decide how to keep moving forward. This is where you pivot. In my experience, reinvention— the process of pivoting and taking on a new strategy/career/industry/etc., rarely happens when we’re sitting comfortably.
Here’s my story told in a series of pivots.
Pivot One: Embrace Fear, No Parachutes Included
W&D was born out of fear of losing my job. It was 2008 and the economy had tanked. I worried my job at a small design firm would get cut. It was the push I needed to get my portfolio and blog started. Instead of worrying about the lack of jobs, I thought about ways I could seek out clients through building an online presence. A design education gives you the ability to turn fear into opportunity by seeing solutions where there were roadblocks.
Pivot Two: Bet On Your Own Grit, The 24/7 Job
Once I started Wit & Delight, I spent almost all of my waking hours outside work putting the website together. I had no idea how to code, but I had a very specific vision for how the site would look and operate.
In order to stand out in a sea of design and lifestyle blogs, I decided to present our content in the form of a grid, so readers could easily scan for the pieces they were most interested in.
This was before Pinterest or easy-to-use programs like Squarespace had come along, so I had to find some raw code close to what I wanted and hack it together myself.
I had no coding experience and had literally no idea what I was doing.
I crashed the site almost every week, with most of my design decisions being based on what very little control I had over spacing, kerning, borders, etc. I put hundreds of hours into it, for a few months before I got it in a place that was presentable. It was far, far, FAR from perfect.
Pivot Three: Ignore Everyone, Even Your Own Critics
There was a pivotal moment when I shared my website with my co-workers. Almost every person I talked to told me it was a bad idea to entertain leaving the design community and then promptly critiqued the “very confusing and unintuitive” layout of my site. Thankfully I had two wonderful bosses who believed in me and have supported my endeavors, regardless if they “got it” or not.
Don’t underestimate your ability to see things that no one else can, it allows you to come up with a solution with what’s in front of you.
Taking a different path means meeting some resistance. What I’ve learned is criticism that doesn’t offer constructive feedback is often more about the critic’s fears and insecurities and less about what you’re doing. It’s helpful to look for the difference, and even more important to find people who will give you honest feedback.
Pivot Four: Let Go
Sometimes reinvention means letting go of a path or plan.
When Wit & Delight took off, I was exhausted and disheartened by social media in general. I didn’t feel excited about what we were making and felt disconnected to the content. I took this opportunity to think about what I had to offer our readers. I had just spent 12 months working on my inner battles with perfectionism and balance, and I thought it was a great time to show more of the process, more of the person, and more of the thought that went into each image I put out into the world.
The results blew my mind. Not only was our readership up 200%, we were actually helping people work through problems and had an entirely new content model on our hands.
Now, I’m turning towards the next phase of Wit & Delight– our own product and e-commerce shop. It’s been hard. Countless hours of designing, getting back to my branding roots, and of course– second guessing myself the entire time. I believe we’re still in the process of pivoting, but here’s just a little taste of what’s to come in the next couple months:
Everyone reading this post will reinvent themselves multiple times over a career.
Mine was Wit & Delight.
It was born out of fear, made from grit, strengthened by critics, and sustained with a bit of magic.
Every phase of reinvention got me here: 3.1 million followers, billing ~100 projects a year, 4 team members, 8 paid contributors, 5 product lines in development, and a new 6,000 square foot studio.
And it all started with one little pivot.