If you’ve read this blog over the years, you probably roll your eyes every other post. For someone who is doing so “well” in her life I sure am dramatic and whiny. I guess right now I feel as if I’m on a precipice between this life I created for myself and the life that would actually make me happy. The gap is so wide because it was safer to do what was easiest, and to me that was using my creativity to be really good a small aspect of my current role so that enough people were convinced that I was good at the rest of it.
The problem is the majority of my career is about being a machine. Some people thrive on being a machine and being really good at it. That’s not what I do. I’m the anti-machine. I’m not super creative but I look at improving things based on qualitative evidence more than data. That doesn’t fly in Silicon Valley despite the admiration for people like Steve Jobs. It takes a mind that thinks different to revolutionize and drastically improve an industry or product and yet that’s not what people want. If you want to think different you have to not be afraid of doing your own thing. You have to not chase after money or stability but instead, at least at first, just create and if you do it well enough, maybe the rest will come.
I still find it absolutely hilarious that I work in technology. In fact, I work with some very brilliant people but I’ve learned that brilliance doesn’t always relate to understanding of user experience. The problem with technology in general, at least in the part of the industry I’m in, is that everyone is rewarded for pushing new code and fast agile releases, and there’s this overall acceptance of being able to fix things later because everything is always changing and improving. That’s all fine and dandy except what often gets lost (as a whole, based on what I’ve seen across the industry) is that the user experience elements get botched or served as an afterthought. Engineers look at data to prove what they did works, which is great and all as data does have value in proof, but it becomes impossible to try to make improvements that are obvious at a qualitative level as those improvements would take a while to be supported by data, after the fact of a major update (because minor tweaks aren’t what I’m talking about here.)
Design is becoming more respected in Silicon Valley and tech then it was years ago, that’s for sure, but it’s still something that many engineers think is a nice-to-have. If only a company could together work towards the greatest user experience for the particular problem they are solving, and for that to be core to the mission statement of the company, one led by an individual who can somehow ensure design is central to all the hiring and work done without being completely micromanagey like a Jobs, then maybe – maybe – I’d be happy working for that company. I don’t really care if I personally have the final say in design, I just want to work for a company that believes design and usability is actually more important than features for many products. Features are always going to be important in a competitive environment, but if your product is hard to use, or doesn’t provide a sense of delight (ease of use can be delightful), it loses its power and becomes yet another application that is difficult to use.
That’s why I’m really stuck on this — go to grad school for HCI / UX — idea. I’m terrified of it not because of the money I’d lose in my years out of work or paying for an expensive degree, but more because I don’t know how many companies out there are willing to truly listen to UX, especially when it comes to software design. Additionally, with visual design and UX separate, along with the separation of UX writing, it seems like everything ends up a bit disjointed. It’s better in consumer technology companies for sure, but there’s still a gap. For me, I get bothered when user flow through a product doesn’t make sense. I see patterns and want to fix things. I want to go to school so I can have methods in which to determine solutions that will be respected by others instead of just guessing.
What’s more, I never specifically wanted to do marketing. It just happened. And I guess I’m ok at it enough (or my writing gets me by) in that now if I can pull myself together I can make this my real career. I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life in marketing. Even if for a few years I find a company that is so design focused that I believe in their product entirely, I’ll spend my time wishing I could work for all the other technology companies out there who are off the mark and fixing their user experience.
Then I wonder, do I really want to do UX, or why not take the full leap and do something extremely creative? Why stop there? Why not be a photographer or painter? Why not run off to some random town in the middle of nowhere and be a reclusive writer?
Well, I still want to make money. UX designers may not make as much as marketing executives but it’s possible over the years I could get close. It is a challenge knowing that as the primary breadwinner any choice I make will have a significant impact on my life and my potential future children’s life. I grew up in a household where my dad, the actuary, made enough money to pay for our upper middle class life in the suburbs. We had a very nice house (though my mom would complain it wasn’t big enough) with a huge backyard and a pool club. I just never realized how hard it would be to get back to that. I never realized how good we had it because my mom would always complain and talk about how jealous she was of people who lived in the nearby town which was much more ritzy. But for all intents and purposes my life, at least on paper, was really lovely.
Now that I’m in my 30s I’m thinking, oh fuck, the rest of my life is here, and what am I doing with it? I know I don’t want to stay in marketing but I also want to be, for the short term, successful in my role. For starters, I don’t want to let my company down, as whatever I can do to help is going to be significant. If I can’t do enough no matter whether I like it or not I’ll be out and someone else will be in. It’s up to me to really make a difference, which I can, for the short term.
For the long term it’s now time to get serious — really serious — about what is next. After doing that collage in art therapy the other day, which I kind of rolled my eyes at myself as a waste of a $130 therapy session, I was actually reminded about how much I love to be creative and passionate and, well, visual. I may never be Picasso but there is something to my ability to create visual compositions with color and shapes. I hate calling it a “gift” but not everyone is able to understand how to create harmonic visuals that flow and tell a story. If that is my gift then why the hell am I in marketing?
On Facebook I see random people who I grew up with doing really exciting things with their lives. One acquaintance shoots boudoir photography of women in a high-end studio. I have no idea what sort of annual salary she makes but I can imagine that would be extremely fun and creative. It’s not work that would ever change the world but she can make people happy for a short time, be creative and in charge of the creative result.
I’m stuck between this part of me that wants to do something significant in my life — an office job just doesn’t cut it — nor does taking photos of brides every Saturday and Sunday to afford my own life. I feel like I want something bigger. I want to be part of making products that are used by people all over the world. And I want to make that user experience so good that they never once think about how to do something. It’s all intuitive. And on top of that the design is sharp and well-branded and all works together with the copy. I think, with some training, that’s what I’d do well.
Additionally, I don’t want to work at an office full time. I think in the long-term I want to be a freelancer. I don’t mind working random hours or weekends, in fact that’s when I get my best work done, but in exchange for that I want the freedom to go to yoga class in the middle of the weekday or sit outside at a coffee shop in the sun to get work done. I want freedom and the opportunity to make good money. Maybe that’s too much to ask. But plenty of people do it. I’m scared of that lifestyle. As a marketer/writer I wouldn’t be able to maintain it. I wouldn’t be able to inspire myself enough to get up and write long reports for businesses or manage this process on my own without the regular job. But if my job was creating UX designs and wireframes for a business, then maybe I would. Or, if my job was traveling the world to shoot fashion spreads then, well, I’d surely be inspired.
I just need change. Constant change. Projects that have a beginning and end. Marketing is anything but. Some people love that stability. This quarter you need so many leads. You figure out how to get them and you get them and even if everything else goes to shit as long as your sales team can close a percentage of those deals you’re golden. People will respect you. That is all your life is. Just getting people to know about your company/product and getting them to contact you. It’s not easy either, which is why the job pays well. It is stressful and challenging as you do not have control over the product quality itself all you can do is package it up nicely and influence how others think of it before they actually buy it.
It’s an important job in business for sure. Is it the job I want the rest of my life? I really don’t think so. I want to be amazing at it for 2 years or so. Maybe if my company does well longer than that. But my next job is not going to be in marketing. I can’t handle another 30+ years of this, no matter how well it pays. And I didn’t even discuss the bullshit politics and networking requirements of marketers which make me doubly sure to find another track.
I’m just not sure how to make the transition. Do I just accept that my networth of $250k will drop to $150k or even less and do the whole full scale grad school thing in order to obtain a lower-level job that will pay way less than what I’m making now? What other routes are realistic and healthier ways to approach a transition? Yes, I could take classes in the evening or online but truth-be-told I am exhausted after work and don’t have the stamina to do this outside of a job that to do well I should be working 60+ hours per week.
So, I must figure out what to do next.