I have a confession: I’m a graphic designer, and graphic design scares me. In fact, I used to hate it.
I was first introduced to Adobe when I joined my high school’s newspaper during my sophomore year. Because it was at the midpoint of the year, I was the only one in need of training. My 15-year-old brain, of course, interpreted this to mean that I was the only one in all of room 122G without a clue of how to use InDesign or Photoshop.
I didn’t even want to be learning those “dumb programs.” I joined the paper because I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and be a writer, and I didn’t understand why each member of our small staff had to design their own spread on top of our articles and photos. Nothing about InDesign made sense to me, and I refused to ask questions in fear of everyone seeing how clueless I truly was. Why did papers have to be pretty, anyway?
Despite my white-hot hatred for design, I stuck it out and became the copy editor and editor-in-chief of the paper in the following years. It would be an overstatement to say that designing grew on me (I still put designing my spreads off until the last possible second each month), but slowly, I improved.
In my last month of high school, I decided to throw myself into my final issue. At the time, I would have never admitted that I enjoyed it, but I took a great deal of pride in that double page spread. I had proven that I could sufficiently use the pen and type tools, and I was fully ready to head to college and never think about either of them ever again.
A year later, I was finishing up my first year of college with no idea what I wanted to do. My favorite part of the day was going to my job at the UMD Office of Sustainability. When I was asked to help with some promotional graphics for the office, I was surprised to find that jumping back into design was like “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”: It inevitably seemed to fit me. I was revisiting a practice that I’d always thought I hated, and it felt comfortable. It felt right.
I realized that when I had first started to learn design all those years ago, it wasn’t the designing that I hated. I hated the learning piece of it, the helpless feeling I got from realizing that something wasn’t coming naturally to me and that I would have to work to be good at it. I spent much of my adolescence focusing on what came easily to me, so by the time I reached high school I had built a safe bubble of activities that allowed me to stay snuggly within my comfort zone.
It never occurred to me that being a natural at something and loving it weren’t synonymous. Maybe, just maybe, the challenge could be part of the fun. I could love doing something that I will have to continue learning about for my entire career.
One of Flint’s values is “love what you do.” It can be challenging to find a space for loving what you do in the workplace. It can be more difficult to determine what that even means to you. If someone had told me I’d love graphic design, I would have laughed. Design can still be incredibly frustrating, but what can I say? I love it.
My love for what I do certainly wasn’t at first sight. It wasn’t an instantaneous connection; nothing immediately clicked. However, through late nights staring at a computer screen, many different eyeglass prescriptions, irritation and elation, I fell in love with design.
There’s still a lot that I don’t know. In fact, the only thing that I do know is that I have no idea how much I don’t know. But now I recognize that I thrive not on running from challenges, but toward them.
Maybe the key to loving what you do isn’t in knowing everything about it, but in waking up every day ready to learn more and become better.