Make Out Like a Bandit

If you are anything like me, you are a professional juggler. No, we don’t juggle bowling pins or anything like that (or do you? Hey, that’s pretty rad!). I’m talking about the work that we juggle daily. In my case, I’m a full-time designer, a half-time graduate student, a sometimes author and conference speaker, and an all-the-time social networker. Only two of these “positions” have actually put any money in my pocket (and, well, the second one takes a lot of money out). Still, this is all part of the work that I do. Your work situation is probably similar. We are workaholics.

So if we work so much in our daily lives, shouldn’t we be making out like bandits? Umm, honestly, I’m not hitting on you, silly. I’m talking about our success. We work and work and work. Shouldn’t we be filthy, stinking rich? Well… okay, that’s not quite what I mean either. I’m not necessarily talking about money (though that could potentially be a part of it). I’m talking about success — as in feeling a true sense of accomplishment and feeling happy about what we do and why we do it.

It’s important to feel accomplished and a general happiness in our work. To make out like a bandit (or have an incredible amount of success), you can either get lucky or work hard for it. And if you’re going to work hard for it, you might as well make it all meaningful and worthwhile. This is what I strive for in my own work and my life, and the following points I’m sharing with you are the steps I am taking to work toward this.

I know the price of success: dedication, hard work & an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen. — Frank Lloyd Wright

Learn. Participate. Do.

The best way to get good at something is to keep doing whatever it is you’re doing that you want to be good at. For example, a sushi-enthusiast might take a sushi-making class because she wants to learn to make sushi for herself. It totally makes sense while the teacher demonstrates all the procedures, materials, and methods needed to make good, beautiful sushi. Later, the student goes home and tries to make sushi on her own, she gets totally confused and lost. Okay, I’m not even going to hide it, I’m talking about myself (this happened to me). As much as I love sushi, I couldn’t even begin to make good sushi because I’ve never really practiced.

Take advantage of learning opportunities where possible. Whether you’re learning CSS, Actionscript, or visual design, the best way to grasp how to do things is to participate, practice, do. Apply what you learn in your work. Participation is so vital to your success. If you have problems, let people know, and ask. But definitely practice on your own. And as cliché as it may sound, believe in yourself because if you don’t think you can do it, no one else will think you can either.

Maintain momentum

With whatever it is you’re doing, if you find yourself “on a roll”, you should take advantage of that momentum and keep moving. Sure, you’ll definitely want to take breaks here or there, but remember that momentum can be very difficult to obtain again once you’ve lost it. Get it done!

Deal with people

Whether you love or hate people, the fact is, you gotta deal with them — even the difficult ones. If you’re in a management position, then you know pretty well that most people don’t like being told what to do (even if that’s their job). Find ways to get people excited about what they’re doing. Make people feel that they (and what they do) are needed — people respond better if they’re valued, not commanded. Even if you’re not in a management position, this still applies to the way you work with your coworkers, clients, vendors, etc.

Resolve any conflicts right away. Conflicts will inevitably happen. Move on to how you can improve the situation, and do it as quickly as possible. Don’t spend too much time focusing on whose screw up it is — nobody feels good in this situation. Also, try to keep people informed on whatever it is you need or what it is you’re doing. If you’re waiting on something from someone, and it’s been a while, don’t be afraid to say something (tactfully). Sometimes people are forgetful — or just slacking. Hey, it happens!

Help yourself by helping others

What are some of the small, simple things you can do when you’re working that will help the people you work with (and in most cases, will end up helping yourself)? For example: if you’re a designer, perhaps taking a couple minutes now to organize and name your Photoshop layers will end up saving time later (since it will be easier to find things). This is going to help both you and your team. Or, developers: taking some time to write some documentation (even if it’s as simple as a comment in the code, or a well-written commit message) could potentially save valuable time for both you and your team later. Maybe you have to take a little time to sit down with a coworker and explain why something works the way it does. This helps them out tremendously — and will most likely lead to them respecting you a little more. This is a benefit.

If you make little things like this a habit, people will notice. People will enjoy working with you. People will trust you and rely on you. Sure, it might seem beneficial at any given moment to be “in it for yourself” (and therefore only helping yourself), but that won’t last very long. Helping others (whether it be a small or large feat) will cause a positive impact in the long run — and that is what will be more valuable to you and your career.

Do work that is meaningful

One of the best ways to feel successful about what you do is to feel good and happy about it. And a great way to feel good and happy about what you’re doing is to actually do good. This could be purpose-driven work that focuses on sustainability and environmentalism, or work that helps support causes and charity. Perhaps the work simply inspires people. Or maybe the work is just something you are very passionate about. Whatever the work may be, try working on projects that are meaningful to you. You’ll do well simply by being more motivated and interested. And it’s a double-win if the project is meaningful to others as well.

I feel very fortunate to work at a place like Crush + Lovely, where we have found quite frequently that the projects that inspire people, focus on global and social good, and create some sort of positive impact are the very projects that bring us more paid projects. But more importantly, we are happy and excited to do it. You might not work at a company that takes on those types of projects. But perhaps you have your own personal endeavors that create this excitement for you. Elliot Jay Stocks wrote about having pet projects. Do you take on side projects? What are those projects?

Over the last couple years, I’ve seen some really fantastic side projects come out that are great examples of meaningful work. These projects reflect the passions and goals of the respective designers and developers involved, and therefore become quite successful (because the people involved simply love what they are doing while they’re doing it). Some of these projects include:

  • Typedia is a shared encyclopedia of typefaces which serves as a resource to classify, categorize, and connect typefaces. It was founded by Jason Santa Maria, a graphic designer with a love and passion for typography. He created it as a solution to a problem he faced as a designer: finding the right typeface.
  • Huffduffer was created by Jeremy Keith, a web developer who wanted to create a podcast of inspirational talks — but after he found that this could be tedious, he decided to create a tool to automate this.
  • Level & Tap was created by passionate photographer and web developer, Tom Watson. It began as a photography print store for Tom’s best personal photography. Over time, more photographers were added to the site and the site has grown to become quite a great collection of beautiful photography.
  • Heat Eat Review is a review blog created by information architect and user experience designer, Abi Jones. As a foodie, she is able to use this passion for this blog, as it focuses on reviewing TV Dinners, Frozen Meals, and Microwavable Foods.
  • Art in My Coffee, a favorite personal project of my own, is a photo blog of coffee art I created, after I found that my friends and I were frequently posting coffee art photos to Flickr, Twitter, and other websites. After the blog became more popular, I teamed up with Meagan Fisher on the project, who has just as much a passion for coffee art, if not more.

So, what’s important to you?

This is the very, very important question here. What really matters to you most? Beyond just working on meaningful projects you are passionate about, is the work you’re doing the right work for you, so that you can live a good lifestyle? Scott Boms wrote an excellent article, Burnout, in which he shares his own experience in battling stress and exhaustion, and what he learned from it. You should definitely read the article in its entirety, but a couple of his points that are particularly excellent are:

  • Make time for numero uno, in which you make time for the things in life that make you happy
  • Examine your values, goals, and measures of success, in which you work toward the things you are passionate about, your own personal development, and focusing on the things that matter.

A solid work-life balance can be a challenging struggle to obtain. Of course, you can cheat this by finding ways to combine the things you love with the things you do (so then it doesn’t even feel like you’re working — oh, you sneaky little bandit!). However, there are other factors to consider beyond your general love for the work you’re doing. Take proper care of yourself physically, mentally, and socially.

So, are you making out like a bandit?

Do you feel accomplished and generally happy with your work? If not, perhaps that is something to focus on for the next year. Consider your work (both in your job as well as any side projects you may take on) and how it benefits you — present and future. Take any steps necessary to get you to where you need to be. If you are miserable, fix it!

Finally, it’s important to be thankful for the things that matter to you and make you happy. Pass it along everyday. Thank people. It’s a simple thing, really. Saying “thank you” can and will have enormous impact on the people around you. Oh. And, I apologize if the title of this article led you to thinking it would teach you how to be an amazing kisser. That’s a different article entirely for 24 ways to impress your friends!

About the author

Jina Bolton is a Senior Product Designer at Salesforce UX, where she helps design and develop systems for enterprise software. She also loves Sass; she leads Team Sass Design, an open source task force that redesigned the Sass brand and website. Jina also organizes the San Francisco Sass Meet Up, The Mixin. She coauthored two books, Fancy Form Design and The Art & Science of CSS. Previously, she has worked with rad companies including Apple, Engine Yard, and Crush + Lovely.

Photo: Nick Howland

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