I’ve always seen myself as a by-the-book kind of person. I admit to “tsk-ing” at people who do not form a line or that scribble outside the bubble on tests or pull through parking spaces.
Why, you ask? Could be years of Catholic school. Could simply be in my DNA (looking fondly at you, mom). Could also be that I spent most my life planning on becoming a chemical engineer—guided by mathematical formulas and scientific laws.
However, I can look back at my life and career and see some distinct ways in which I’ve tossed that book out the window. I’ve had to make my own paths, none were laid down for me. And, I’ve had to really stretch myself in order to head down those paths.
When I say stretch myself I mean that I wasn’t due for a promotion or role change, but I went ahead and suggested myself for them. And, I could have kept doing what I had always been doing—mildly content in my comfort zone—but I took some fairly abrupt turns along my path in order to grow and find something that made me truly happy.
So, without fully realizing it and without it being a very natural instinct, I had found the benefits of embracing flexibility and scribbling outside the lines.
When I was halfway through college, I realized I didn’t want to be an engineer anymore. I had to make a hard choice, likely disappoint my parents and try something totally new. And, I had no idea if I’d succeed.
I switched to economics and started working in the advertising department of the school paper and that combination became the foundation for my path in advertising. When I graduated I started in account services at a local agency. And, I threw that thermodynamics book as far out the window as possible while speeding down this new path.
A few years later when I realized account services wasn’t quite right for me, I approached the company owner and my creative director with a crazy idea to let me be their studio artist while I went back to school for a degree in design.
Design—I swooned and knew I had finally found my heart’s true desire.
That decision meant I had to start all over—school, career path, life. But, that one decision eventually led me to a promotion, opportunities to travel, and honors and recognition. I learned that if I try something new and even a little scary, something pretty magical could come out of it.
I landed at Punch years later as a designer. When Punch did quite a pivot of its own a couple years ago, I saw an awesome opportunity. I wanted to help ease the transition and also increase my involvement in the company, so I suggested a new position and myself for it. Thankfully, Charlie had faith in me and I became the Creative Department Manager.
I can admit now that this transition may have been even harder than calling my mom to tell her I was not going to be an engineer. I also admit that many times I looked in the mirror and thought, what have I gotten myself into? Someone is going to figure out that I’m terrified and don’t belong here and am a nervous sweater.
Now, several years in, I realize it has been all about adaptation again. Leadership is made up of new boundaries, new relationships, and is completely fluid. So, while I took a big leap, I can look back, see that I conquered those fears, and learned the value of seeking more than a right or wrong answer.
Throwing the book out once again (meaning a tangible printed piece with exact specs and guidelines), Punch moved into the world of web design—a place where there are no page boundaries or trim sizes, no limits on number of inks, and there isn’t even a clear answer on what size to set your images up as. The web is one of those mythical creatures that keeps morphing. Constantly. Really, really fast.
So, while my path up until now has been unusual, I can see that it has all kind of come together to set me up for this latest challenge—guiding a team into the digital realm. I can feel confident about changing landscapes and uncertainty and new relationships. The unique part of this new path, however, is that it is not a personal journey that I’m on. I’m responsible for adapting an entire team, and I get to share the magic that can come out of that flexibility.
Honestly, I’ve been amazed at what we’ve done in a relatively short period of time. Our site designs have drastically changed for the better. And we’re still very much evolving—we’re stepping up with wireframing, designing based on content strategy, and focusing on ideal user experiences.
But, it’s been really hard getting there—involving passionate conversations, breaking old layout habits, embracing uncertainty of devices, accepting that we need to understand code. The design and web teams had totally different ideas and expectations about the web design process, but we are finally starting to talk the same language. And, our process now allows us to engage on a much deeper level with our clients—which is new and exciting, and maybe a little scary too.
So, if you’re on 14th street, look out for books flying right out our windows. As we’re adapting and responding to this new medium, I’m realizing, once again, that the things we’re creating are more magical than ever.