I have only been a designer for 19 years. When I think about the total number of years, it strikes me as a long time to do just one thing. When I consider the fact that I've worked at 10 different places over those 19 years, it doesn't seem like long at all. That breaks down to less than 2 years a tour.
It would be fair to conclude that I’m not one to stay put for very long, and although the evidence is there to prove that hypothesis, I can tell you that changing jobs has never been easy.
There are some positive aspects that come from changing jobs, including the wide variety of experience that come with the so much churn. There are also a slew of learning opportunities that come along with so much change. Here are 10, of the 100s that I’ve picked up along the way.
1. RBC Ministries (Our Daily Bread) - 1998
My first boss invested into me in a way that no other boss has since. Despite the fact that he had poured so much value into my life, his hands were tied when it came to giving me an opportunity to advance. The turnover was so low that there was literally no where on his team that I could go to advance my career.
As I look back, I can see how that experience has filtered the way in which I see my work. As a result, I’ve been acutely aware of the glass ceilings within an organization—and that experience taught me early on that there is often only one way through that ceiling, and that is to find a different one altogether.
When you work for someone else, they control the glass ceiling.
2. Cornerstone University - 2000
Excellence and hard work don’t guarantee anything, but if you leave it all on the field, you won’t leave with any regrets.
3. The University of Tampa - 2003
The University of Tampa was a great place to work. I didn’t make much money at all, but the people were great and I felt like I was a part of something important. Culturally it was a good fit, and I took that for granted.
I fell in love with academia while at UT. The combination of heritage, student energy, faculty and staff commitment to growth, and the consistent pursuit of excellence resonates with me. Looking back, I didn’t (and maybe still don’t) have a good way of quantifying that in a working tour. It’s worth more than I thought it was.
There is more to a tour than a paycheck.
4. The Crossing Church - 2005
There are some lessons that I’m just slow to learn. Combine charisma with meaningful work and I’m like a lemming ready to march off a cliff! I genuinely want to see the best in people, and sometimes that clouds my ability to spot danger.
Charisma is dangerous—a lesson I’ve had to learn more than once.
5. GSL Solutions - 2006
I had watched the DOTCOM rise and fall from inside the walls of corporate America and felt like I had missed something special about the rise of the Web. GSL Solutions made up for that with regular foosball tournaments, movie outings and epic “GSL Days” that drove home the value of working hard and playing hard.
We were a small close knit team, scrappy, fun and hard working. That combination built a camaraderie and respect for one another that’s hard to replicate.
Fun is a critical component to high performing teams.
6. Zondervan (HarperCollins) - 2009
I joined a book publisher at the beginning of the great recession. Seriously? Publishing?
The publishing industry was, and still is, in the midst of extraordinary change, and as a result, a lot of leadership and strategy churn. That amount of churn doesn’t always bring out the best in people. Self included.
I felt the burden of a hemorrhaging industry, and I poured myself into being a part of the solution. Despite the noise, churn and chaos, I sometimes wonder if I’d ever be capable of producing the level quality I did then.
Channel the pressure of chaos into your work, and let your work speak for itself.
7. Atomic Object - 2011
Atomic Object has a well deserved reputation for being technological superstars. I have a hard time imagining any other firm being more technically competent than AO—on par, yes, but better? Hardly.
For the first time in my career, I was surrounded by 30+ other makers that cared about the discipline of making software the same way that I did. Being surrounded by that kind of talent drove me to work and think harder about my craft than ever before.
If you want to level up, get on a next-level team.
8. Agathon Group - 2014
Agathon Group is something special. Not only was the work rewarding, challenging and interesting, the team and clients were/are fantastic. When I think about the transition and leaving an organization, leaving AG was the toughest by far. I cried my eyes out on the last day. Seriously.
So why did I leave? Honestly, the fear of not mattering—not mattering to my team, my peers, my discipline. Sounds foolish, I know.
See, AG was the first time I had ever worked 100% remote. It was my 8th design job, and I was used to a 3-6 month assimilation window. Working remote takes longer, and honestly, I didn’t give it long enough. Working remote is a learning curve in it’s own right, and I hadn’t given myself long enough to figure that aspect out.
If you want something to work, speak up, hold on, and give it a chance to blossom.
9. Designvox - 2015
Designvox was the first design agency I’ve ever worked at, and although they were the shortest tour, I learned a great deal about creativity while serving with that team. This was the first place that I had ever worked that put a premium on design, above all else. There was a respect for the uncontrollable nature of creativity there that I had never been exposed to. Magic.
If you want the magic of design, you can’t confine it to a box.
10. Gordon Food Service - 2016
Until Gordon Food Service I had spent nearly half of my professional life as a consultant, working directly with decision makers, from CEO’s, startup founders, policy makers and every position in between, all while building and broadening a skill set to meet the high demands of consultancies. All that, really means jack when you work in a large company. You fill a position with clearly defined boundaries, fitting neatly in an org chart.
The truth of the matter is, it’s been incredibly humbling—which is exactly what I needed.
I’ll admit it, I had begun watering seeds of entitlement as successes piled up. The fruit of entitlement is ugly.
These have been tough lessons to learn, some of which I seem to learn over and over again. The truth of the matter is, I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, and they’ve each taught me something, and maybe there is something in this list that you can learn from as well.