Take a Look in the Rearview…

…there might be a lot to learn from it.

I might not have it all figured out, but I can at least stop wondering how I should be putting my talents to use every day. When I got to thinking about why I do what I do and why I stumbled so much with moving forward, it took me looking back 2, 5, 10 even 20 years, to come to my conclusion. It was there all along, I just didn’t see it.

I don’t love designing. I just like it. And simply liking something is not enough to put you on a fulfilling path forward.

What I do love is people, and the power they hold within, to make dreams a reality. This seemingly simple observation completely changed my trajectory.

I missed quite a few signs along the way. To start with, I’ve never entered a design or art competition other than the yearly Halloween coloring contest at the local drug store when I was 8. It wasn’t because I was scared of losing, I just didn’t care about getting the spotlight. I didn’t care about a confidence boost or establishing “credibility” because designing was never about me. It was about my clients and providing them with what they needed to succeed at whatever they may be doing. That is why I did it.

Another clue might have been that I received How and Communication Arts magazines for nearly a decade and most of them are still in pristine condition. I might flip through them here and there, but for some reason, they didn’t make me feel good, and I didn’t have a clue why. Maybe it was because I found they distracted me from what I felt was most important – doing the right thing for my clients, not what was best for me. I just didn’t care about that. My loyalty was and still is, with the needs of those I help.

I also could have taken a hint from my near panic attack in New York City while visiting a few high profile design firms with my Portfolio Center class. The stress level was palpable. That environment might be for some, but it was definitely not for me. I’ve heard that means “you can’t stand the pressure” or “you don’t have what it takes,” but I call bs on that. I call it “I don’t want to turn gray before I’m 30.”

A few other signs might have been my near depression working a 9-5 design job (because of the lifestyle, not the company), my love for freelance when I left, and my lackluster desire to ever work for someone again. But the biggest sign of all was thinking back about what I love most about what I do. The first things that came to mind were company photoshoots where the leaders and employees are together smiling, enjoying a day out of the norm, and having fun. Or feeling the excitement in the room when a client decides to step outside the box and embrace a new name packed full of meaning. Or when I get a heartfelt message expressing how spot-on and moving they find their new verbal brand that in their words, makes them want to be better. These moments keep me coming back every day and jumping out of bed to get here.

It’s always been about people for me. I just didn’t know it. Now I use branding, which I love even more now than I did before, to help others find more meaning in their professional endeavors. It took YEARS of agonizing and self-reflection to come to my conclusion, and I hope that through Tōdem, we can speed that process up for others. It just takes a little self-reflection and a look toward the inside and not “out there.”

So take a look in the rearview. The answer might be staring you in the face.

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