I can’t be alone in finding myself in a dull, mundane, corporate stooge job. It’s that kind of job where you realise that your skills, knowledge and training count for nothing (as no one actually understands or cares for your field of expertise).
It didn’t start out that way. You likely had masses of ambition, ideas and enthusiasm when you started, but in a series of corporate twists and personnel shifts, you have ended up at a dead-end without any influence on the things you actually know about.
If you are particularly unlucky, you will find your skills and knowledge rubbed in your face daily by corporate ladder climbers and bull merchants (who usually know little beyond how to have an opinion). They will subtly enlarge their area of influence and make damn sure they are the only ones involved in future decision making.
If they annexe your creative area, you’ll find your communication wires are cut, leaving you powerless at the coal face (with an eternity of poorly thought through “shit-work” tasks to keep you busy).
Fear and Loathing
Obviously, the first thing to do is head for that exit door as fast as your shoes can move…
But we are talking about the post financial crisis, double-triple-dipping, jobless hell that is modern Britain. So you have to be an awful lot braver than I am to put yourself out there alongside a few million other job-seekers to fight over a handful of jobs and risk doing workfare for £1.88 an hour.
So what do you do to stop yourself dwindling to a gibbering, creative mush?
Back in the day
When I was first entering the job market of the 90’s, skills and knowledge TERRIFIED me. (even after 4 years of College).You didn’t have any skills and you couldn’t possibly learn them quickly enough… so you were DOOMED!
Back then, it looked to me like skills and knowledge were set in stone once you got them. There were all these legacy industries and workflows in all sorts of areas of print, design, computing, whatever… And all the jobs seemed to be full of people who had somehow gained these skills by magic and would go on to use the same skills forever.
I desperately blagged some role involving AutoCAD and Illustrator and jumped in… while trying to work out what design was in a unfolding digital age.
As my design time went on, things did change. CD-Roms, DVDs, the web and even flash brought opportunities… but it should have been more obvious to me that many of these technologies were really only tweaks to the same old skill set. It was print with a coating of Web 1.0 type badness. Or it was just Web 1.0 badness – where everything was a nightmare excel table with flashing gifs and page counters.
It is only know that I think the design and layout of the web and mobile has become something we can actually be proud of. Things are less hindered by technology and display constraints. The end result is more of a true representation of the actual design and coding ideas. Suddenly, design or writing is about design and writing again! And all those dull old tools can be used in exciting ways to create things you care about.
And therein lies the secret.
More questions and answers
The answer lies in challenging yourself as much as you possibly can with projects (both within the stooge job and beyond) and adapting and extending your old skills (that you thought you didn’t need or have time to use).
I set about adding sub-tasks to any project so it involved different programs (I wanted to test how they can be used together to create new and exciting work flows – just for the thrill of it!). I started to use the hell out of smart objects and other features in my old familiar tools (features that my corporate job never required for its run-of-the-mill doings). Because of my “otherness”, nobody would even understand the workflow tweaks if I told them… They didn’t even know what I used, or how I used it – opportunity!
My goal was this… Get ahead of the game by making all my assets scalable vectors. Try out new things on the web. Learn some CSS and then build and customise some test sites.
Suddenly, all sorts of things seemed possible.
And you know what. It almost seemed like fun again! I realised that the modern world of design, web and mobile is really a wonderful mix of stuff you know and stuff you can discover. You can develop new skills and services on top of your old programs that make you feel like you are back at the cusp of what’s happening in your field.
It doesn’t make up for your corporate stooge existence, (and you will still die a little inside when you overhear design misrepresentation and bull…) But if no one knows what or how you do things, why not try stuff out when you can? And when you get home, you can do anything! Even, eventually, escape from corporate stooge-dom.