Don’t brace for the future. Embrace it

For the month of September, check out the amazing course A Brand Called You by Debbie Millman, absolutely free with your AIGA membership! Naomi Silas, one of our AIGA WM members, recently took the courses and wanted to share her story and takeaways from the course. Click here to learn more about the course!

I heard that AIGA was offering a free course by Debbie Millman, A Brand Called You. My first thought was, “cool.” At the time, I thought it would be helpful, I was in the middle of something I’d like to refer as “Figuring Me Out.” Up until May 2017, my almost ten-year career as a Graphic Designer had been mostly reactive. Reactive to my personal life, reactive to my surroundings, and reactive to just survive and “get by.” I had always redone my resume and portfolio as a result of a direct reaction of a contract ending, or deciding to relocate – but it had all been done hastily and definitely not strategically or at all with a plan. I like so many others, had been just trying to find “work” or a “job.” I had often settled for a contract position, or lesser pay, or not great benefits, just to pay the rent and put food on the table.

I was coming off my last contract, with a month’s notice. I don’t know what exactly led me to the decision to approach “this time” differently, but I know I needed to. With that’s month notice, I didn’t frantically search for a job, I didn’t rushingly update my portfolio and resume… I just continued to work at my job, and I wrapped up all the projects I had on my list that needed to get done. I felt like I ended on a high note and with a sense of accomplishment and closure. I didn’t have the frantic revolving door effect that I was usually dealing with at the end of a job. Most of my positions have been contract, so I never really had a say when they ended.

I went into this time of transition thinking that I would be freelancing. Freelancing had always been my side hustle; when I needed some extra cash or wanted stretch my creative muscles. Freelancing full-time is hard and I never even scratched the surface. It takes a lot of time and effort, as most freelancers will tell you. I just didn’t know where to start, with anything, so I decided to do some self-reflecting. I pulled and pinned up inspiration and I assessed my past work. I thought about what I was most proud of and what I’d like to do more of. About a year and a half ago, I decided that I wanted to become more involved in AIGA, I joined the Diversity and Inclusion committee. That definitely was a passion of mine, D&I and being creative. I started to work on my website and resume, but I didn’t force it and I just worked with the soft deadline of being done by the end of the summer. I would launch myself then.

So I came to the realization, that I wasn’t ready to become a freelancer, full-time. It’s not for everyone, and on my worst day – I can be impatient, and building up a business takes time. I knew that I had some important personal goals I wanted to reach and I needed to find a job. The allure of being my own boss had faded. So I started to feverishly apply for any and all Graphic Design jobs. I got a lot of call backs and interviews. I had become the same reactionary person that I didn’t want to be. My plan wasn’t clear, it was just “Get a job, pay the rent.” After not getting any of the jobs I had decided that I would “settle” for… even though I previously told myself that I wouldn’t settle. I broke down and threw myself a pity party. Then I saw this in my email.

I decided to take the course, right then and there. What could I lose? Time? I mean what was going to do, really? Binge-watch something on Netflix? This was important, because I had no idea what I was doing. They say course, but you don’t have to really do anything but watch it and maybe take some notes. My mind was blown.

I needed to hear this almost 10 years ago, after I graduated college in the height of the recession being laid off from my paid internship. Now, it seemed like I had been navigating my career with my eyes closed. Basically, I had been doing so much wrong because I had been bracing for the future, not embracing it.

How to win the job

I had already started to dig deep and find what really mattered to me, but I still didn’t have a plan how to get there. Debbie talks about how to “win the job.” Honestly, I never thought about finding, looking, searching, getting a job like that before. I have won jobs before, I’ve done a few of the things she talked about, probably more coincidental than intentionally. So I didn’t know they were proven ways to differentiate myself. When I put together my portfolio at the end of college I think I put things in there because they were “cool” or “fun”. Ten years down the road, I put things in there that I was proud to be a part of, and more work that I’d like to do more of… so I can only assume that I’ve learned a thing or two these past years. Even though I spent my college years in Grand Rapids, I’m not from here and I spent most of my career in Southern California, so I’m relatively unknown. This is a huge challenge for me and I hadn’t been approaching it the right way. I wasn’t preparing enough, I wasn’t digging deep.

I can’t say that I have it all figured out, or that I know what I’m doing because I don’t. What I do know is that I’m ready to embrace the future. I’m creating a plan, and redefining my goals more clearly. I know that if there’s a job that I really want – I’m going to work harder to win it. This course came at a time, when I really needed it. I was actually preparing for three interviews. So I most definitely will not repeat the mistakes that previously had.

Ten takeaways from A Brand Called You

  1. Positioning. Understanding, what you are, who you are. It drives everything you do.
  2. Ability/talent is not enough.
  3. How you can show up better?
  4. What do you seek to do.
  5. Explain passionately and get other people excited about it.
  6. Empowerment, show up with your best-self.
  7. Seek out criticism.
  8. Be in it for the long game!
  9. Let fear inspire you.
  10. It’s okay to screw up, it’s not okay to stop trying.

Who would I recommend this course to?

  1. Students in school.
  2. Students preparing to graduate.
  3. Designers starting their career.
  4. Anyone searching for a new job.
  5. Anyone who isn’t happy where they work.
  6. People who have been in the industry for 5 or 10 years and feel like they are in a rut.
  7. If you want to make a change, but don’t know where to start.
  8. Everyone could benefit from hearing portions if not all of the course.

Debbie Millman
Named “one of the most influential designers working today” by Graphic Design USA, and “one of the most creative people working in business” by Fast Company, Debbie Millman is also an author, educator, brand strategist and host of the podcast Design Matters. Excerpt from her bio on


Published September 13, 2017