Today it’s been one year since I lost my job in a mass layoff. With many unemployed and students looking at gap time, here’s a couple reflections on what I learned in the past 365 days.
“What to do when you don’t know what to do next.”
“You have to push in the clutch to shift gears.”
I had some, um, “excess capacity” while looking for a new job. Here's how I used it.
My first month was doing NOTHING work-oriented. It had been 13 busy years with many weeks of unused vacation left on the table (my fault). I was very fortunate that I had a little money saved, and just needed to take a real break.
LESSON: Don’t be too eager to rebound or freak out. A little time and distance can help.
After a month, it felt like time to start back up. I worked all day, every day. I did (and do) this seven days a week. Maintaining a routine is essential for emotional stability. Get up at a set time, get dressed, eat breakfast, exercise, walk, whatever works.
LESSON: When everything changes, re-evaluate if it’s really “everything”. Start with what's the same, stabilize your routine, and then slowly expand from there.
“Worked all day” meant I looked for jobs, looked for freelance design work, and spent the rest of the time following my curiosity to see what might be next for me. I decided to expand in all directions to see what popped up. Because of that, there was always some progress in one direction, which was motivating.
LESSON: It’s very a interesting experiment to follow your curiosity instead of a plan. A plan is based on consciously knowing where you want to go. Curiosity can lead you to where you didn’t know you wanted to go.
LESSON: Learn. Rusty skills come back, new skills can be learned, and progress is motivating. Not all learning needs a goal. Just learn what interests you, because it all connects. You are also learning what you like, what you’ll keep learning even when it gets hard, and learning that might be the most important thing of all.
I’ve connected with people around the world. A productivity expert in California, a visual facilitator in Germany, a Cornell systems thinking professor, a UMass creative thinking professor, a retired patent attorney, an animator in Italy, a thought leader who created the world's largest personal interconnected digital “brain”, three keynote speakers, and some friends and co-workers I hadn’t seen in over 10 years.
LESSON: It’s easier to connect with people than ever before. If you are interested in their work, tell them. If you’ve done anything related to their interests, share it. I’ve found most people are just looking for others interested in the same things they are, no matter how accomplished they are. And everyone loves a sincere and spontaneous compliment!
I’ve been trying to discover what I really like and want to do. Easy for some, not for me. You can do great work for many years without being inspired by a job, and then forget that there are other things out there you could do. I worked with a wonderful career counselor for a few months. I explored Creative Problem Solving methodologies, which led to Design Thinking, which led to “Clarity Specialist”, to Service Design, to Instructional Design, to Visual Facilitation, to UI/UX design, to Systems Thinking. Along the way, I practiced skills and sent or posted things I thought would be helpful. Maybe they were, but they also opened up new areas and connections. Importantly, I felt like I wasn’t invisible, and that I was getting closer to clarity.
LESSON: If you aren’t sure, instead of picking from what you already know, treat that feeling as a sign that you haven’t ranged wide enough or deep enough yet. Explore, risk-free. You will find worlds you never knew existed. If the discovery of one of these worlds makes you giddy, follow that.
The reality of the job market is that it’s tough for older workers. Not a complaint, just a truth. This also makes it hard on younger workers, because older workers are now competing for jobs requiring much less experience. I have 30 years professional experience. The people I know with that kind of experience (and more) are absolutely vital, engaged, and sharp as a tack. They’ve been building, trying, failing, learning, succeeding, connecting and growing for decades. They have a deep understanding of their fields, systems, relationships, and how things work. To hear them talk, or better yet, talk with their peers, is inspiring. It makes me realize how far you can go if you continue to grow for a lifetime. However, the corporate job market might not be organized for what they have to offer.
LESSON: If you are fighting uphill, maybe that’s because you haven’t aligned your beliefs and mental models with reality. What always worked before might not work now. I recently stopped thinking a traditional job was the only solution. I instead asked myself “where can I find my greatest contribution?”, and other paths began appearing.
My work life was corporate life. It always felt like the safe option. I did good work, grew sales, fixed problems, built systems, saved time, saved money, helped coworkers and vendors, won awards, got promoted. I’ve now lost my “safe” corporate job twice, each time sending me into a search lasting at least a year. All along, I’ve had a hobby of developing sets of useful tools that I’ve mostly given away to anyone who could benefit. I started thinking about turning those 25 years of hobby into a portfolio of learning products. Along with freelance design work, perhaps they could replace my traditional corporate income. Unless a corporate job shows up pretty soon, I’m about to find out.
LESSON: Just because you enjoy something enough to do it for free, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. Whatever it is, there are plenty of people who don’t want to do it, or don't know how, and will pay you to help them. Take stock of your skills. Pay special attention to those things that are “easy” for you, that you enjoy so much you don’t mind the work. If those things can help others, you might have found your niche.
Thanks for reading. This has been a year of hills and valleys for everyone. Maybe if we can all contribute to the world based on what we each are uniquely wired to do, we can collectively go from hilltop to hilltop, instead of valley to valley. It's the same amount of work, but the view is better.
I woke up this morning with an idea. It stuck with me all day, so I had to make it real.
It's hard to decide which way to go from here, but further apart feels like the wrong direction.
I heard about a "United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives". The goal was to develop helpful or positive messaging to share. I sat down with my tablet for about three hours and adapted my previous 3,000 heart drawing. If it resonates with you, please share it with people you think it might help.
You can see the thousands(!) of other submissions here.
#unitednations #UNCovid19Brief #alonetogether #bodiesapartheartstogether
Art can express things words cannot, so I drew this while staying at home during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. It has over 3,000 hearts, so if I know you, you are in here. I call it "Bodies Apart, Hearts Together". Be well, everyone.
Offering this in case it helps anyone, even if only a bit.
I wrote this down on an index card yesterday. "Anxiety is experiencing negative emotions in the present about an imagined situation in the future."
I think you all have a huge, gifted imaginations. You can imagine all sorts of horrible possible futures. But, you can imagine amazing possible futures too. Here's the thing. All futures are imagined. They don't exist. They are just guesses about what will happen next. You might be right, you might be wrong, but just because you guessed right doesn't mean it wasn't still a guess.
Try two things. Maybe they will help.
1) If you feel anxious, remember it's about things being worse (a guess), for as far as you can see (a guess), that will bring you down (a guess), and that you won't be able to handle (a guess). Keep yourself in the present, not an imagined future. Right here, right now. Look around wherever you are sitting. Are you safe? Are you ok? I'm hoping yes, you are. Say it out loud to yourself. "I am safe right now. I am ok right now." Take a deep breath in through your nose, pause, exhale. Repeat. Feel that you are ok. Ground yourself in what's right in front of you, right now. Handle the future when it shows up, but don't rush it.
2) Use your amazing brain and write down 10 things that could be BETTER in the future because of what's going on. I bet it will be easy for you if you try. As long as you're making guesses about the future, why not balance them out with a few positive ones?
It's a rocky road right now, but the car is full of our friends.
Play Every Day is an idea for a non-profit I've been working on-and-off for three months with my friend Erik. That's really complicated to execute, so a few weeks ago the idea of a Play Pledge came up. We talked about just putting it out there, and seeing what happens. We think the world needs this right now.
Today being the start of a new year, I went ahead and wrote it up.
I wish everyone a happy and playful 2020!
On June 4th, I got a call from HR telling me I was one of 33 people in our building whose position had been eliminated.
Almost 6 months later, I haven't found a new job yet (yikes!), but what I did find is something that might be even more valuable.
I found out what I want to be when I grow up.
For those who know me professionally, you know this is a really big deal. It's actually what I've been circling around for about 20 years, but I didn't know it was a real thing or what it was called until a few weeks ago. #truestory
The field is “Design Thinking”. The typical job title is “Design Strategist”.
I’ve tried on a lot of hats. Graphic designer, writer, teacher, trainer, coach, brainstorm facilitator, product designer, communication consultant, print production manager, instructional designer, wayfinding designer, visual thinker, clarity specialist. Each felt like part of a giant puzzle, but with no picture on the cover of the box of what it was supposed to look like when it was done. It was incredibly frustrating to me and the caring people around me who saw my potential and wanted to help but didn't know how (and I couldn't tell them).
Through a perfect storm of no job, a call out of the blue from someone who's kept my name in a file for 15 years, a great new friend I met at a really bad presentation, a career counselor, key observations from two respected former co-workers, a design strategist job posting I stumbled on (with its accompanying role description), some intense (and borderline obsessive) research and reflection, and long conversations with my incredibly patient and insightful wife, I received the precious gift of clarity. My misfit pieces finally knew where and how they fit into the world.
So, what is Design Thinking, and what does a Design Strategist do? It’s a fairly new field. Most of the search results are actually attempts to explain what it is. Here's the best descriptions I’ve found.
“‘Design Thinking’ denotes the problem-solving approach which equips design and non-design students and professionals with ‘a methodology for producing reliably innovative results in any field’ (Miller, 2015). Designers’ skills and ways of thinking and reasoning have been enlarged and adapted for solving problems beyond design, and are now applied to address complex social, economic, health-related, and political problems.”
“Design Thinking helps us in the process of questioning: questioning the problem, questioning the assumptions, and questioning the implications. Design Thinking is extremely useful in tackling problems that are ill-defined or unknown, by re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, creating many ideas in brainstorming sessions, and adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing.”
“The Design Strategist is most active in the ‘fuzzy front-end’ of innovation projects. When things aren’t quite clear and people aren’t sure which way to head. They navigate these uncharted waters where no one really knows yet what the real problems and the right questions are.”
“A design strategist is most of all a translator. Design strategists can translate from business to design, and from design to business. In order to do that, they need diverse backgrounds, as they need to understand different perspectives and mindsets. They facilitate a guided transition from the problem space to the solution space by gathering and developing insights and converting them into useful requirements for development into innovative human-centered products, services, and business models.”
There are now degree programs at Stanford, MIT, Harvard, and ID (Chicago). Companies like Google, Apple, Samsung, IBM, GE, and P&G have successfully adopted it.
I'm now seeking opportunities at companies like those, Lego, and 3M, as well as consulting firms and corporate innovation groups with unusual names like New Futures Lab. I will go wherever the next opportunity leads.
I've been building potential energy around this for 20 years. Someone who is looking for a Design Strategist will see my diverse background, my passion and continuous self-directed learning around this work, and know what it means. They will take a leap of faith, hire me, and that potential energy will be released on their wicked problems.
I'm a Creative Generalist | Clarity Specialist | Design Strategist. I help people reframe, visualize, and think through tricky problems to uncover overlooked options, and then help them prototype testable solutions they can develop and bring to the world to make life better.
This is my path forward. I might never have been forced to do the hard work to figure this out if I hadn’t lost my job. It's now a VERY exciting time for me. If you have any suggestions that could get my name in front of someone who needs my skills, I'd be truly grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Over the last week, I've been developing my visual concepting style. It started with a request to draw some diagrams for a presentation and upcoming book. The email came from someone who had kept me in their files for 15 years(!) after seeing my GTD Advanced Workflow diagram.
We started working together on his project, and during a conference call a week ago I did some live sketching on my shared screen. The quick scribbles worked well to help clarify our thinking, but I realized my concept sketching skills were rusty. They wouldn't cut it for any formal presentation.
I dug into my library, revisited Mike Rohde's Sketchnotes, and took a free short video course from Visual Strategy Facilitator Holger Nils Pohl - thanks guys!
I practiced a bit, and a week later I'm much happier with my sketching. Lots more work ahead, but I'm over the hump. I've figured out a process, a couple simple tools that work (Google Keep and Autodesk Sketchbook), and I'm building a daily sketching habit. It feels good to regularly draw again.
Below is a progression over the last week. I can only show a small part of the original conference call sketch because it's still unpublished proprietary information. The rest include a live sketch I captured during an online Dungeons & Dragons session with my son, a congratulations for a productivity expert's new grandson, and a Halloween birthday gift for my brother David.
The New Year brings reflection and forward thinking, and having a January 14th birthday really doubles that. It's a special two weeks for me. In the months before it approaches, I use it to push to get some "stuck stuff" done. Then, once I'm actually in the two-week window, I use it again to start (or re-start) things I want to do in the year ahead. Looking back, then looking forward.
Here's a great little tool for looking back for self-reflection and perspective. It's just a grid on a large-ish sheet of paper, where each row is a decade and each square is one year. Using small words and doodles, you capture the major touchpoints in your life. Not for publication, just for learning about yourself.
The initial spark was a page I cut from a design magazine in 2003 featuring a designer's "biography matrix". I was instantly drawn to the idea of a visual summary of your life, all on one page. If you've browsed any of my site, you'll see a theme - I love designing things that fit on one page.
I tried it on a long flight about a year ago, and I was amazed how immediately interesting it was to do. This little activity revealed so many odd little things that turned out to be key memories for me. There were all these nexus points that affected everything after them. It was fascinating.
Over the past year I've given sheets to a few family and friends to try, and they had similar positive experiences. If you are looking to learn more about yourself, I recommend you give this a try!
I think the easiest way to lifelong happiness is cultivating curiosity and gratitude. I was lucky to have been born with curiosity, and over many years I learned gratitude.
Curiosity is outwardly-focused, and leads to being interested in other people, different opinions, new experiences, investigating problems, and enjoyment of the things around you. Gratitude leads you to be thankful, humble, considerate, empathetic of other people's situations, and happy with all the things you have and all the little joys in your life. Contribution leads you to notice opportunities to help, to add to the world, to be a producer instead of just a consumer, and ultimately to share what you have, what you've made, and what you know.
The opposite is chasing fame and wealth.
Chasing fame is inwardly-focused, with the quest being all about you, your appearance, your recognition, your ranking, and your perceived power over others. Chasing wealth is about more, acquiring, surplus, showiness, selfishness, and power over others. Both are also dependent on outward circumstances, and can be notoriously fickle and short-lived. They also promote the false premise of an end goal, a place where you are finally Rich and Famous. But as a path to happiness, it's a lie, because once you choose that path, you are never rich enough or famous enough.
Choose curiosity and gratitude, and you can be happy right in this moment. Add contribution, and you can be happy for the rest of your life.
Hi, I'm Scott Moehring
I'm a designer, teacher, writer, inventor, hockey player, gamer, and lifelong learner. I like to make cool stuff and share it with curious people.