Pursue Your Strengths, Not Just Your Passion

A Note to the Students of the Phoenix Portfolio Review

To all of you bright-eyed, deservingly optimistic, design students that attended the 2016 Phoenix Portfolio Review at ASU, congratulations – you’re rapidly approaching what should be the most exciting stretch of your life. It’s a time when pretty much anything is possible as long as you’re willing to live on ramen noodles and follow opportunity wherever it takes you.

Your passion for design, and the skills you’ve developed, give you a head-start (it may not reflect it in your first paycheck, but believe me, the work you’ve put in will pay off). But as you venture through the first decade of your career, you’ll need to slow down on occasion to figure out what you want to do with all that passion and those skills? For those of you with unwavering dedication and unarguable talent, the answer may be as obvious as graphic design. For others, not so much. The truth is, there are a number of creative careers out there. And the next chapter of your life is all about identifying the one that is right for you.

My advice? Choose a career path that leverages your strengths. 

I did. I figured out pretty early on that I wasn’t going to be the best designer or illustrator out there. My strengths surrounded design. I understood how to direct and present it, so I became an art director, then a creative director, and then a partner. And every promotion I got was based on those strengths. And I’m not the only one to veer off the design path. I’ve known other designers who’ve successfully pursued design-adjacent careers in user-experience, project production, artist representation, interior design, furniture making, even copywriting. Their design skills became a valuable differentiator. Design aside, what are your strengths? Are you OCD? If so, consider project management. Are you analytical by nature? Consider user-experience. Are you a connector? Consider producing. Are you a natural salesperson? Consider representation. Which one is right for you? If you don’t already know, you’ll most likely find the answer in the praise your bosses and coworkers give you moving forward.

I’ve found that people who leverage their strengths in pursuit of their passion become more successful (never mind happier) than those who don’t, even if they end up doing something different than they imagined. I’m certainly one of them.