If you’ve followed my work at all, you may have noticed that in the last 5 years or so, I've gone pretty quiet. I’d like to say hi, catch you up on where I’ve been, and share a bit about what I hope is coming next.
When I began my career in web design nearly 20 years ago, I was full of ambition. I saw myself working with the industry’s best, speaking at prestigious events, and one day moving to New York City.
Incredibly, each of these dreams came true. By my mid-twenties, I’d moved to New York, I was earning more than I’d ever dreamed possible, and my portfolio boasted impressive brands. I’d worked alongside several of my design heroes, and was traveling the world speaking at conferences. (Don't worry, this post isn't a laundry list of my career achievements. Just wait for it).
From the outside I may have seemed to be the epitome of success, at least to some, but privately I relentlessly battled with self-doubt, depression, and anxiety. I’d managed to actually get everything I wanted and more, but I was persistently unhappy. Self-sabotage and fear tainted my journey, and I squandered some opportunities that I still regret to this day. While my personal life in New York thrived—I had a beloved group of friends and had recently met my favorite person ever—the angst I felt around my career left me full of doubt about where my life was headed.
It gets worse
In 2016, things took an unexpected and terrifying turn. My mom was diagnosed with a rare form of late-stage leukemia, and we were told even with a risky and immediate treatment, she likely had little time left. I made the agonizing decision to return to my home state to help my family, saying goodbye to friends, my relationship, and the city I loved.
My career stagnated during this time, as my focus shifted from professional aspirations to personal ones: my only dreams were for mom to recover, for my relationship to weather this period, and for me to someday move again—this time to somewhere beautiful and new, where my partner and I could start a family of our own.
It gets better
Amazingly, these dreams came true too. My mom’s treatment worked. I got married, pregnant with twins, and we moved across the country to Southern California. I was thrilled, grateful, and scared; and in the back of my mind, the larger questions around my career still lingered.
I yearned to do fulfilling work again, but was haunted by the memory of the anxiety and self-doubt that had always come with any professional successes I had. I started to weigh the question—now that I was becoming a mother, and taking on a new identity in a new place—what would come next for my career?
It gets worse again
But before I could begin to formulate a plan, life once again intervened—when my twins were just a few weeks old, the pandemic hit. Unable to hire professional childcare, alone in a city where we knew no one, I spent the first year of their lives unemployed. Locked in our tiny Los Angeles apartment with newborn twins and 3 cats, my husband and I struggled to keep our sanity as he worked double overtime on almost no sleep to keep us afloat. I was drowning in an endless cycle of breastfeeding, diaper changes, and trying to comfort two wailing infants while I myself sobbed almost continuously. Helicopters whirled overhead as the National Guard set up tanks in our neighborhood; the Black Lives Matter protesters were being abused just outside our door. At every prenatal appointment, the hospital next to our pediatrician’s office was overflowing with desperate, sick people. Our world felt like one big crisis, inside and out.
During this time I couldn’t rely on my usual distractions and coping methods to escape the anxiety and depression I’d battled for years, and things finally came to a head. I was forced to admit to myself and my partner how lost I’d felt for so long, from childhood to my early professional life to now, in parenthood.
While early parenthood was in many painful ways my undoing, it was also like a rebirth. My kids gave me the clarity I’d always lacked—I had to face my insecurities and get help for my mental health. I also had to define my values and what I really wanted to get from life, so I could live and work with purpose, and be the kind of parent they deserved. (This is an ongoing and lifelong effort). I got treatment for the issues I had that could be addressed chemically, and began working in earnest on the personal discovery I’d put off for so long.
As the world gradually reopened, the magical blessing of professional childcare finally came into our lives, and I felt ready to get back to work. It was terrifying to reach out to the community of web designers I’d lost touch with—would anyone even remember me after all these years of being nearly silent? Was there room in the fast-paced world of tech for a new mom who’d been out of the game for a bit?
It gets better again
Thankfully, life is almost always kinder in reality than it is in my head. Generous friends in the industry were eager to help me get back into the working world, and I’ve been lucky to work on projects that made my welcome back to web design a relatively smooth one.
My children are now 3.5 years old, and recently have gone from being home with me and a part-time nanny to starting preschool full time. It was hard for them at first, especially for my daughter. Many mornings she cried “no school!” and would hang back, refusing to let go of my leg, her blankie or her stuffed cat. As an introvert learning to cope with social anxiety, I sympathized mightily, but I encouraged her to call on the bravery and capability I know she has in her. I told her to trust that she would meet kind people who welcomed her, and to know that we would always return, and she’d always be safe.
I thought about this advice as I continued to quietly do work behind the scenes—always doing enough to finish a project well, but without the energy and drive I’d felt before. I felt instinctively that it was time for me to be brave too, to throw myself with more passion into my work, and to trust that I could find a more authentic way forward in my career.
It gets... interesting?
As I began to think about what comes next, I thought about what had been missing before. I realized I’d lacked a true sense of purpose around my work. In my earlier years I was driven by a desire for external reward—for admiration and affluence. Now, having gone down that road, I knew that these achievements alone were not enough to make the work fulfilling.
I started to ask myself what good I could really hope to do by making websites; the things we create are often trivial and ultimately temporary. So I dug in and evaluated my skills, what still excited me, and what my values are, and here are the notes I made for myself:
New career goals
Be authenticI am energized by doing work that is unique to me; that takes advantage of my perspective, skills, and personal aesthetics to produce something that could not be created by anyone else. There are moments when our work can be artful in that way; when it is infused with the designer’s self-expression, we can create something surprising and memorable that resonates with its audience in a specific way.
Uplift other designersI am energized by sharing the work of others that lights me up in this way; I want to uplift and highlight people using the medium of web design to tell stories in surprising, beautiful, or powerful ways.
Do no harmI am passionate about creating work that at a minimum does no harm, meaning it includes and welcomes as many people as possible, and is not insensitive to people’s real lived experiences. I can be an advocate for avoiding practices that cause harm, and incorporating the techniques or lessons that minimize it.
Make web design fun againAt the end of the day, I think design (particularly for the web) can be a creative, rewarding, and purely fun pursuit—especially when it’s done outside the context of capitalistic demands. I want to do more projects purely because they give me joy.
Give away what you've gotI want to give away what I’ve learned, to share what I know in my own voice, in case my way of telling it helps deepen understanding in someone else, or helps them feel more seen. Not just as it relates to design, but life in general.
With these goals in mind, I’m (to borrow a phrase from Brene Brown) stepping back into the arena, but with a different energy. Less grasping, more giving.
Along these lines, I’ve redesigned my site to include a blog again (a feature I’ve dropped in previous iterations). Here I plan to feature the work of designers I admire, so I can uplift people doing great things, and inspire others. I also plan to share what I’ve learned in the form of easily digestible tutorials. And I hope to include side projects, experiments, and work created purely for the purpose of fun, mostly to remind myself why I first started designing for the web to begin with.
If that sounds interesting to you, I’d love for you to follow along. You can subscribe to my newsletter via the form below this post, or follow me on one of the dozen social networks where I cross post what I’m up to. I hope by connecting, we can build a community focused around the good we can do through our work, and life each other up.
Here’s to lessons learned, second chances, and winding, rambling paths. If your career or life also hasn’t always been a linear climb to the top (and whose is?), I’m here with you. Keep your head up, we got this.