Ask the Expert: Advice from a Career Coach
You speak a lot about your expertise in problem-solving, how did this impact your decision to become a creative coach as well as your career as a creative?
I’m a natural-born, serial “fixer” — for better or for worse! As a coach, I have actually had to step away from “fix-it mode” and instead simply be curious about what may be getting in my client’s way. This has been invaluable to me and I believe a skill I needed to learn. Not everyone wants you to solve their problems! Sometimes they just want to actively listen and now I know how to do that constructively and with compassion.
Where I satiate my problem-solving cravings is in my creative career. The need to make things right and figure things out propelled me into the design world. Being a designer for so long has definitely honed my problem-solving skills and helped me in developing the confidence in my ability to figure out a challenge, no matter how daunting it may be.
What advice would you give to a creative starting out in the industry?
Firstly, do your research about how much you should be paid for your role. Don’t blindly accept what you are offered without knowing what industry standards are. I did this with my first design job and it was a mistake I regretted for years. Secondly, find a job or client that is in alignment with your values. Unless you are in a true financial bind and have to just get a job (hey, we’ve all been there!), make sure the potential job supports your values. For example, one of my values is ‘generosity’. The jobs I was most miserable at were those where the culture was frugal with resources, time, support and compensation. The jobs I was happiest at paid well, provided opportunities for growth and loved showering their staff with fun extras (why yes, I will have another cupcake!).
You speak a lot about mentorship on your coaching website, what is the best advice you have received from a mentor?
My mentor is Victoria Montgomery Brown, author of the book Digital Goddess (a must read for entrepreneurs). She once told me, “If you have to talk yourself into something, you’re probably better off without it.” I love this because it streamlines the decision making process. In the past, I was a chronic overthinker (a hallmark of many creatives), spinning my wheels and driving myself crazy with mental gymnastics. Now I make decisions much more quickly and trust my gut more.
What are your biggest challenges as a creative coach? How have these challenges changed the way you approach things?
As a creative coach, a big challenge for me is seeing super talented individuals doubt themselves so much. It can be heartbreaking. I’m like, “You’re twice the designer I am! You’ve got this!”. But I remember what it was like for me when I was chronically insecure at points in my career and it’s absolutely normal to question your talents. But you don’t want to stay in that space for long.
Another challenge is making sure I do not “get into the client’s box”. Meaning, even if I can totally empathize with my client (and I often can), they ultimately have to figure out their own best course of action (inspired by specific coaching questions). Their experience is their own and I cannot influence their process even when internally I think I know what they should do. The truth is that only the client knows what is best for them at that moment and it is my job to honour that.
What do you wish non-creatives knew about creatives? What are the biggest hurdles to communicating with people who are not in the creative field?
I wish non-creatives understood that creatives are incredible strategists. Rarely are we just making something look better. We are usually building a brand and problem solving.
To this point, the biggest hurdle when communicating with non-creatives is helping them understand that visual decisions are actually driven by strategy. My advice here is to always present detailed, strategy-driven rationale before presenting any visual work. Also, mirror back exact wording and verbiage used by your client or team members to show you have been actively listening to their brief and/or concerns.
What made you decide to offer coaching services for designers? What are some of the most common reasons that designers come to you for coaching?
I have to thank the RGD in part for my path to creative coaching! I became an RGD Mentor in 2017 and found it incredibly fulfilling and inspiring. I was already coaching at the time but working more with entrepreneurs on the topics of business and branding. I realized I much preferred working with creatives and helping them move through fears and self-sabotage. It was a case of me realizing “These are my people and I want them to succeed without experiencing the struggles I once did”. If I had had a coach when I was starting no doubt my career would have been much less stressful and more fulfilling.
Most designers come to me because they feel stuck in their creative career. They feel overwhelmed, confused and not sure what next steps to take. And more often than not there is some anger brewing i.e. “I can’t stand my boss and I’m this close to losing it - help!”
My clients also sometimes need mentorship to push their career or business forward. I help them refine their brand, build a better resume/LinkedIn profile, figure out their ideal client and develop an action plan to make more money.
How do you deal with creative burnout?
Sleep. Netflix. Books. Walks. Repeat. Seriously, I just disconnect from anything design or work-related. I also ditch social media for a while. I used to beat myself up when I got that burnout feeling (um, former workaholic alert!), but now I just accept it as part of the human process. Every time I take time out to recharge I always end up overflowing with creative ideas that fuel me for a long time. It is always worth it to take breaks.
What is your number one tip to help new designers build confidence?
Confidence can be cultivated. Yes, some people are naturally more confident and experience less struggle. But that does not mean you can’t become a confident person in your own way. It simply means you may have to do more legwork. To begin building confidence, first, decide to be confident. Make the conscious decision to move through life as a confident person, as opposed to someone who is constantly doubting themselves and hiding in the shadows. From there you will be able to adjust your attitude and make life decisions that support the goal of being a confident person. It all begins with that one decision.
Who do you look at for inspiration in the design world?
When I’m looking for inspiration I often hop onto the Instagram accounts of Laura Gunn, Christine Flynn and Kate Golding. But I don’t always default to the design world for inspiration. I’ve lived and breathed design for so long I like to get out of that bubble to feel inspired. Right now I’m energized by anyone blazing their own trail or doing a 180° in their career as that takes a huge amount of courage. Jen Sincero, Adam Grant and Brené Brown are all people I regularly follow and help me feel inspired. Surprisingly they also spark my creativity because they open my mind up to possibilities.
A fun question! What would your world look like if you never became a designer?
If I had never become a designer I would have been a film score composer (think Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat). I have zero musical talent so I would have to have been born a very different person! But like design, it is a storytelling medium and I would suspect there would be large doses of juicy problem-solving. I don’t know if my world would actually look that different. I would be locked in a room for hours, drinking too much tea and pushing through creative blocks - kind of like how it is as a designer!
Alana is a Graphic Designer, Creative Strategist and Success Coach with over 20 years of experience. She brings a wealth of diverse industry knowledge that spans across agency work to freelance. Currently working as the Graphics & Creative Manager at Benefit Cosmetics Canada, as well as a Success Coach for Designers & Creatives.