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This week’s Coffee with Kim guest needs no introduction – but here’s one in case you didn’t do your homework.
Fast Co. named her ‘Most Creative Person in Business’ and Graphic Design USA deemed her ‘One of the Most Influential Designers’. She co-founded the world’s first graduate program in branding at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Her Cooper Hewitt Award winning podcast Design Matters has been streaming for over 17 years, and was designated one of the ‘Best Overall Podcasts’, and ‘All Time Favorite Podcasts’ on iTunes by Apple.
She’s the former President of Sterling Brands, author of 7 books, and the list goes on.
To say I was excited to have her on is an understatement!
Debbie Millman designs brands, but after 30+ years in business she also has much insight on designing your life. During our conversation we took notes from her experience in making hard decisions, overcoming rejection, positioning yourself for your “lucky break”, and more.
If you were looking for answers on how to take back control of your experience and design a career of your dreams, this is the episode for you.
Picking what we have to do over what we want to do is common when choosing a career. Even Debbie admits to initially deciding on a “secure” path.
“Overall I wanted to be self-sufficient, so I chose a more commercial path with graphic design.
I reasoned it would be easier and that if I wasn’t successful in something I didn’t love to begin with, I wouldn’t be heartbroken. The switch to creative work was done in stages. Some were organic, others more intentional.”
Trying to make a name for herself in graphic design was difficult. In fact, Debbie calls the first 12 years of her career a time of “experiments in rejection”. Like many of us, she struggled with not tying her worth to her success – or lack thereof.
Entering the industry was “kismet” for Debbie. Her innate knack for branding made producing great work seem effortless.
“I was able to cultivate a beautiful career by intrinsically understanding what I was doing, then actually learning to do what I was doing and getting better at it over the next 20 years.”
One of the hardest decisions Debbie ever made was turning down the offer to become CEO of Sterling Brands.
“I surprised a lot of people when I said no, including myself, but it was the best decision I ever made. I learned most decisions are hard when you make them but if it’s the right decision, they become rearview mirror.”
She’d reached a high point in her career but realized she wasn’t completely content with it. COVID sped that process up for a lot of us and the great resignation was evidence. If you’re looking for something new in your career start by rebuilding your network. Use these tips to supercharge your LinkedIn and find your tribe.
We didn’t say change would be easy but it will be worth it!
Apply these four truths from Debbie to beat the scaries when trying something new.
Debbie is launching a new LinkedIn course! I was curious to know who it is catered to and why she decided to do it now.
“This course if for anyone who wants to steward their career well no matter what point in it they are. It’s not a regurgitation of what I’ve already said. It’s a curriculum based on real, in the moment experience. I’m teaching students to consider the possibilities for their future in a real way and figure out how to take the first steps towards it.”
Debbie explained that “first step” will require courage not confidence. Here’s why.
“Confidence is the successful repetition of any endeavor. The more you master something the more confidence you have. But it takes courage to even get started and keep going, therefore courage is more important.”
It took courage to leave graphic design for branding, but Debbie admits luck also played a part in her success.
“My first branding job was from a cold call. If I hadn’t gone on the interview I wouldn’t have gotten my start. In 2004, I got another cold call about hosting a small radio show, 17 years later Design Matters is still running. I am successful because somebody decided to give me a chance.”
The Audacity newsletter by Roxane Gay
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