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Expectation versus reality. Dreams versus the sobering truth. Play to your strengths. Play the music at 11 and play reality at an 8.

A photo of me seeing a waterfall in Iceland – the reality isn't as Instagramy as people on Instagram make it out to be.
A photo of me seeing a waterfall in Iceland – the reality isn't as Instagramy as people on Instagram make it out to be.
Tuesday 11 January 2022

Expectation versus reality, or 11 versus 8

Expectation versus reality. Dreams versus the sobering truth. Aspirations versus perspiration. The Matrix versus The Desert of the Real... You get the idea. That picturesque, hey-good-looking, too good to be true McDonald’s double cheeseburger, versus the sloppy, peasant, misshapen lump in a box you get. Or the how-it-looks-on-the-model versus how-my-body-chooses-to-wear-it.

I’m all for dreams. I’m all for goals. I’m all for wanting to break the shackles of whatever experience you’re currently in and going for it.

I’ve been there. When I started my magazine , I thought it was going to take off. I could’ve pushed the boat out and really went for it. Ultimately, fear of the unknown held me back. I wished I was someone I wasn’t. I wished I was made of thicker skin. I wished I was more confident to take risks.

In hindsight I can see I take risks more than I give myself credit for. I just didn’t consider it back when I was hmm’ing and ha’ing over pushing the magazine further. At the time, I think I fell victim to the storyline I was telling myself in my head, “I can’t do this.” However, I’ve since moved to Amsterdam for work, having never been to the city before. That’s quite a leap of faith. That’s quite the taking of risk.

We sometimes get so caught up in the idea that we can’t do x, y, and z because in the past of a, b, and c. I remember years ago my mum was going through a very low period. Trying to help her, I remember suggesting that she could go do a night class in a subject she loved, like history, or join an art club. I remember her response was along the lines of, “Could you imagine me doing something like that?” “Why not!” I said, “There are literally people older than you all over the world running marathons. You can do anything.”

You can do anything – to a degree.

Yes, you can could be president. Sure you can could be a CEO. Go for it, Elon Musk II. I just think we need to set our expectation frequency to Reality FM that’s all.

Back when I had to choose the rest of my life

When I was 13 and had to choose my GCSEs in high school, teachers were making it out to be this commandment-setting experience, “These subjects you choose will determine what you do after high school, and therefore university, and therefore the rest of your life.” Ok that last part is an exaggeration, but the words and sentiment weren’t far off. What a reality slap. What pressure to put on any 13 year old! I remember asking my mum for advice, “How do I choose these subjects?” Her advice to me, “Choose the ones you enjoy, don’t make it harder for yourself.” And when going further, “What should I do when I grow up?” Her advice to me, “You could be a binman collecting rubbish, son – as long as you’re happy.”

My parents didn’t exactly push me towards exceptional greatness, but they didn’t limit my potential either. Peace of mind at the end of the day was key.

Can I get a rewind up in here?

If I could go back and tell my 13 year old self some advice, it would be this, “What you want will not go 100% according to plan. Start accepting this sooner.”

However, I'd add: try new things. Try new experiences, go to new places, meet new people, the lot. Go for it. Live your life and try on as many hats, jobs and gloves as you can and want to. Keep it real. If you’re an M, you’ll not fit into an S. Learn a bit about yourself. Get to know who you are. You’ll not figure it all out at 13, likely not at 33 either, probably not at 83 too. Here’s another way to look at it: THERE IS NO FINAL DESTINATION.

There will always be something else on the horizon and you will continue to learn and grow until the day you stop. You will not reach the summit someday where everything falls into place and you suddenly can do anything and everything from here on out. You may indeed go for that promotion, then what? You’ll get a new house, then what? Stop expecting goals to happen and start trying out things along the way.

It’ll be tricky at the start figuring things out, but in time, you’ll be able to map who you are a bit better. Use that knowledge.

Are you organised?

Then organise the shit outta everything you do. Be the most organised designer you know.

Are you analytical by nature? In fact, do you sometimes find yourself challenging others just because?

Funnel that shit. Apply it. Use it to uncover things. Find out why users behave the way they do and bring it to your next team meeting (and maybe go a little easy on challenging others).

Do you have a critical eye and know what looks good, just because?

Keep going, be the shit-hot designer you always knew you were and bring your UI and visual storytelling A-game to your next UX project, not because, but in addition to.

If you can’t organise a teddy bear’s picnic, then don’t try to be a project manager. Not a people person? Don't try to get promoted into a managerial role that requires managing people just because you think you have to – try exploring senior/lead designer roles instead, or other paths to promotion.

Play to your strengths. Play the music at 11 and play reality at an 8.

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