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I don’t think it’s possible to live a life, or career, without regrets, but stopping to acknowledge some of them, can help set a course correction.

A photo of me at Booking.com.
A photo of me at Booking.com.
Tuesday 28 December 2021

The top 5 regrets of a dying UX designer

I recently read Bronnie Ware’s The Top Five Regrets of the Dying and I was moved by the honest accounts of those on their deathbeds. It might be a little morbid to contemplate life (and death) in such a way, but you know, to hell with death AND taxes; death is the ultimate certainty in life!

In a strange parallel, our careers and jobs will not be around forever either. We are more replaceable than we care to think. And if we’re on this career ride whether we like it or not, we should think critically about how we spend that time.

Some caveats:

  • I actually don’t think you should do a job you love – sometimes a job is a means to an end, if you can do it, and it’s not soul destroying, do it. You can do things you love outside of work. You can like your job, you don’t have to love it.
  • Not everyone can quit their jobs and follow their dreams. Some people have family, children, or debt to pay off.
  • A job is AND isn’t that important (two things can exist at once). Yes, we spend roughly ⅓ of our lives working, so on the one hand, we should make it count – but that other third is as important (if not more so (and that other-other third, well that’s sleep)).

I wish I took the time to appreciate the smart people around me

Recently, I started thinking about people I had worked with over the years. In my first job after uni, I moved to Dublin to work for a design and branding agency, Huguenot. I cut my teeth. I was never the smug know-it-all type, but damn, I wished I stopped to ask my colleagues more about their experience, their craft and why they do what they do. My senior designer was a really smart, strong visual designer and had I stopped to understand more, ask questions, and listen, I think I would’ve set myself up for being a better designer earlier on. It’s not that I thought I knew better, I just didn’t appreciate how much experience she had and what I could’ve learned from her had I taken the time to do so at such an early step in my career.

I wish I was more self-assured

For the most part, I am painfully shy at sharing anything work context related. I can very comfortably share my experience and struggle with mental health and my OCD, but ask me to present a UX update to a room full of designers, explaining the product manager’s cost analysis, the competitive landscape, and the key markets we’re exploring, and how I am going to solve all this, putting the user first, solving their needs, and do this all in 3 months, in 42 languages, and I will furiously fidget with a pen in my hands until the whole ordeal is over and I can drop my shoulders.

You can’t get more confident, faster. It’s a skill. And like any skill it requires practice. So I wish I took more opportunities earlier on to share something I did or something I learned about a project. I remember being about 5 years into my career when I first saw a designer share a presentation about his work to the wider department. It would be about another 2 years before I did the same for the first time. It’s only now that I’m getting some swing of the bat with it. I wish I had practised presenting more earlier on so I could be better at talking to my peers sooner.

Yo!

Everyone is as nervous sharing a presentation as you are. You are not special.

I wish I had learned earlier on that work is just work

Work, job, career, calling, vocation; some are a bit interchangeable, and they have nuanced and specific definitions, but at the end of the day, it’s all just work. You can say a job is just something that you do, and a career is something more long term, with vision and foresight. A calling is something that you feel you are meant for, and a vocation can have almost god-like attachments. Wherever you fall in that spectrum, you are ultimately just working.

Earlier on I thought I should be doing something grander, something bolder, something better with my job and career. I almost watched the pot boil on my own progress; when will I get better? Why don’t I know enough about [insert topic]? When do I get to do my own thing? When do I get to work for Google or Apple? In a hurry to want to be better, I never just stopped and was mindful of the task at hand. I thought from early on that designers were living the dream, they were cool, they were like artists but got paid regularly. For the most part, design is just work though. It’s paid work, it’s not that special.

I wish I had never fallen into the side hustle trap

Don’t get me wrong, I respect (and admire! (and know!)) anyone who can do something on the side, and maybe even some day quit their day job and do what drives them. Hats off, honestly, fair play. But I see both sides of most arguments very easily and I think some emphasis needs to be put on accepting our jobs as they are, and trying to make peace with what we have, and stop trying to chase dreams that are in reality, painfully difficult to achieve. I don’t advocate for staying put in miserable or dangerous environments, no. But I think there’s a discourse out there that people should be doing what they love and starting their own businesses. Not everyone can, or is meant to be a CEO. If things were that straightforward there’d be a world filled with presidents and no one would be doing any of the other jobs.

Hey USA

Try putting down that “One day you can grow up to be president” talk and try “One day you can grow up to be a nurse.” How realistic!

I thought I could quit my day job and follow my day dream. When I started ODOU , it had potential. I really could see it taking off. Right magazine, right time. I was on the wave of the great printed publication resurgence, and I spotted a niche. I went in, timidly. On-demand printed per-order approach. There was traction. There were sales. There were even awards. But by the fourth issue, bulk printed, traditional approach, I bowed out. I couldn’t handle the pressure and the responsibility, not to mention, was this going to be my life – boxes and boxes of magazines and envelopes filling my tiny shared flat’s living room and kitchen...? I hated that I had to say no to some writers, and I hated that I had to edit some other writers too – but that was my job, I was the editor! I hated the gossipy nature of the industry. I couldn’t take the uncertainty of quitting a steady income for something I didn’t know would take off. I hated that I felt I had to make a decision like this in the first place. Perhaps some people have thicker skins and deeper wallets for this, but I didn’t. And I hated the years I spent worrying and agonising over a decision that, looking back on it, wasn’t right for me anyway.

I wish I had set aside time to intentionally learn things

This regret is a little like the first one. In my experience, a lot of my learning on the job was passive, I sort of just picked things up as I went along, and that’s fine and it works, and that’s probably how the majority of most of us learn new skills. When I was at John Lewis , I was surrounded by really talented visual designers. The work was pretty much a spreadsheet of tasks that we just had to get on with and do; I sometimes referred to this job as executory design, just come in, do your stuff, and go home. I definitely picked up some skills that I still use to this day from this job, and it was helped massively by a really fun team environment, but I didn’t ever set aside time to learn a new skill, or improve on rustier ones. I also didn’t really have the luxury of time on this job to set aside learning time, and the thought of opening my laptop at 7pm and doing more of the same what I was doing during the day, was kind of a mood killer.

I recently lost track of time for days when I threw myself into Figma. I set myself a challenge: learn Auto Layout. My lead designer showed me the ropes, and good old Figma Playgrounds were a lifesaver in learning. But when redoing a few old projects anew in Auto Layout, I realised, I should’ve done this kind of thing years ago. When I was at John Lewis I should have taken the time after work to learn more artworking tricks. When I was running my magazine, I should have experimented with various print layouts. I didn’t have to spend excessive amounts of time on this, but a few hours here and there could’ve been enough to just top up my toolbelt.


So those are my regrets, so far. I don’t think it’s possible to live a life without regrets, but stopping to acknowledge some of them, can help set a course correction.

PS

I’m not actually dying. I mean, yeah if you look at it another way, we’re all dying if you want to get nihilistic and existentialist about it... Just hopefully not any time soon.

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