I’ll be honest, about 99.9% of you might read up to the first paragraph and fall asleep, and that’s no problem – at least I have given you some rest. For the 0.1% of you that may read this, I hope this gives you a little bit of hope as I share how I broke through the barriers I encountered.
I was always a child with my head in the clouds, dreaming of another world. Today I am fortunate to be working in a career that I have long dreamed of. My journey has been far from a smooth ride, my learnings have galvanised a narrative I hope will inspire others to take steps towards a career or life path that feels natural to their core abilities, rather than mould their very being to accommodate societal expectations.
My childhood was challenging, at one point I was involved in a car accident at a young age, it was there that I was introduced to empowering spirit of art (what an opening line!). In between many operations, I and the other patients were visited by a local artist. The artist would often visit the wards children with the warmest smile I will never forget, he would sit at my bedside and drew anything I asked - a train, cat, car and left me with a drawing to colour in to add my own touches, my splodges were ill formed as I navigated around my suspended legs in casts to try and form a platform to paint. I found the more I drew, the more I forgot about the physical and mental pain. This spurred me to ask the nurses for a drawing pad, which I filled quickly and eventually I somehow convinced the nurses to let me paint on the ward’s windows. The nurses thought they purchased wipe off paint, they discovered it was permanent; in my young mind presenting like a cathedral-stained glass masterpiece, I looked on that piece with pride as the light shone through producing a rainbow of colours as the nurses panicked to find a window replacement before their bosses arrived the next week.
Time went by and I left the hospital to live a relatively normal few years playing with friends while managing the repercussions of said accident. The primary school teachers identified that art was my escape from the echoes I was still experiencing, and always encouraged me to draw, leading up to me painting the back wall of the school play at the time which I was quite proud of. It was until I reached Secondary school, to my greatest surprise I discovered the world was not all roses and rainbows but still, I had my art to fall back on. Bullied, I made my own comics. Illness, I made a painting. Family life destabilised, designed my own board games. Failed an exam, made a ‘Where’s Wally’ style picture. I wasn’t invulnerable, but creativity was a shield, and my mind was an escape from a world that I could not find my place in. Solace was often found in my art lessons, where I would spend hours painting large pieces of wood, many of which were focused on sky and landscape imagery. This eventually led to me opening the art club at school, which I was the only member of; it was a good excuse to hide away from my daily visit from the bullies.
Trying to put a name to this interest I was developing, I spent countless hours searching the school library. I asked teachers, and family what it was that I was meant to do, I found at this time no one knew a name for this thing I wanted to be, it wasn’t something people spoke of where I came from. One day I came across a college promotional booklet in my local library, that is where I found what I was looking for: ‘Graphic Designer’, in this book it detailed the course lessons and activities, and it seemed like a dream come true – that was the first time I saw a way towards what I felt I should be. By the end of secondary school, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, which was counter to our careers lessons focus. The lessons were formulated on the basis that every kid did not know what they wanted to do, (which most likely was acceptable for the majority) we were presented multiple one choice questionnaires which regurgitated a career outcome. I took these multiple times with the same outcome: ‘Office Worker’, nothing was ever specialised enough to even consider the realm of design. Others would get ‘Brick Layer’ ‘Shop Worker’ ‘Carer’ which is fine if that is a path you want to take, I could see that no child was ever suggested they could be a ‘Doctor’ ‘Architect’ ‘Technician’, everything presented just made me feel like my life was going to go nowhere towards what made me happy. This fuelled my energy to a state of anger which galvanised my desire to live the life I envisioned in that very booklet I discovered. Marching into my tutors office, a 16-year-old kid saying that he specifically wanted to be a Graphic Designer was apparently then unheard of, the school could not (or didn’t want to) offer me anything to aid me in pursuing that direction at A-Level; I completed my GCSE exams and packed my bag for college to focus solely on Graphic Design.
College was a breath of fresh air. I was left to my own devices, trusted to manage my projects, my research, choose my own materials – it was incredible! The freedom I was granted I felt the need to apologise for, as if I was wasting time and should get back to work – this was a psychological scar that was redolent of my upbringing, it was not expected of us to partake in work that we should enjoy or be outside the realm of socially accepted roles, as work should just be work; this introduction to the now named ‘imposter syndrome’ was something that took me years to shake. For the rest of college, I used this time to develop and perfect my skills while watching over my shoulder as if someone would come along to take this freedom away. As I moved towards a new way of thinking, it all culminated to a point that pulled into focus the power design can have not just for commercial application but the power to communicate in a realm beyond just words. As with any rebellious teen, I hoped I could use it to do something positive for the world, in the same vein as my art sessions sat in my hospital bed.
Through my education, I funded my course fees by working part-time at my local frozen food store. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for my education, and I knew they would if they could, but that was okay as I was making my own steps using my own fuel. The time spent here was varied, with many happy memories making jokes with my colleagues, ice hockey with frozen pies in the giant store freezer, the friendly customers I used to meet on a weekly basis, store room antics, getting lost in the countryside making home deliveries. As with every profession with customers, I had experienced many with awful attitudes towards shop staff – I still say to this day, any shop worker deserves the highest respect, there is much they endure so the least you can afford them is your patience.
University was another waltz through education, I fine-tuned my skillset, enjoyed many lectures focusing on the history of design, took part in many presentations and filled many sketchbooks with ideas to iterate on my techniques of idea generation – it was fun! Upon graduating, I can say now I was no way near work ready. This was a common theme among many educators at the time (speaking to many designers over the years post-graduation), I spent thousands of pounds on an education I have paid through many hours of working late into the night in numerous part time jobs, to graduate with nowhere near enough skills to sufficiently operate as an employed designer. I would spend the following years filling in the gaps by teaching myself Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign by making use of many demo versions and borrowed copies from friends - back then the Adobe Design Suite came on over 10 discs to install which made it feel like I was doing something epic.
Applying for roles was one of the hardest things I had done at the time, I had no contacts, no one with expertise in my field to acquire advice whether that was through university contacts, family, or friends; I had my degree but found the field to be highly competitive (which is certainly a norm, but I was yet to be informed). I found that unless you had the edge (which often be a friend or family member in the industry or the fortune to be able to attend a renowned university) your chances of visibility remain slim to none, regardless of the quality of your work. I had only the quality of my work to lean on, despite this I obsessed on making my work as good as it could be, often making fake projects to give examples of how I would create a brand, work on print-based projects and create website concepts. I couldn’t provide examples of real-world portfolio work to convince companies to hire me for a real-world project, yet I needed to be hired by a company to create real-world work examples; it was a never-ending paradox I could not see beyond at the time. I just needed one person to break the cycle.
I worked for a few pseudo design roles in the interim, not fully design but something to hopefully move me onto something more focused on my skillset. One role was for a printer, I was hired as their in-house printer, to me it was a way towards my goal even if it was not fully Graphic Design. With no print experience, I was trained for 2 weeks. I was excited to learn something new at the time but from the start something was off, 2 weeks training for a shop that was to open in 2 weeks, no contract yet. During that time, I kept asking the manager for a contract to confirm my pay and understand my obligations, he promised it was on the way as I attended lessons in print, I gave him my trust. The store opened and I made a good start, I still needed training but I was slowly getting through. 1 month into the job, expecting pay I received nothing with no contract in sight, eventually I confronted him, he avoided the answers. Seeing that I could not pay rent I left, it was clear his intention was to not pay me at all, so I moved on.
My first lesson: Resilience
My confidence was knocked by the last foray into ignorance, both on the part of the employer and the respect it had for me and my own for my lack of wisdom of which I did not have the experience to identify earlier foreboding signs in my early years. In these crushing times I would often visit my grandmother, she was an exceptional listener and an expert at diverting the conversation into one of her hour-long stories in order to distract me from the negative. Her grandchildren meant everything to her, and it showed in her actions. As a kid, I drew her one of my many ‘Where’s Wally’ style pictures, to me it was one of the ugliest things I had made at that point, to her it was everything we aspired to be. Every time I came to her feeling the effects of my journey to break the career wall, I saw that very picture on her living room wall front and centre. In part ways my mindset was ‘If she can endure looking at that awful picture every day, I can endure anything’ but reality it was ‘She believed in me when I was in my very infancy, I am lucky to always have someone rooting for me'.
Continuing my efforts to achieve my first Design role, I was lucky enough to be invited to some interviews. With each interview I improved my skills of presentation and portfolio set up. In many interviews, it was clear to me just 2 minutes in, it was a no. Why? Seeing them pick up each printed piece of my portfolio like it was some rotting fruit, or the sneers they made as they spoke to me – regardless, I was unfettered in the positivity of my delivery. It does hurt to be judged before you can truly introduce yourself, but Graphic Design was a competitive field and still is. There was a continuity of disdain in each interview, I did feel like I was not welcome but then I questioned why did they invite me? Today still it is not clear, maybe it was to fill a quota, maybe genuine interest, maybe my work was terrible, maybe for entertainment. Either way, about 30 interviews over 2 years got me nowhere, but as my grandmother said, “Your time will come.” At the time I did consider quitting, I began to investigate becoming a teacher, data engineer, even a tattooist – but all of this meant my previous efforts were moot. Something happened at that time, and I found I was fuelled by the lack of belief in myself at these interviews, strange though it sounds I then wanted to try even harder because people seemed to not want me to (once again, the rebellious teenage spirit comes out), and so with ruffled feathers I tried again.
Another 10 interviews over a year and eventually I landed another pseudo design role for a local property company. Part of the job was to make sales calls, and part was to edit property photographers’ photos and design promotional material. It was not where I wanted to be, but I thought it was a stable step. The staff I worked with were wonderful people, until the directors came in. The trio that never truly valued their staff, despite the team’s good performance. One winter we came in, and there was no heating, unprepared we worked the day without heating as we shivered. The next day was the same, with no company announcement, staff were getting sick, and we began to question. I eventually headed to the heating room and saw that it was switched off. I questioned the directors, and we found that they simply switched it off to save money, and didn’t tell us, we mattered that little. It was from that point I began to suspect it was not a good place to be and began my job search – now going for actual designer roles as a Junior Designer. As I searched for the right role, the company I was with grew worse, with the directors regularly speaking to staff in such a demeaning way as to imply that they were intellectually challenged – I knew my team didn’t deserve that. Then the micromanagement came in, questioning every last thing I did during my day as I was forced to list my every movement in an update letter due at the end of my shift. The directors would correct me as I spoke for example stopping me mid-sentence to correct a chosen word which suited their preferences, it was humiliating and the antithesis of a healthy working environment. Looking back now with the experience I had it was clearly a move to keep staff below their perceived level and establish a somewhat wonky dominance hierarchy, the reality was that they were using it to address their personal shortcomings stemming from the need for approval or validation achieved by feeling above others. Regardless, I refused to be unprofessional and performed my role, more so than they deserved, all I wanted to do was a good job and not be hampered by bad attitudes.
For some comic relief, I noticed the directors updated their email signatures with their business qualifications, seeing a chance to highlight their need for validation or hierarchy. In response, I also updated mine with my qualifications. Within half an hour one came to me visibly in a rage, but could not verbalise why, I knew why. He walked away, it was clear that he knew by stating his issue with my signature, revealed their need for dominance and hierarchy in front of their team.
The time came where I was fortunate to be offered a new role as a Junior Designer and I handed my notice in and wished the employees and directors all the best. I worked my 2 weeks as per my contract, and sure enough the company refused to pay me my final salary for the hours I had already worked as apparently, I was not at work (which I was). It was predictable as it had been done to me before, but it didn’t matter, I was moving towards a better career path. I still believed there will come a time I can use my skills for something positive, for now being positive myself was enough.
My second lesson: Equality
The aforementioned events taught me how important it is to make your staff feel like they are on the same level as you – a job is a job; it is never going to be a platform in which to level yourself above others. With this, the barriers that we create only slow us down. There is a wonderful quote from Dr. Jordan Peterson “Assume the person you are listening to knows something you don’t.” This philosophy is a great way to open yourself to a whole new dimension of knowledge, growth, and enrichment of character. If applied to my past instances, my interviewers would be looking at my work and not my lower-class background (yes this was the elephant in the room), my managers would be approaching us with curiosity and well…management, educating and not berating. These skills I have always promised myself that I will action to help others in the future.
My next role as a Junior Designer at a local Print and Design company was meant to be a fresh start; focusing now fully on design at a base level, and a chance to work with other designers more experienced than I was at the time and learn about the world of print, I was excited to say the least. It was a small and busy studio, the team members seemed nice, and the print team were very welcoming. I had training on how to prepare designs for print, and a walkthrough tour of the print facility – the smell of the place reminded me of my art studios at college and sent my mind back to that moment of freedom and opportunity.
I was fresh faced once again and ready to work, my first assignment was to design an award certificate for a local company, I sat down with my manager as she briefed me on the project. As we discussed, I began to explain an idea I had in response to the brief thinking this was normal, I was barely halfway through the sentence when she spoke directly over me and much louder exactly what I will do with the project. It was strange, almost felt like an aggressive dominance move, but it was redolent of the domineering attitude of the management ‘I speak, you listen, do the work’. I executed the project exactly as asked but my trust was marred straight away as the thought ‘am I safe to design here?’ came to mind. The next day I came in, the manager gave me a list of tasks for me to work through for that day, I did exactly that, one file that was sent to print had an error on it (I was still learning print at that time) and it was sent back to me, no problem, I spoke to my manager and figured it out, resent the file and was done. An hour later one of the directors caught wind of this single mistake, and walked over to my desk, saying nothing she leered over my head and watched my screen as I worked – it was awful. Sure enough as I was pressured substantially more, I made another mistake on screen, that is when she intervened by performing a live commentary of this mistake that I already knew because I was there creating the design. I felt like I could not point out the obvious, that the literal watching over my back as I worked was making it hard to focus and work normally; but as my attitude was at the time, I felt unsafe to do this for fear of losing my role, so I endured.
Other instances regularly cropped up, such as one of the directors would make scathing comments on the way I spoke (I still had confidence issues with my speech at the time, I spoke very quickly due to the anxiety overload, I still do this today from time to time), that same director made numerous derogatory comments towards the women in my team in front of customers, the on and off comments about my background implying that I was not welcome there as a designer, managers giving me tasks that were pointless just to embarrass me for example being asked to search for a file in our archive that did not exist, only to berate me when I came to the conclusion it was not there, it was toxic on many levels.
This was my life for a few more weeks, the stress it created made me unwell, but I refused to give in as I knew it would lead me to better, this was in fact the truest test of my character as I always responded positively. Word grew amongst the company that I was a designer that made mistakes, and the idea that they were forcing me to make them could never be comprehended. It was soul crushing for a new designer to be immediately distrusted from making one initial mistake.
It all boiled to a point, and I am convinced to this day they gave me an impossible task so they could find a way to legally get rid of me; I was assigned a task to design and print a set of cards provided by a customer. I don’t want to bore whoever reads this but in short, the task was to recreate some printed cards with no design files or colour references, which I told my manager that it was impossible to do it perfectly but I would do my best. I completed the project, and sure enough the next day, the customer came back and reported that the cards were all wrong, apparently nothing was right, I knew myself I was close. By that point I had enough and drafted my resignation letter ready to hand in the next day, sure enough in time I was pulled into a meeting where they said, “it’s not working out”. I assumed that I should be sad, but in truth I was relieved, I felt free and more fired up an ever to find the role that I deserved, and I certainly did.
My third lesson: Trust
When you take someone on as part of your team, you are doing so by saying ‘I trust in your abilities, and your past experience supports your stated skillset’. With the experience exhibited, none of that came to be as it stemmed from a single mistake. As a leader, you must come to terms with the fact that things will go wrong, but you and your team is defined by how you offer a solution to pave a positive path forward. When you focus on an error rather than form a solution, then your obsessions lead to a greater quantity of mistakes along with the corrosion of your team dynamic. My experience could have been avoided with a little trust and a dash of respect, this is a lesson I hold in high regard as I communicate to all professionals and cultivate vital working relationships.
My career truly started when I began to work as a Graphic Designer for a university back in my home of Oxford. I will never forget my interview; I pulled up to this building grander than I have ever seen and felt almost intimidated. The interview was something I never encountered before, they never asked about my background, didn’t want to know the school I came from, they just wanted to know who I was and the work I have done – that was the first moment I felt I was on equal ground. Mid interview, I was introduced to the campus cat, who sat with me for the remainder of the interview. I had a good feeling that this was more than just a job, that it is a new life. The next day I was coming back from watching the Hobbit at the cinema when I received the call, I was offered a role there and then.
My nearly 5 years spent here were some of the best years as a designer, the staff were great to work with, and me and my manager produced a lot of quality work in that time. What struck me is that my manager treated me as an equal, he listened to my ideas, I listened to his and we worked together to form solutions, that is all I ever asked for. In fact we remain friends to this day.
I grew with the company, as we created designs for bigger and bigger events, alongside being part of an evolving brand, I was involved in both local and international projects, and eventually supported the campus radio station and record label. I was grateful that I was trusted with their brand and gave a tremendous amount back in return.
My end at the university came from my decision to leave. At that point, I had a decent reputation and felt respected. With the exit of my manager and the introduction of a new manager, I was sad to see my old manager go but hopeful to have another that was equally as good.
We had an introductory conversation where I told the her where I came from, a little about my background ad that was it, I felt straight away they saw me as lesser due the disappointed reactions to my responses and the communication sadly spread from there. The final jab was when she told me how terrible the paintings were at the entrance of the university, that is where I told her that I did them. She seemed shocked at my revelation, and I could see the wheels of disdain grow in her diminishing expressions. Everyone is entitled to their view, but you don't need to make fun of peoples work.
In context: I had previously spent weeks painting portraits of famous movie characters for the students to help liven up the space for the students, which inspired them to get involved and create their own - they weren't photorealistic by any stretch, but it put a smile in my heart that I helped to bring out creativity in others, they were pride of place for years.
For our first project together, I was already hallway through a prospectus, having put in 2 months’ work into it. The idea proposed by the her was a complete redesign, which I was unsure of the need but was open to it, I worked with the her on their ideals and started work on the rework.
This is where the working relationship broke down, as I was redesigning this project over a month, this person secretly passed the project onto another designer outside of the company to redesign, which I found out soon after. For one, it communicates to others at the company that I was a designer not capable of the role (by then, I certainly knew I was) and that said person does not trust my input by handling the project in secrecy. What she did not expect, was that I would succinctly and precisely point how this attitude makes for a toxic working relationship and further asked why she chose to do that – my statements and questions were wafted away, and I was expected to rework the project for the third time using concepts made by a designer, alongside correcting the many mistakes they made.
I moved on from that experience, as I would not forget the many years I had enjoyed at the university. Sadly, the attitude continued, I no longer was allowed to think of my own ideas as I had to design exactly as specified. I had to design with said person hovering behind me pointing to the screen as they told me exactly what should go where, it was humiliating to go from a respected designer to being treated like a child. With a heavy heart, I had to make the decision to leave, this came from the final ‘red box’ conversation. She asked me to design a poster which primarily focused on a blue theme, after the meeting I started work on the poster, when I do this, I draw out a grid to propose an optimal layout, I do this by using bright coloured squares as they are easier to see. She saw me drawing bright red boxes, and immediately told me to change their colour, as she specified blue in her design brief. Calmly, I explained the reasons why I do this, and the damning phrase I will never forget “I will NOT leave until you change the red boxes to blue” – I changed the boxes to blue, then called it a day, it was no longer worth the energy. I wished that person the best, we all have our own reasons for doing what we do, ultimately from my perspective, I must retain dignity as much as everyone there.
My fourth lesson: My designs should speak for me, not my background
My output is purely my action, and my actions define me. When the new manager started, they did not look at the nearly 5 years’ worth of work I had amassed with the university, nor speak to my colleagues and get an idea of my reputation to validate the idea of my continuing to work with said person as a designer. The opening conversation covered where I studied, what it was like to work at the university, my background, and that was it. That person formed that view of me from the start, and it was a view that looked on myself with disdain.
It is a mindset that I have encountered many times in my career, especially my early attempts to join the industry, it was the elephant in the room which we all felt was present. I knew they were looking at my beginnings, which bear no significance to my more developed skillset today. But imagine you take that chance, the work shows everything that you need in a designer is there and disregard the irrelevance of a moment in their past a long time ago, you open yourself and that person to another world of opportunities, and subsequently be part of the enrichment of the pool of designers by pulling down the barrier that previously watered down the talent pool with its narrow minded views.
When we speak to people, we speak to the person, not the background in which we do not have any choice. This is what I carry with me to this day, and I want all other potential and current designers to promote this viewpoint, that a career in Graphic Design is only available to a particular background.
My next move was mainly to refresh myself as I moved away from a negative situation, I worked for a manufacturing company, and it was a nice breather. The work was easier and generally the team was very nice. Early on I realised this role was not for me long term, but it was a comfortable stop gap. Over time I realised the more restrictive nature of the position was beginning to grate on me, I had no influence, my influence was minimal, and I felt I needed to step forward and not sideways. Out of the blue I was headhunted by a recruiter who proposed a role in a new company. It was a surprise, but after reading the details, I realised it wouldn’t hurt to try. Sure, enough I landed the role!
The role was at a start-up company, new to the UK but hoping to establish a new brand as part of an international web of sub brands. It was a very small team, and the manager I had at the time seemed very down to earth and open to my ideas. The work given to me allowed me the opportunity to develop the brand, alongside providing my input for various projects as the conversation was always left open for multiple viewpoints – the communication was far ahead from what I had before and I was trusted to lean into my creative input much more than before, it seemed like a dream come true.
They dynamic grew as we worked on bigger projects, that is where I experienced the first sign something was off. I was a month into the role, one of the managers came to me and asked me to speak to someone, I was in the middle of a project and said “Sure, will be available in 2 minutes for you as I am in the middle of a project”. What that he forgot to tell me, was it was the company director was the person that wanted to speak to me. 2 minutes later I was called to the director’s office to have a catch up, he closed the door and shouted in my face about me apparently saying that I refused to speak to him. In truth, the manager that asked me to go to the office forgot to tell me who. After the director finished screaming in my face, I calmly said that I think his behaviour was unnecessary and it looks like something had been miscommunicated. To me, I was devastated, I had started a new role, seemingly my dream job, and it turned out the director was unable to manage his emotions and trust that my actions were benign. At that point, I walked out of the meeting to rethink the situation, shaking with anger I took a clean breath outside. I spoke to my manager, she apologised and was determined to ask the director to do the same. It took 4 weeks for the director to pull me into a meeting, and all he could muster for an apology was ‘we both have something to learn from’, that about summed up my time there - the lack of leadership taking ownership of their actions, which was a poor example to set for others. After that day, I always felt uneasy, that at any point I can be humiliated for any reason.
I was determined to not let that attitude lose me an opportunity to truly shine, the following year I excelled as I worked on bigger projects, all seemed to be going smoothly to my satisfaction.
We entered the pandemic, and was soon working from home, much to the frustration of the director. For me, I was OCD diagnosed at the time and had recently undertaken compulsive behaviour therapy (CBT) which allowed me to minimise my OCD – it was a great feeling. Going into the pandemic, for people like myself, was like going back to square one. There was a proven threat unseen to the eye, which triggered obsessive cleaning for fear of making my family or others ill. Then on top of that, being locked in with schools closed while looking after my kids all day at the same time – it was a recipe for disaster. Every day was a struggle, but I got there thanks to tag-teaming with my wife with her in a similar situation, we both were able to get the work done.
Despite the challenge, I covered a lot of work, to the point I was regularly praised by the team which I was grateful for, we did our best but there were signs that the company was failing due to the low intake following the pandemic.
Mid-pandemic, we get an email from the director, announcing the return to the office, despite government guidance advising we should not return. I was shocked at the decision, so I tried to call the director, no answer, I emailed, no answer, called his personal mobile, no answer. My manager, no answer, my managers email, no answer…..and so on. This sent my stress levels through the roof (the symptoms were like a permanent panic attack) I was on overload which lasted for over a week, this is a common sign of an Anxiety attack through OCD.
I trusted my team, so I emailed them stating I could not get hold of them, but due to my OCD I was not comfortable returning to the office and underlined current government instruction and the effects it was having on me due to my condition and offered to talk once they were available.
I did not go into the office the next day, and continued to work from home, as I had no communication from the team.
The next day, I was called by my manager saying they were going to give me the highest level disciplinary in response – as you can expect, that further exasperated my symptoms. The level of disciplinary was higher than the level you get for stealing company money, than assaulting staff or customers, for breaking the law on their premises. I had no conversation, no verbal or written warning, nothing. I was one step away from being terminated. It was clear something did not add up, why the substantial escalation?.
Thanks to my research into employment law, I found that OCD legally was to be treated as a disability which opens up a whole level of legal gremlins for them considering they knew I had it all along. I contested their decision on said basis, they offered a meeting where I explained the issue in a way they could understand, they weren’t interested until I mentioned their legal obligations.
The next day…I was told the company was closing. Strange, why give someone such treatment if you know the company was going to close? Turns out, in the UK you have to work for a company 2 years before receiving redundancy money, and my disciplinary was just a few days before my 2 year anniversary. They tried to use my OCD against me as they knew how I would respond to the office suddenly reopening, all this seemingly to avoid paying redundancy!
It was an awful thing to do, I used my knowledge of employee law to contest their decision in order to cross the 2 year mark, just enough to get my redundancy which I sorely needed to pay the bills until I found new work.
To work so closely with a team you cared for as friends, to go through the ups and downs of the company starting up with them, to give more effort I have ever given to a role in my career, which I saw as my dream role at the time – only for them to turn on you just because of money, is one of the most darkest things anyone has done to me, and was it worth it? If that was their attitude and values, I was much better without.
After a month searching for jobs, I had a few offers, I could not believe how much interest I got. I accepted a role with my current company and was determined to recycle the energy of frustration and betrayal into something new and positive, and channelled it into my new role talking with my years of experience and deep learnings from my entire career.
My final lesson: Don’t let the desire to succeed suffocate the roots around you
Following my last experience, I realised they were afraid of losing what they had. I also realised they saw me as an opportunity to soften the blow for them, regardless of the consequences. Sadly, actions like that burn bridges, and sour your reputation in the industry. Yes, I could have taken them to court, but what would that achieve? It happened, it was dumb, but all court would have done is take more strain from my life to gain some more coin. I used the energy for positive change, which was a key skill learned in this moment. The ability to turn bad into good by action and intellect acts as the catalyst to seed positive change, and in turn it changes the way people perceive you as a capable professional.
I chose to move on, I chose to keep trusting people, and it paid off more than money could ever quantify.
Now, I can safely say I am working in my dream job. I am listened to. I am respected. I can grow. That is all I ever wanted since I started my journey, and with my chest of experiences it is great to share my ups and downs with other designers to teach some of my self-cultivated philosophies and learnings on the way.
With the context of my struggles over the years, I would not be where I am now without my previous footprints. I hope to give weight to the gruelling practice of perseverance, perseverance weathers the storm, it builds deeper and deeper roots in which you can grow and stay yourself; those roots grow deep underground, as you push you are never immediately aware how strong those roots are - until the wind blows once more, which may convince you to stop, don’t.
Without perseverance, I could never have broken the societal barrier on my path to being a Designer. I would have never sat there calmly while I was berated as I conducted my work. I would have never taken these learnings with the kindness that I use today to treat everyone I meet as equals. Now I hope to be part of spreading a wider message of background no longer being a measure of one's capability.
Now I grow in my role, conscious that I want people to grow with me. I share my enthusiasm and love for Design, the footprints of my journey, and my way of taking problems and always working out solutions.
Do what you are meant to do, be happy.
Thank you for reading.