Facing UX Career Uncertainty

Monish SubherwalDesign CareerLeave a Comment

Where are you going to be in 5-10 years? I hate that question! Yes, I have been struggling with figuring out my UX career path and it’s not an easy course.

Life is about change and movement – and staying stagnant doesn’t resonate with the ambitious. Looking into the future and creating a vision for yourself is what proactive people do! It’s a great and difficult task at the same time. But worth the reflection.

The Fear of the Wrong Move…and No Move

One the most poignant and chilling things I’ve read was a quote by Thomas Merton,

“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

To find after all your hard work that you had chased a wrong vision – seems like the ultimate waste of time and life.

Yet, it’s so easy to chase someone else’s dream. For example, your parents or peers think you should go into medicine, so you become a doctor. You have years of experience as a lawyer, and make good money – so it makes good sense to continue doing that work. The same sorts of pressure apply to UX.

Yet your heart says to do your art. To try something new.

There’s a great quote I like from the movie, “A Most Violent Year.” The protagonist, Abe Morales says,

“When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump, otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can’t do.”

It’s a great quote. Inspiring even. Yet most people don’t jump. I too have found myself in this boat. Smart people tend to get paralyzed by a few things:

  1. Having a vague idea where you want to go next, but knowing it’s not so career viable (the artist) or not knowing how to pivot
  2. Choosing the “safe” route and getting back to your job
  3. Not knowing where to go next at all, chasing different ideas of what would be lucrative (other people’s ideas of what you should do)

A person begins to question him or herself and ask “What SHOULD I be doing next?”. And there is a tremendous fear underneath this question.

Indecision and Doubt

Yes, it’s hard to move when you don’t know which ladder to climb.

At some point in every person’s life, a person may question if the direction they are going is the right direction. I know I have. At times in the past, it’s caused me to check out at work, to not be as productive, to disengage.

It’s the decision of no decision. Which causes doubt.

The feeling of not knowing where you are going and the uncertainty of the future causes great internal doubt that most don’t ever see — but that you yourself feel and know at a deep level. To say “I’m lost and I have no clue where I am going” is tough to say.

And it’s exacerbated by the fact that America demands we be successful. America prides itself in the confident A-type person who keeps earning more and more, and climbs higher and higher every year. America expects it from you, your parents expect it from you, your neighbors and community expect it from you.

Making the doubt go away

All this uncertainty and fear, causes people to do something obvious “Try and make the bad feelings of fear, uncertainty and aloneness go away.”

No one wants to feel bad feelings: internal incongruence, dissonance, and misalignment.

So people will hastily choose a direction, will ignore their futures (deny it’s a problem that they don’t have a UX career plan), choose to “live in the moment”, ask a bunch of other people what they should do.

You may think any direction is better than no direction. I disagree. A direction based out of fear — will promise that you will most likely “climb the wrong wall.”

Direction

My explorations in all this have found a golden truth. For the time being, ignore America’s definition of success, ignore the drive to earn more and get a bigger and better title and role. Ignore your peer pressure.

STOP CHASING THE BIGGER VERSION OF YOU.

Instead ask, WHO WILL YOU BECOME?

Instead of thinking about outputs and what you will get, think about the process and person you will transform into. When you can do that, something can open up. You can stop chasing false dreams and evaluate your options with your emotions. Who we become is a story. And it’ll be the story of our life and journey.

And you may be thinking “well, that didn’t help!” Then know your mission is to FIND OUT who you will become. Stop sitting there in isolation and aloneness with your doubts, instead expose yourself to your community. Go to a conference, talk to others, help your community. Get connected back to how you can help others and serve them best, rather than yourself (THE BIGGER VERSION OF YOU, you cling to).

And if all this is still not opening anything for you: let go. Be willing to sit in uncertainty and be ok with not knowing your path.  Over time, you will get that clarity.  Trust that things will get clearer.

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