Hitting the Ceiling

Theoretically, we should always be improving. Whether it be art or writing or our jobs or driving or whatever, the more we do something, the better we get. The unfamiliar becomes familiar, and where we once struggled to find a solution, we learn what works in certain situations. Faced with the same problem, there's always a tried and true method to fall back on.

The problem with growth is that there are limits. Physically for example, once we attain our maximum height, we're there for the rest of our lives. In fact, by the time we're elderly, we may even start shrinking. Can this be true of our skills and talents? If every year is better than the last, and the bar is continually raised, is there ever a point where a year is the same as the previous one, or worse, somehow less?

A plateau is a tough place to be on, and worse when you don't realize you've become complacent. It's like in Rocky III, when the boxing champ enjoyed a long winning streak, until he learned that none of his opponents were at his level. I may have reached that point in my career. I don't want to go into too much detail, because while I leave both my real name and the name of my company shrouded in mystery, I try not to discuss work for fear of being ”Dooced”. I also know the detailed specifics of my job will only interest two or three of my readers. Suffice it to say, my annual performance review wasn't bad, and acknowledged all the hard work I did last year. The problem was that I didn't do anything different or special, and the challenge issued to me for 2007 is to change that.

I've proven I can handle any heavy workload, and that I'll never miss a deadline. I’m a team player with a positive attitude and a friendly manner. But in many ways, I've fallen into a rut. I can get my work done because I have a rotating arsenal of basic design templates that I know are acceptable. After more than a decade of being a designer though, I'm starting to think there are only so many ways of designing certain things. And then there's the jaded voice of experience and other workers lurking in my subconscious, telling me not to take any critique seriously, because ultimately something has to be criticized to justify a smaller raise or a lack of a promotion. It's easy to get jaded like that, and yet it would be foolish not to address a criticism. If it is valid, then it should be remedied, if not for one's current job then for one's own skill set for the future.

Just doing my job isn't enough; I'm supposed to do that as a bare minimum. This year I'll have to be more creative, and come up with some radical things that get noticed, that I can be proud of. I have to find inspiration, and not be content to quickly win a “fight” and go on to the next one. I have to try.

The other day, when I reminisced about learning the Mac, I thought a lot about the stuff I designed in college. That stuff really sucked. It was bad. I had the barest grasp of color and type, and I used a fraction of the full capability of the computer software. Some days I wondered what I was doing in a classroom with real artists, and how I would ever find a job after graduation. The stuff I did for my first job wasn't anything special, but designing for a purpose rather than a class assignment gave me a little more focus. I have made progress, and I can say I'm a lot better than I was ten years ago. I even added InDesign to my arsenal in 2006, and with practice I'm beginning to feel really comfortable and confident in a new program. The technical aspect of my job has never been a problem though, and I always learn quickly in that regard. I guess all those video games paid off. The software isn’t a struggle; it’s what I create with it.

I have no idea what I'm going to do differently in 2007. I have no idea how. “Be more innovative” is, to me, a vague statement. The first step, which I'm wrestling with right now, is to assess whether or not I truly have hit the ceiling. Can I go any further with my talent? Given time, I probably could take a second look at some of my designs and revise them drastically. That's my other challenge, because the workload and deadlines are still there. I can do something acceptable and on time, but I might do something fantastic but late. Sometimes I feel like I'm expected to do both, leading to rambling paragraphs of analysis and introspection with no clear conclusion...


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