Career Interrupted

Design a Thriving Career in an Uncertain World

For the past 20 years, I have helped businesses build innovation teams and helped design professionals find career success.

Photos courtesy of Angela Yeh

By Angela Yeh, Founder & Chief Talent Strategist, Thrive by Design & Yeh IDeology

My team and I have continued our mission to help employers and design professionals gear up for success in this changing world of design by collaborating with F100 companies and top consultancies to define and develop creative capabilities with individuals and working teams. Through the Thrive By Design career coaching program, we help professionals take charge of their career so that they don’t find themselves stuck in a job they no longer love, but instead consistently stay in the market in roles they thrive in.

The Thrive By Design program helps designers in the critical phases of transition within their career paths. We work with designers in the early stage of realizing they need to transition to a different career path, in helping designers get through the front door of their ideal workplace, and at the peak of their careers when they don’t know where to go next.

Thriving in Design, Even Now

These are just four of our incredible wins in our journey toward helping designers pivot and succeed in these uncertain times. What’s intriguing is that all these have happened since March 2020, a time of great global economic crisis triggered by the onset of COVID-19.

  1. We helped a multidisciplinary, mid-level design researcher identify and position herself for a good job offer, and then convert it into an opportunity of a lifetime. She will work as a senior researcher with strategic responsibilities. In June she accepted the offer and closed out her NYC apartment, as her employer relocated her to North Carolina to start her new job there. She’s thrilled and can’t wait to get started.
  2. A director of innovation at a leading furniture corporation successfully pivoted to launch her very own consultancy for C-Suite. In the last four months she has signed two big corporate client contracts, and she also has recontracting agreements on the table.
  3. A senior designer who went through our masterclass program secured a top management job as a product development manager that fits her lifestyle. This new job gave her more time to plan, initiate, and launch her custom furniture restoration business, which is now thriving and already generating nearly the same income as her salaried job.
  4. We helped a design manager finally rediscover her true value and purpose for herself as well as for her employers. She won a new job as director of design, marketing, and product development at a growing manufacturer with a $30,000 pay raise. Within her first four months, she has won and landed her biggest deals yet and is now generating more revenue for her employer than they ever could.

My Journey to Career Coaching and Talent Strategy

Looking back at my own career history, I used to always feel lost every step of the way. I graduated college as a psychologist (a path cut out for me by my MD father), but I realized I just didn’t want to become a therapist who worked with everyone and anyone. I then got a job in developmental psychobiology research, a job that I didn’t love even though I excelled at it. Despite being confused about where to go next, I knew I was fascinated with design. I attended Pratt Institute’s Masters of Industrial Design program. There I got to see the endless possibilities of what we could create. I was also inspired by the diverse kinds of creatives I met there. I worked as a designer and design director. Yet, I realized again that I wasn’t in love with my work managing designers and designing myself. I loved the profession but I wasn’t enthralled by it.

In the blink of an eye, systems can become obsolete and a new order replaces them. But being the one to affect change is a process. Being ready doesn’t happen overnight.

It was at that point that I took up an offer from a top design recruitment agency. I accepted the offer after a bit of soul searching, taking numerous self-assessment tests, and reading countless books on careers. I became convinced that being a recruiter was my calling. When I moved into recruitment, I found I loved analyzing the work of professionals in this space, making connections, and building design teams.

With the rise of recruiting apps, my work became a commoditized and accelerated game of matchmaking, not about the quality of a match. I wasn’t satisfied with just making matches, and I wondered why some matches lasted longer and produced better results for the employer and job seeker. I could see there were things that I could change in the method of recruitment. That was when I founded my own recruitment agency, Yeh IDeology, to innovate upon the business of recruitment and improve the way talent and employers interact and choose each other.

Designing for a Changing World

This is the age of thought leadership and grassroots movements. We’ve come to a period of human civilization where anyone can step forward in order to affect change. In fact, YOU can create the change the world seeks and design our future for the better. As designers, some of the biggest challenges we encounter is that the business world doesn’t always fully understand the impact of design. They can’t always equate aesthetics, functionality, strategy, or innovation to numbers directly. One of the things that you’ll want to do as a designer is to learn to speak about the impact of design in business terminology. During some consultation sessions with clients, I often hear remarks like, “I want to make an impact, I want to do as much as I can and to shift this world in the right direction.” Well, THIS is that moment. This is that time where the world is asking you to step up. And you should because you can. What is the most powerful thing you can do with your tools, with your skills, with your expertise? Now’s the time for you to squeeze all your creative juices to create something that disrupts the world for the better.

How Can You Tell When You’re Ready for Change?

Change may occur in an instant. In the blink of an eye, systems can become obsolete and a new order replaces them. But being the one to 24 affect change is a process. Being ready doesn’t happen overnight. Right now, there’s a strong chance that you’re not even sure where to begin. And to be honest, doing all you can to become ready can be a daunting task.

I know some of the most talented people on the planet who can’t find their calling. I’ve also seen others who know they could do more but don’t know how to channel their energies and gifts to create pivotal results. Most designers I work with are creative, have a lot of potential, are multi-disciplinary, and highly capable. And I find that for those that are talented and diversely capable, it can be harder to choose their paths themselves.

The path of a multi-talented designer is more complicated. It’s like the game of chess with so many more components to it. You’ve got many more career options to choose from, and therein lies the challenge. Focusing on the personal effects of your work and a potential change to your career can help alleviate these challenges. For your career, your number one customer and main stakeholder to consider is YOU. The most important thing you want to understand is what the things that you want and love are. What are the things that you need to do to change and evolve?

One Big Problem

Truth be told, people still struggle to find the right career path and get their life together even in the best of times. If you can’t interpret your internal compass, how then can you navigate the world outside? Change and transformation require time. This interruption/intermission in the stream of time presents to us as designers a rare opportunity to do the internal work that’s needed for us to find our way through these uncertain times.

Now is the time when our clients and customers need us the most. They are depending on us to create better solutions for their businesses, their products, their services, and their lives.

I’m sure of these four things:

  • The world needs your help.
  • Your expertise is needed more than ever.
  • YOU are needed more than ever.
  • Now is the time for reinvention.

What You Need To Do

Let’s be honest, in this new world, you might have limited choices. The careers that you may want may not exist for the time being and possibly for a while or even forever. Now is the time to look at all the choices you have before you with a realistic perspective.

What choices are no longer available to you? Which new choices are available to you now that you might never have previously considered? In this new world, what decisions are you fortunate enough to make out of all the choices before you?

You have to look for new opportunities in new realms with new eyes and a new perspective. Now that you’re ready to step up and create the lasting, drastic change, it’s time to take action so that you can thrive.

Thriving is:

  • Doing the work that you love
  • Experiencing real growth in the work that you do
  • Working for employers or with clients that respect and value you and your expertise
  • AND earning good, even great money for what you do If you are a design professional but feel stuck where you are right now in your profession, we understand.

What used to get you out of bed every morning may no longer excite you. In fact, you may feel you’re going down a path that’s keeping you from achieving your life goals. You no longer realize who you are and can’t tell if you’re still a designer. You want more than anything to get to the next level in your career and life—perhaps to a new industry or even to jump to a new profession altogether. But whatever you’ve tried isn’t working. I urge you to step up and take back control of your situation, but you must realize that you can’t do it all by yourself. If you want to speed up your transformation, you’ll need assistance. You’ll need that expert outside perspective.

The best way to get through this is to find mentors and coaches to help you:

  • Pivot and adjust your offering
  • Evaluate whether your customers have changed and don’t need you anymore
  • Shift career or profession
  • Reach out to more people
  • Connect to a new tribe
  • Meditate and become magnetic because people gravitate towards positivity and ingenuity
  • Teach what you know
  • Let go of what’s not working
  • Create new value and offer it to more and new people
  • Iterate again and again and again until it works

Identifying and then landing these opportunities in time is a science. The most successful leaders and businesses have advisors, coaches, and consultants. You should too. You might have to seek help to evaluate your talents and figure out how best to combine your abilities. You’ll also need help to identify your best avenues for growth and create a plan that transforms your dreams into realities. Don’t leave your life to chance. Do what’s necessary so you can innovate, create, and expand.

From Design Museum Magazine Issue 016