Three years ago, I made the decision to change careers. It was a big decision. At the time, I had a stable job as a graphic designer. I wasn’t being especially challenged in my work, but it was predictable and comfortable and I had a decent amount of creative freedom.
I remember sitting at my desk one day after watching a webinar by a local company called The Nerdery. They were launching what they called a UX apprenticeship, designed to help those who had the raw skills needed for UX design, but who lacked the experience so many jobs required.
This was my opportunity to make a quick transition into UX. But it meant leaving my comfortable graphic design job. It was a risk, and I didn’t know if I’d have a job at the end of my three-month apprenticeship. Would I have enough skills to start a new job at the end? I decided to take the leap and apply, and was accepted into program to become one of the first UX apprentices.
Looking back now, three years into my UX career, I can see how many doors this opportunity opened for me, not just professionally, but personally too. It’s proof that the best growth happens when you’re outside of your comfort zone.
Taking a leap isn’t easy by any means. It’s easier to find excuses that hold us back. We don’t think we can do what we want to do, for whatever reason. These are some of the excuses I’ve made for myself over the past few years, and how I’ve learned to get past them.
But I’m afraid to do it
When I first started working in UX, I was afraid to talk about it much, especially in front of my co-workers. I felt they knew far more than I did. But the more I did it, the less afraid I became. All the awkward conversations with co-workers and clients got me to the point where I was more confident and comfortable.
We all feel afraid at times. That’s ok. What’s not ok is letting that fear take control and keep you from doing what you want. When I feel scared, I remind myself that no matter how scary or uncomfortable I feel, it’s still better than where I was before. I’ve learned that I’m capable of big things, and that the more you do, the less scary they become. One day, you’ll find that the things that used to scare you aren’t so scary anymore.
But I don’t know how to take the first step
Start with baby steps. Sometimes you need to take a big risk, like switching careers. Other times, it’s a small step, like reaching out to ask someone to mentor you.
Decide what your first step will be and write it down. Break it down into action steps to make it happen. Find someone who can hold you accountable to that plan. And be persistent. If you want something badly enough, go after it, even if the first step doesn’t work out the way you thought it would.
But I don’t want to be in a situation that makes me uncomfortable
I remember feeling impatient with myself a month into my apprenticeship. I wanted to fast-forward to a time when I knew all the UX things and skip the awkward, painful growth process. But if I’d done that, I would’ve missed out on valuable experiences along the way. I had to learn to be patient with the journey and experience uncomfortable moments. Looking back now, it’s those moments of growth that got me to where I am now.
When we’re in the middle of doing something that scares us, our tendency is to want to get out of that situation as quickly as possible. Allow yourself to linger there and see what you can learn. Continue to push yourself and learn from others around you.
But I don’t want to fail
Nobody does! But the best way to learn is to make mistakes and learn from them. If you choose to learn something from mistakes and try again, then you haven’t really failed. Sometimes we’re so worried about failing that we fail because we let fear stop us from even trying.
What does going outside of your comfort zone look like for you? Have you long been thinking about a career in UX but aren’t sure how to get there or if you’ll succeed? Do you want to give a talk at a conference or share a new method you’ve been trying? Only you can answer that question for yourself.
It’s by no means an easy place to be in, and if I’m honest, I still have days when I want to crawl back into the comfortable safety net. But I know now that if I’d stayed, I’d be doing myself a disservice. I wouldn’t be where I am now or have had the opportunities I’ve had.
In the three years since my apprenticeship, I’ve spoken at several conferences, written articles for UX sites, and taken a new UX job in Australia, thousands of miles away from my comfortable home in Minnesota. I’m definitely well outside of my comfort zone, in a new country and a new job.
And yes, some days it’s hard, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do you have a question for Heather about getting started in UX? Heather is joining us for an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session next week!
Come and pick her brains about being a UX apprentice, a trans-continental UXer or anything else you can think of.
Where: Our dedicated ‘Ask Heather’ Slack channel
When: 4pm Wednesday 1 June PDT or 9am Thursday 2 June AEST (or find out what time that is for you)
NOTE: To join the session, you will need to request an invite to our Slack channel. (This takes about 1 minute.)