Shifting career goals

Getting there

ME [frustrated with work]: I think I want to really pursue this design thing.EMILY [super supportive]: You should! Where would you work?ME: I dunno. I could freelance, but I don't think I'd make much money.EMILY: Well, what about working full-time somewhere? So you could learn?ME: I think it would be cool to work for Target. Or maybe ESPN.

Five year plan

The plan from the start was to earn enough renown — or “Career Capital,” as Cal Newport puts it — to rise in the ranks or be pursued by another company. I was naive and assumed that’s what all designers did, unless they were naturally gifted and/or extremely lucky. I figured I could stay in-house and reevaluate every so often if I ever wanted to try working for myself. In hindsight, this idea wasn’t too far off, but it would take just as long learning how to navigate the ins and outs of a giant company like ESPN as it would building up the skills (and confidence) to realize my dream of starting a studio.

Let’s be honest, this would be a terrible amusement park ride. Especially if it were made out of wood. 🤮 🤕

False assumptions

Finding something else

Breaking into brand design was difficult. I could tell I was getting better at crafting identities on my own, but I still had a tough time finding a job. One of the things that pushed me to start a business was the inability to distance myself from ESPN on my own terms.

Perks of the job

Even on my way out, it was hard for me to imagine leaving a Disney-owned company. Whenever a colleague in my department quit, I’d ask myself Why on earth would anyone ever leave? I often thought about the perks — free park entry and discounted hotels, for example — when I wasn’t happy at work, and that usually distracted me enough to suppress any frustration (more than once leading me to book a trip and use up some vacation days).

I mean, look at this guy. He’s a natural!

Lessons learned

I think one of the most frustrating parts about shifting careers was the confusion about where I “belonged.” The new job was a clear mismatch, but what did that say about my decision to leave ESPN?

One year later

Working there was an honor and one of the best jobs I’ll ever have. ESPN taught me how to appreciate things I never considered before, like conceptual illustration, investigative reporting and data visualization. It allowed me to take my sisters to Disney World. It gave me a chance to meet Ned Yost. It gave me the ultimate excuse: “I have to watch this game. It’s for work.” (Although, it’s nice to watch sports just for fun again; to be so wrapped up in the results and storylines of a season and know it affected your entire workday was exhausting.) Even though ESPN lost its luster after a while, I can’t deny the welcome presence it will always play in my life.

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Titus Smith

Design Dad. Running things at The Hideout Design Company LLC. If I were a typeface it would be something heavyset.