it’s not you, it’s me. or maybe it’s all of us.

November 18, 2009 |  Category:   art + design life rambling


There’s something going around. No, not an illness, though there is some of that too as the girls have been coughing incessantly and it doesn’t seem to be going away. I’m talking about a slight shift or maybe even the start of something bigger for people like me, of this age, in a similar situation who is feeling a desperate need to change their careers and lives. You’ve heard me express my general feelings of indifference towards graphic design which has been my “career”, but while I’ve often had passing thoughts about breaking away from client-based design work, I have never felt the pull so strong as I have in the last few months. I’m not exactly sure what flipped the switch (and that is exactly what it feels like), but I’ve been having the same conversations with other people who are experiencing something similar.

Is this what an early mid-life crises is (or am I already there? yikes!)? I don’t know, but the friends that I’ve talked with all happen to be around the same age. When you think about it, 15 years is a long time to do something that you’ve fallen out of love with (or that you never completely loved in the first place). Projects are different, clients are different, but in the end, the design process is the same. I don’t feel excitement or inspiration when I start a new project. I mostly see the stress of deadlines, creative struggles, client critiques and rejection, and general boredom. Pretty bad.

I was taken by this article which I read yesterday, about a successful graphic design firm that decided to close its doors after 20 years in the biz, not because of the downturn in the economy, but because the 2 principles had lost passion for the business and started to dread coming into work. I respect those who recognize when it’s time for a change and actually have the courage to work towards that goal. And so, my friends, in the upcoming new year, I will attempt the same. I have no idea (really, NO idea) what it is that I’m attempting to transition to (that would help, huh?), but in a way, I feel as if I have little choice if we’re talking about happiness here. The industry might be changing too. There are more and more stock design sites and templated website services popping up and it’s hard to compete with them for small business pitches (Check out Point 3 on this site). And so what is left? Agency work? But it’s also hard to compete with the many hungry and talented young designers who are willing and can work for much less than someone more experienced. Part of my desire to transition out of design work is that I don’t enjoy it anymore. It’s enough. The other part is that I want to get out before it pushes *me* out. In many industries, age matters. I think that is in part, what happened to Mark when he got laid off from his new job of 3 months way back in February last year before we started this whole adventure. His replacement was younger, unmarried, without children and Mark had to train her before he left. Whether you knew this or not, the restaurant industry is also a young industry. Mark was often one of the oldest in the kitchen and we’re not even that old so we’ve been through all this before. We made that push and now Mark is on the other side.

But you may be asking…you already have…a business? Yes, but we started W&S so that Mark could be employed while unemployed and while it is most definitely a collaboration of both our skills, Mark is the baker. That’s the product. One thing I have always talked about is expanding the brand to include products I can design. This is one possibility. I’ve been talking with a few friends about other ideas. I don’t know where that will take me, but it gets the mind working. There will be challenges, of course. I still need to work and I still need to support the family, but my mind is more at ease as we move into our 3rd year of business next April (O.M.G.). What does this all mean?? I don’t know what it means, but all I know is that I need to figure it out, even if it means a slow transition out. I can’t not work and I don’t have the luxury of time or money, but as always, I’ll document whatever happens, here. Funny how the blog started as we launched one business, maybe it will continue as we launch another. Or not. SO confusing!!

I’ll leave you with this: the trailer for Lemonade (thanks martha!), the documentary about former ad professionals who were laid off in this recession. Interesting conversations follow in the comments, but I’ve pulled one out from the filmmaker that I feel describes our situation to a tee last year:

“Those in the film who started their own business did so because starting their own business was the only option. This isn’t about silver spooned-advertising brats with nothing better to do with their money. This is about people who found the balls to pursue their dreams out of necessity.”

And this, which I feel somewhat describes me now:

“I’ve been in “the biz” for 20 years. And for the past? 19+ years, I’ve sat around with co-workers trying to figure out what else we can do. During the last big down turn, a ton of friends became teachers. I’m now (of my own accord) a freelancer but still search for life outside of adverteasing. I always said I needed to make the change by the time I turned 40…”

Work hard, people. But there is no reason why we need to be unhappy in what we do. I hear Tim Gunn in my head a lot these days. “Make it work”, “Go go go!”.

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  • unha November 18, 2009 at 10:05 pm


  • Josephine November 18, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Hey Jenna
    Snaps to you for making the decision to make a change. These times in one’s life are always odd and scary.
    I hope that whatever the change may be, it presents itself soon! For what it’s worth, you’re a coherent and engaging writer. An option perhaps?

    May the force be with you 😉

  • unha November 18, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    talking with K about your writing. you know, i love it. (totally in my head — if dooce can do it, you can do it too! — some book. of something. )

  • Sooshi November 18, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    I think it’s a great time to be ‘in transition’. 🙂 goodluck!

  • kimberly November 18, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    oh man, where to start?

    when i first read your post about your relationship with design, my first thoughts were, “MAN…finally! someone put into words, cohesively, the way I too felt about being a designer and my relationship with it.” I’m not totally in love with design, and really, I didn’t go to school to learn how to design, but i admire it. I’m 25 and seven years into the “biz” and already I feel the urge to change…like I’ve lost the creativity or something. I don’t know what’s wrong (or what my hang up is) anymore. It’s so hard, so incredibly hard, to wake up and go to my office and do the work that I do, because I just don’t believe in it any longer. There’s no inspiration in trim & packaging (it really could just be the company i work for), but my downfall is that i’m afraid of leaving it for fear of being without a paycheck. Clearly, I’m not happy…and reading about the leap of faith that you and your husband made has given me hope – and clearly it has worked out for you. Thank you, for providing that inspiration! And maybe, just maybe I too could work towards something, that provides more fulfillment & happiness.

    Thank goodness for Tim Gunn!

  • Laura November 19, 2009 at 12:17 am

    thought provoking post, especially for someone who also owns her own business. when i am honest, i tell people i started my business when i could not find work. 4 beads and youtube tutorials. it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions i’ve made but who knows how i’ll feel 10 years from now. i read something today about how it doesn’t matter how much money you make from your 9-5 if it doesn’t fulfill you. do what does. go go go!

  • Kitty November 19, 2009 at 12:28 am

    I think to include in your brand products that you design is a great idea.

  • Karin S. November 19, 2009 at 12:59 am

    Jenna, I’ve said this before but you share a lot of the same feelings I have towards graphic design. I worked a little over six years for two different companies as a graphic designer…and I’ve done a few freelance projects…and I’ve never really loved it. I like art/design, but being creative really stresses me out. I feel like it’s something I can do, and can do pretty well, but I’m not passionate about it. I know some people who are really passionate about it, and I wish that were me, but it’s not. Right now I’m working a non-graphic design job just to pay the bills, but I can’t stay where I am forever…plus I need my benefits back. I am hopeful that one day I will have that “ah-hah!” moment…but until that day comes, it is very frustrating not knowing what the future holds careerwise.

  • Laura@mtp November 19, 2009 at 1:17 am

    You’re right Jenna, 15 years is a long time.
    I’ve been with my company for 16 years and felt exactly the same, a need to change. So on Dec 24th I leave, out into the unknown, and I feel like it’s the best decision I’ve ever made!
    Good luck!

  • nisha November 19, 2009 at 7:28 am

    Jenna – I visit your site daily for your honest, beautiful writing – and of course your photography just makes me smile, or…stop and think, no words required. I feel certain that good things are in the works for you!

    I left my job of 18 years in May of 2007. I just didn’t have the passion anymore. I haven’t quite figured out what is next, but I have seen that age is a barrier. I’ve been racking my head trying to figure out what I can do on my own, and how that can help support a family of 7. Tough times out there, but with your talent and attitude, I just know good things are ahead for you. Best of luck and thanks for sharing your journey – you inspire me!

  • selkie November 19, 2009 at 7:45 am

    They say “take a leap off the cliff and a net will appear”. I did that, 8 years ago, leaving a job of 24 years, a town and state I had spent most of my life in, uprooted two teenage boys. All because I could not breath, I was certain I would wither and die if I stayed. And now both the boys and I say it was the best thing I ever did. I had to dig around a bit to survive, but it has been an affirming experience in all ways. FOLLOW YOUR HEART and instincts and intuition and the net WILL appear, like a miracle.

  • Sloan November 19, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Wow. You just summed up everything I’ve been feeling about my job. I’m not a designer of any sort, just someone who is past the point of caring deeply about their work. My husband and I had a long talk last night about other avenues that I could pursue. There are many things that I LOVE, but I’m not sure that any could pay the bills. So, I’m in a similar situation. Ready to leap, but not quite sure where. Thanks for the inspiring post. It IS time to make it work.

    P.S. I suppose I’m a lurker of sorts. Your blog is a daily read–your photos are so gorgeous.

  • Shannalee November 19, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Just wanted to say I loved this. So much. And I believe you will excel at whatever you pursue. Rooting for you and looking forward to hearing what happens, day by day.

  • Char November 19, 2009 at 11:40 am

    I think our society pressures us to ‘be’ something which then constrains us by its label. Some people like to follow their passion 24/7. Others feel more stimulated by doing a variety of things. You clearly have a lot of energy – perhaps it’s OK to mix writing, photography, parenting, graphic design and managing a business. It may be harder to answer the question ‘so what do you do?’ but perhaps it suits your lifestyle? I work 2 paid days a week and the rest of the time I do a mix of things from the banal (clean the house) to the rewarding (paint, sew and parent my 2-year old girl). Yes, there are practical issues, like paying the bills, but you are talented! I agree with your other readers that you are a great writer and photographer. Your blog already weaves together so many of the strands – I think you could continue to extend those relationships and be successful. Good luck!

  • j November 19, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Maybe try thinking back to before you became a graphic artist. Were there any other interests you had that you just put on the back burner to pursue your current career? The reason I ask is that I’m going through something similar. I was in the HR field before I became a mom. And in the few years I’ve been a stay at home mom, I’ve actually decided to switch careers to something I also wanted to do which is work for the government. Fortunately, I was able apply to one particular agency I respect and am in the middle of the process. Didn’t think I’d get this far and though it’s been a lengthy process, it’s what I’ve always wanted and am willing to wait for it. So your thinking is on the right path and I only hope that you do find that niche that will fulfill you for the next 15 years plus. Best of luck!

  • Alicia November 19, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    I don’t know anything about blog advertising, and maybe you’re against it, but also maybe it would be a good time to revamp the blog to allow for ads and bring in some extra money?

  • julie November 19, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    amen sister!! i respect so much your boldness in expressing your honest feelings. i pray that you find a creative outlet that you enjoy!! By the way, w&s is full of lots of yummy goodness, and I hope your business continues to go well! xo 🙂

  • jennifer November 19, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Awesome! Congratulations on the revelation. You no doubt will become a success at anything to persue.

  • Nidhi November 19, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    I have had similar conversations with people my age and none of us have anywhere near the amount of talent and good design accomplishments that you do. But we feel that the industry has changed drastically in the past few years…for eg. the stock design templates and the bidding sites you mentioned. Ironically, I have been working on my grad school applications and one of the schools I am considering is Tisch which I noticed you went to. (The ITP program is very confusing though and I was wondering if I could email you about it?) I guess for me and lot of my friends we think of art and design in a more organic manner than client work lets you. And I have much growing to do stylewise.

    I feel very hopeful for you two because you have one very strong brand and a great product to support it. Your taste in design and photography is impeccable and I am sure some direction will flow out of it.

  • Beth November 19, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Good luck with your reinvention! Change is always good.

  • martha November 20, 2009 at 12:59 am

    so happy for you. I know how good it feels to make decisions like this.
    I feel like this has been happening in the architecture world alot lately too, although alot of it does come from the economy (architecture is one of the first things to go south and one of the last to come back) I think there is also the fact that it is just such a hard field. Hard to get work, no one has money, you are dealing with life safety issues every day not to mention the way that everyone seems to think they can be an architect, so they don’t really need you.
    anyway….blah blah blah.
    I look forward to following along here to see where you end up.
    oh, and I hope that movie turns out to be as good as the trailer looks (I’m afraid it will be a bit sappy…)

  • Jenna November 20, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Martha, yes…the field of architecture has been hit hard. I have quite a few architect friends, and it always floored me how little architects made, relative to the long hours and years of school. I find it ever fascinating, since the first time I hung out on the architecture floor at Cooper Union (to me, far more interesting than what I was doing on the floors above and below) to visiting the Harvard Graduate School of Design when we were redesigning that site. Being on those trays in that building with the cantilever floors and clear glass ceiling! I’m not sure I’ve seen a more inspiring place since. Anyway, just kudos to architects.

    And agreed about the movie. Hope it’s not sappy…

  • Anna @ D16 November 20, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Gosh, I can relate to all of this so hardcore right now. I have exactly zero advice, but it’s comforting to read this.

  • kate November 20, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    This is so inspiring. And I just typed an 800 word paragraph on why, but realized it was ramble-tastic and made no sense, so I’ll just leave it at that and say that I wholeheartedly feel you, girl. I recently went on some job interviews that kind of re-enforced my declining love of the design world. What to do, what to do…

  • alexandra January 27, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    the documentary is really inspiring and full of hope (i was precisely talking about trust with my parents on skype (they are living in florence now), or about (my) lack of trust. coincidences, good ones!

    i’m so happy that you feel more relaxed and confident, and you really have reasons for that, just hear your own words.

    lots of happiness*

  • alexandra January 27, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    ups! i mistaken myself i wanted to post it on ‘trust’. done already*