January, so far, has started off quite busy. 3 weeks into the new year and it’s already been a full month of travel. A week and a half after we landed from Seattle, I got back on a plane to the West Coast, this time to San Francisco. I’ve never been much of a conference attending person, even during the height of the blogging years, but last week I flew to San Francisco to attend a live stream video conference called SummitLive. I’ve been meaning to write more about my “other life” as a community and growth manager at the tech start up I’m working at. If you’ve stuck with me through this blog for the past few years, then you know that I’ve been wanting a career change from design for quite some time. I finally did just that 15 months ago, though the way it came about was fairly gradual and circuitous as you may remember.
What I didn’t expect was this sudden feeling of identity confusion. I have always worked as a designer and an art director my entire adult life. As much as I felt indifferent about it at times, I’ve identified myself as a designer for the past 20 years. But suddenly, I was not anymore, and I was meeting hundreds of people online and in person through my tech job who have never known me as a designer or as a small business owner of a bakery. On the flip side, most of my friends assumed I was working as a designer at the start up and would express surprise when I would tell them that I wasn’t. “So…what do you do then?”
If I experienced a double career life when I was running our bakery business and working as a freelance art director before, I feel it even more now because my role at the start up diverges so far away from my old career. My identity as a small business owner was so tied to my identity as a designer and even as a blogger that it became part of our story and brand. Now, when someone asks me what I do for a living, it’s hard to explain in a concise way because it’s gotten rather complicated (never mind that some people still think that I’m the one baking away in the kitchen!). Depending on who’s asking, I might have a different answer every time.
So, why does this matter? It doesn’t. But I’ll admit, it feels strange. Sometimes I wonder why I hold on to my identity as a designer when I’ve wanted to move on from that career for years. Although I still freelance (it helps pay for summer camp, after school care and lessons for the kids), the one client I’ve held on to isn’t work that is particularly creative. I don’t feel like I’ve designed anything for a long time and I do fear that my skills will get rusty from lack of creative work. Part of it stems from wanting to keeps things in place “just in case” since start ups can be so volatile. Another part of me may not want to admit that I still wonder sometimes about this new career direction (there are some days when I still think I should be committing all of my time and energy towards our business). And maybe – this could be the most truthful of all – I’m afraid of losing my identity as a creative person to the outside world.
So yes, there it is. Am I even a designer anymore?
As time passes and I meet more people through my tech job, this question crosses my mind. While I still have a (smaller) circle of friends from the old days of Twitter and Flickr, my day to day interactions online are now mostly with new people I’ve met through the livestream community who know me from my startup. My community from the early Twitter days have shifted. I used to converse daily with other small business owners, designers, artists and bloggers, but now my circle has widened to something that is far more diverse, and that’s been a very good thing. As it turns out, online communities can be like a lot like real life friendships – people constantly shuffling in and out of your life. Since I never established additional social media accounts that were separate from our business accounts, I’m left once again to mull over the right balance between brand and personal posts, especially since my Twitter is increasingly followed by people who know me through my tech job. In a way, despite the fact that I’ve had an internet presence for a really long time (15 years), it feels like starting over. Or maybe…it’s starting fresh again.