I recently read The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns. He insists as creatives we must specialize. It wasn’t until I read this portion of the book that I realized this was exactly my problem years ago.

At the tail end of the recession, I quit my job (I know, incredible timing). I was already being furloughed, and my impatience as a mid-20’s designer was getting the best of me. I never was good at just humming along through projects that lacked passion, and I have a history of making risky moves when I am feeling stuck.

My passion for fitness has always competed a little bit with my creative side. After leaving the design job, I pursued opening a CrossFit gym in LA with friends. Have you heard about CrossFit? Just kidding, I won’t do that to you.

Long story short, the gym didn’t work out. After a year of trying to get a space, and the right funding, we called it quits. I don’t regret trying. What I learned in the process was essential for my growth.

The gym failure isn’t what I want to talk about though. What I really want to talk about is how I made money during that time. No job meant I needed to freelance to pay the bills. With no credibility as a designer, it was a “take what you can get” type of scenario. I had a couple of graphic design gigs that were cool, but most of the work I was getting was random. One of the jobs was to design a little girls hair salon and retail shop. You read that right. Pink EVERYWHERE. And very fluffy.

I did what I had to do to pay the bills. I convinced myself I needed to be a design generalist to capture as much profit as I could. On the surface, this makes sense, but all it really did was dilute my expertise in furniture design. I took the time I had each day, and spread it across designing logos, packaging, flyers, interiors, and some websites. Only a couple of times did I get an opportunity to do something with furniture.

It’s now clear to me why I wasn’t getting the furniture jobs I wanted. My portfolio was a Montgomery Ward catalog. Investing more time into becoming a better furniture designer would have strengthened my portfolio, and put me more in the position of the expert. It might not have been possible to do it right away, but over the course of a year, it was definitely attainable to move consistently in that direction.

For the last 6 years I’ve narrowed my expertise and continued to educate myself to support this focus. It has paid off immensely, and I can say with confidence that now I am a furniture expert.

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