Standing out in our respective creative fields has possibly never been more challenging. I attribute this to the speed in which technology is improving. What was difficult to achieve 10 years ago with computer graphics is now attainable for the beginner.

As I reflect back on my design career, one thing that served me well was to find my “vehicle” and pursue it. By my definition in this context, a vehicle is a unique skill in your field that can take you further in the direction of where you want to go. It is a skill that some may possess but far from the majority.

I did not go to school for furniture design. I did not have a degree from a reputable design school. What I did have though, was an appetite to create and a propensity to take risks. I also had the start of what ended up being a real differentiator: rendering skills.

Today, it’s not as powerful of a differentiator because of the rapid advancement of computer software and hardware. However 13 years ago, at the start of my furniture design career, it was a tremendous vehicle. It was my foot in the door to a furniture design firm. I had no furniture experience, but I did have render skills and they needed good renderings.

I secured the job as an intern set out to prove my worth. I worked to further develop my render skills by purchasing books on rendering with Mental Ray in 3D Studio Max. I was the only person at the firm that obtained this skillset, so I was on my own. With deadlines looming, I spent many late nights setting up renderings one at a time. If the rendering was to take 2 hours to complete, I would leave to go sleep for a couple of hours in the backhouse I was renting a half mile away. Often times I would come back in the middle of the night to find my computer had crashed and I would have to start all over. I did this time and time again, and slowly I learned tricks to reduce time investment and improve my render quality.

Over time the design team grew, and the opportunities steadily increased. The quality of our presentations stood high above those of our competitors. Aside from good design, it was the dedication to continually learning innovative software that set us apart. No one had the wow factor we had. We had the secret sauce, and it all started with the determination to find my vehicle and the guts to get after it.

So what is your vehicle? What is that one thing that you can differentiate yourself with? Seek it out, and go for it. I promise it will pay off.

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