My Hopes and Fears: Choosing UX as a Second Career
A meta look into why your transferable skills are your most valuable skills.
We all go through life changes, from dizzying heights to spirit-crushing lows. In fact, change is the only constant in life, but it’s usually the negative changes that really stick out in our memories.
Maybe, it’s suddenly losing your job and having to start from scratch. Perhaps, it’s the hard realization that things between you and your partner aren’t working out. It could be accepting that it’s finally time to grow up instead of just getting older.
For me, it was a little bit of everything. Being laid off was one of the scariest experiences. The winds of change flipped me and my little sailboat upside down. I was shipwrecked with no hope. Lost at sea with no compass. Kicking my feet at the bottom of nothing.
Welcome to my personal “Hopes and Fears” UX exercise, but instead of sticky notes, this is being written out on the digital blogosphere for all to see. Writing has always been a coping mechanism for me — a way for me to confront vague anxieties by dragging them out on the page. But let’s return to when I lost my job of eight years. Let’s reopen those terrifying feelings of existential dread.
When you get older in life, you learn how to deal with crisis better. I took the whole tragedy of losing my job rather well. The early-twenties version of me would’ve thrown himself an indulgent pity party by inviting all of the wrong friends like Jameson and Popov.
But I’m in my thirties now, and I know how to better surf with life’s waves. This thirties version of me roars back into the face of the storm while readjusting the sails and telling himself that it’s not the end of the world because it’s really not. It’s the beginning of a new one.
The good thing about being alive is that you can’t help but collect life experience. Soft skills like effective communication, teamwork and organization.
Like me, if you’re pursuing UX due to being booted from years of working in another industry, it doesn’t matter where you came from because your valuable life experience comes from working with people.
The first thing to evaluate is your professional knowledge. What do you know? Bookkeeping, Adobe Photoshop, and having an AZ driver’s license are all professional skills. The second thing to evaluate next is the nuanced concepts you’ve learned all this time while working with people.
After conducting a quick inventory of myself, I discovered that I had professional skillsets to help sniff out my next career move. Skills like copywriting, blogging, SEO optimization and digital marketing. But these were just individual branches snatched from different trees. What about the root concepts? I looked deeper still.
Notions began to formulate from the ether, revealing themselves to me like fortuitous tea leaves. Notions like verbal and written communication, teamwork, problem-solving, personal motivation, active listening, research and analytical skills. Charisma. Lateral thinking. I had come to discover that these were my transferable skills. Not SEO best practices or digital marketing fundamentals. It was the stuff you couldn’t easily put a name to.
It’s February now, and I’m more than halfway done with my UX design curriculum. Every assignment is a group assignment. At this point, everyone has settled into their own comfortable, inclusive tribes. I love my tribe so much. The best times in my life have come from collaborating with my group members and then getting substantially inebriated afterwards. But I’d be lying if I said I never felt inadequate around them. Their list of achievements reads off like Forbes 30 under 30. A Brazilian motion designer who created openings for the Rio Olympic Summer Games. A Vietnamese graphic designer for Budweiser and Cartier.
My usefulness did eventually emerge as a writer. For me, every word was an opportunity to tell a story. And stories have characters with their own motivations and idiosyncrasies. If I understood the characters, that meant I understood people. So I ended up being the lightning rod of my team’s spirited brainstorming sessions.
Creating the sparks of synergy is more than just being diplomatic. It’s how to actively listen instead of waiting for your turn to speak, how to constructively and positively criticize without disparaging someone and finally, how to abolish your own personal ego and consider new ideas.
Everyone experiences that psychological “flow-state” when you’re feeling hyper-productive and feeling super engaged in what you’re doing. The best UX insights arise when everyone on a team is flowing simultaneously. It’s tricky trying to achieve this state for yourself, let alone for four other people.
With so much time being spent collaborating with other people, I think that being an empathetic people person is the most essential prerequisite to being a UX professional. The empathy for our users begins with the empathy we have for each other on our team.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you’re going to go far, go together.”