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Thought Fart No. 3: Design Because You Love It, Not To Get Rich.

If you’re in the middle (or later) part of your career, what would you tell your younger self?

And if you’re a student or recent grad, what do you wish you knew now that you’ll grind out and learn over the next ten or twenty years?

Smpl. founder Elliot Strunk shares some insights for the community being built around our tools.

Years ago I was attending an AIGA conference and was sitting in a session on the business of design. If I recall correctly, the speaker was the amazingly kind and smart Shel Perkins, author of the design business book “Talent Is Not Enough.”

The topic trended toward money very quickly, since that’s one of the core ways we all “keep score” in a business. Shel asked the room filled with designers of all ages if they knew any designers who were true millionaires. One woman raised her hand and said she did, although that individual had made is money buying real estate in Napa Valley, not through his design work (even though he was a very prominent designer at the time).

His point was that sound business discipline is important because there is a limit to the money a typical designer is likely to make over his or her lifetime. While that math has since changed, especially as Silicon Valley continues to consume design and designers at an increasingly lopsided rate, the idea rings true.

Most of us enter design because we have a talent for it, a passion for it and a belief in it. It’s not a profession, but a lifestyle. (And it’s often not an inexpensive one.) So you’ll need to ask yourself two important questions as you work through your career.

First, will doing the work I want to do be enough motivation for me to get out of bed each morning after burning the midnight oil?

I know when I’m on the right track if I feel guilty getting paid for work I’m having lots of fun with. Nothing is ever perfect and there will always be those “bread and butter” clients and projects to pay the bills. But will there be enough moments of delight woven into a typical week or month to keep you excited and connected?

Second, can I make peace with not having the biggest house or the nicest car in the neighborhood?

Keeping up with the Jonses is a constant temptation and social media does little to help. However, our craftiness and style can often make our humble abodes the envy of neighbors who don’t have our eye or sense of style.

Now there is hope. I do know some designers who are millionaires (or very close to it) as a result of being talented, driven and shrewd. They’ve always stayed true to who they are and have been rewarded for it. So it’s not out of the question and certainly a worthy goal, but one that should be on your list with a few others.

(Photo courtesy of Charles Etoroma via Unsplash.)