Reflecting upon focus

For the last 10 years I have been freelancing in practically every discipline of design. Starting in my late teens I would take any work I could find, scrounging for cash and hungry for experience. If the current project was terrible there was always the next one. And the next. While many of these endeavours never really went anywhere, I was building my skillset, intuition and craft. It is only in the last 2/3 years where the projects have started getting bigger that I can reflect on this journey.

For the past year I have been at Sail, working as a product designer on the future of the internet. I started as a contractor, juggling other projects at the side. As my work at Sail progressed I found that my current client projects were slowly and neatly wrapping themselves up. For the first time in my life I was saying no to incoming requests. Opportunities that I would have previously killed for were now trickling in through previous contacts or my online presence (as minimal as it is) and I was DECLINING them. I was spread too thin and didn't have enough time, energy or headspace to do them all.

Then one day I started working full-time at Sail.

As the product and team mature, I find myself reflecting upon my own growth and continued shortcomings. My biggest lesson has been that of focus, or my previous lack of it. It is something I often heard from others, and acknowledged myself, however shrugged off; believing that the energy that I had was best put into as many areas as possible. Much like riding a bike, understanding these principles takes time, a lot of effort and many bumps and bruises. I have found that many learning points of my life have been filled with such moments, where everything suddenly clicks into place as though the secrets of the universe have been unlocked. From learning to read as a child to understanding design principles, there is a sudden "aha" moment where the complexity of the subject fades away and the brain cannot go back to where it was before.

What I have read of focus seems very much aimed at the art of saying no. While this is incredibly valuable, I find it to be only partially true. Committing to the thing you are saying yes too, intensity and wholeheartedly, is equally important, yet just as difficult as saying no. It requires taking the same energy that would have been scattered, and aligning it consciously and precisely. Less fun, less diverse, yet more rewarding. As a project progresses, "no" becomes arguably easier to say. The design language clarifies, code is written, users join, and foundations becomes more secure.

In the future I hope to stay true to this course; to take on a select, curated amount of projects and devote myself to their completion in the highest level of craft, kindness and thoughtfulness that I can.