father_day-1.jpgI’m not sure I’ve ever had a definitive career plan. This is in stark contrast to most of my coworkers. They are generally younger than I am and significantly smarter and more driven than I was at their age. They all seem to know what they want to accomplish over the next 5-10 yearswhere they want to be and what they need to do to get there. In layman’s terms, they have their shit together. I am genuinely impressed.

I did not have my shit together. I’m currently a graphic designer at HubSpot but I worked a number of dubious jobs before starting my career. There's no need to bore you with the details but suffice it to say that I spent many years 1) getting paid peanuts 2) doing work I didn’t care about 3) doing work I saw no future in or 4) all of the above. It was nobody’s fault but my own, mind you. There are certain sacrifices one must make to spend a decade in a local band.

I ended up in the design world through a series of concurrent misadventures that culminated in a moment of cosmic luck/hiring. After realizing that graphic design was something I was interested in, I jumped into the deep end. I taught myself what I could on nights and weekends, learned from others, hit dead ends, made breakthroughs, tweaked, experimented, and put out several years of cringe-worthy work. I tried and failed and persevered and eventually landed a junior designer role that turned out to be the start of a career.

This was good. After years of wandering in the proverbial employment wilderness, I had found my calling. Despite having no master plan, I ended up with a challenging and fulfilling job. “I am a graphic designer”, I would say proudly (as if my general appearance didn’t already betray this fact). I knew who I was.

But then, somebody hit the reset button.

Our son Milo was born on Halloween and he's changed everything. For as much as I love what I do for work, it’s become impossible to think of myself as a graphic designer. I have become, first and foremost, a dad (rookie status, amateur division). This has been an odd transition because 1) I now define myself by the mere existence of another (tiny) person and 2) this definition has supplanted years of effort and work.

Milo doesn’t know what I do for work. He’s aware that I sometimes leave the house for long stretches but that’s about it. He doesn’t know or care what I do while I'm gone, just that I come back. And while I may be strictly “dad” to him, my creative work self lives on as a supporting character. We all retain pieces of the roles we inhabit - we are nothing if not the sum of our past selves - but we can’t help but reorder our priorities and definitions. Especially when a little, curious human comes along. I’m still a graphic designer but it’s become a secondary role. I still work long hours and love what I do but my professional self has been eclipsed by a fledgling career in fatherhood.

In some ways, this is familiar territory. Learning to be a dad is not so dissimilar from learning to be a designer. You consult with established folks and draw on their experience but ultimately have to forge your own path. You make mistakes (e.g. babies don’t like hot sauce) and learn and try and improve. You plan ahead but more often than not have to improvise and adapt. You get frustrated and stuck one day only to celebrate a major breakthrough the next. And just when you get a handle on one facet of the job, a whole new mess of challenges pops up.

For me, fatherhood is kind of the ultimate creative process: an ongoing project with a long-term client whose needs and wants change every day. What are the deliverables? It depends on the day. What’s the project timeline? Indefinite. Estimated hours? Really anyone’s guess. Basically, the plan is that there is no plan - just work hard, love what you do, and enjoy the ride.

To all the dads who are working hard and enjoying the ride, Happy Father's Day! Thank you for being in our corners...


Originally published Jun 19, 2016 10:30:00 AM, updated January 18 2023