You are not your job title
15 years ago, at the start of my professional career, I was hired at a web design agency as a “front-end developer”.
That meant my role was to take the finished mockups that the “designers” created, and convert them to HTML and CSS code that works in web browsers (I still have nightmares about IE6!).
Then, my .html documents would be handed over to the “back-end developers”, who would insert code around my HTML markup so that the pages can connect to a database and work dynamically.
There aren’t many things that I regret in my career so far. For the most part, I feel incredibly lucky and amazed that I get to work and create things on the internet during this era. What an exciting time!
But one thing I’m noticing now is how I let a job title_ _from early in my career have an outsized impact on my professional identity. It shaped a mindset of “I’m forever meant to do some things, but not meant to do other things”.
I know now, that’s bullshit. It’s completely not the way our world works anymore—especially when you make your living on the internet. I wish I learned that sooner.
I have always been a creative person. I have always been excited about technology. And so I have always sought out the merger of those two things.
For as long as I’ve been into writing music, I’ve been into the recording and production side of it too. For as long as I’ve been designing graphics, logos, and layouts, I’ve been interested in how to make them interactive and useable digitally on the web.
I was also the kid who went door-to-door to shovel snowy driveways for $15 a house. I was the teenager who jumped from job-to-job constantly searching for a more efficient way to earn cash. As soon as I discovered it’s possible to make a living without having a boss, I went freelance and never looked back. And when I realized others just like me were creating and selling products, that was it. Entrepreneur for life.
Here’s where I went wrong:
For too long, I let my professional identity cripple my confidence. At times, this resulted in slower progress, financial stress, and work I didn’t enjoy and wasn’t proud of.
Since I identified as a “front-end developer”, I often felt that made me not a “designer”. So I didn’t flex my design muscles as much as I could have. As the years went on, I slowly realized that design actually comes easier to me than I let myself admit. But there’s no doubt I’d be a far better designer today if I invested in that skill earlier in my career.
As a designer, that put me even further away from the territory of “back-end developer”. Command line? Databases? Software programming? I had no business even trying to learn that magical stuff!
For a decade, I resorted to outsourcing that work, spending tens of thousands of dollars, or joining unhealthy partnerships. But, even though I couldn’t write back-end code, I was always naturally interested in the technical side. I could understand enough to know when something was poorly architected or not executed the way my design called for.
I finally invested in learning back-end development so that I can design products from front to back. Now I kick myself for not doing that sooner. I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy it! But mainly, I realize now that the codebase is just as much part of the design as the colors and fonts. So learning back-end code makes me a better designer and product person.
All of that creative work was a means to end: Building businesses. That always meant that my true job, above all the others, is “entrepreneur”. I suppose that continues to be true today.
But that too, let me convince myself that, as an “entrepreneur”, it’s a smarter business decision to outsource certain things (like design, code and marketing) than to do those things myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love to hire great people, delegate and build self-sustaining businesses that run without me. But I also love to get my hands dirty, and actually create the products that I sell. These days, I’m trying more to embrace that natural urge to create, especially since my business now affords me the time and space to do so.
Lastly, music. In college, I chose to get my bachelor’s degree in audio engineering, because I was sure I’d pursue a career as a professional music producer. But in my mid-twenties, when I realized playing in bands wouldn’t go anywhere, and I didn’t see a ton of opportunities working in studios as an unpaid intern, I gave up and turned to a career on the web (and I’m so glad I did!).
But that had the side effect of letting my love of writing and producing music go almost entirely extinct. I ended up selling all my home studio gear and letting my guitars collect dust in the basement. It wasn’t until this year that I finally came back around to the idea that it’s OK to let producing music come back into my life—this time as a hobby, not a profession. Now I’m re-building my home studio, slowly re-learning the tools, and getting back to cranking out tunes that make my head bob… On Sunday afternoons only.
That’s all to say:
Don’t let your job title dictate what you allow yourself to do or not do. Use your current job not for the money, but as a means to an end. A way to expand one skill and perhaps open the door to a different one. Then go ahead and walk through that door and see where that takes you.
You don’t know what you don’t know (yet).
Want to see what I’m working on lately? I’m showing my work-in-progress over on my YouTube channel.