Tips + Tricks: Become Invaluable

I’ve battled the quest for perfectionism my entire life and it only took me 40 or so years to realize: perfect is a unicorn. We hope, deep down in our souls and with childlike enthusiasm, that it does exist. That one day we’ll stumble upon it and glitter will rain down upon us as life becomes just a bit more magical. Sadly, reality looks a lot more like a horse with a horn duct taped to its forehead¹. Originally, I would just soothe my soul by telling myself that perfect was boring, but that didn’t stop me from trying to achieve it in many aspects of my life. Because perfection is a fairytale creature I could never find, it held me back from doing a lot of the things I wanted to. It was in the middle of an interaction with clients a few weeks back when it hit me: I don’t need to be perfect, I just need to become invaluable.

In a world where everyone seems replaceable, having others see you as invaluable can be a lofty goal, but if you are constantly proving what an asset you are to a team, a company, a project…they are more likely to be thinking of ways to never lose you than ways to get rid of you. I know, vague and broad and full of questions. Take the aforementioned interaction. We were trying to formulate a plan for an important home page graphic for their website. Every solution they came up with, I had to shut down. Not only did I have to shut them down, but explain why it wouldn’t work. I did it quickly and confidently. I had to reach into a well-equipped toolbox that included knowledge of web design/development and copyright infringement on top of a myriad of other graphic design principals. It was rapid fire and I was ready for it. When they were out of ammo, I offered a solution they were excited about.

Now that we’ve agreed to stop trying to be perfect, here’s my advice on how you can start becoming invaluable:

Equip Your Toolbox.

At some point your clients are going to have questions about things that extend beyond graphic design principles. They’ll want a website built, a social media strategy, a video edited for YouTube…at minimum they’ll want to know where they should get something printed. It’s fine to not want to touch any of those “extras” with a ten-foot pole, but we’re talking about becoming their go to rock star, right? Keyword: Invaluable. Learn stuff. Lot’s and lot’s of stuff. Know your shit stuff. And for those things you simply don’t want to learn, or haven’t had the time to learn, start creating a network of colleagues that you can fall back on that are willing to be pulled in on projects when needed.

Broaden Those Horizons.

As a creative person, your experiences need to be extensive. We are always observing and taking in knowledge that we can draw from for our next project. If what you are exposing yourself to is extremely limited, you are not only unable to offer anything resembling current trends, but you are greatly diminishing your ability to offer a vast range of solutions. It is your duty to experience all life has to offer. In the name of research². Netflix binges of shows you might not otherwise be down for, but everyone is talking about. Taking trips near and far and experiencing things that are well beyond our day to day. Subscribing to things…newsletters, magazines, online tutorials. Going to movies, concerts, galleries. Step out of your comfort zone. Continuing education is a thing.

Use Your Voice.

Be confident in your skill set and able to articulate your thoughts and ideas like a professional. If you’re not confident in them, it’s time to hone those skills. All of the above being said, if someone wants something you just can’t provide, now is not the time to pretend you can. Be up front when you’re not able to accomplish something. Speak confidently as the horse with a horn duct taped to its forehead! A client will respect that far more than failing to deliver because you’ve promised them a unicorn.

¹ Also magical, but a unicorn it is not.
² “But…I have to buy all five of these planners and stickers from all of these shops on Etsy…it’s research!” You’re welcome.