Dear Debbie,

As we kick-start 2018, I’ve been reflecting on the people (and organizations) to whom I am most grateful for pushing me to make my little dent in the universe.

I’m addressing this to you Debbie, most importantly because of your desire to make a difference by contributing to the world conversation about design. The last year has seen a sea of change in the design and user experience industry, with everything from product interfaces and emerging tech such as artificial intelligence. As a society, we seem finally to be learning that good design is more than just a beautiful facade. It’s about building valuable experiences and making our lives better, making sure products work for the user rather than the opposite way around. Last but not least, 2018 is a year to continue working towards inclusiveness in the design industry – so that the products and digital experiences we design are as strong, inclusive and accessible as the teams of people working on them.

Knowing that within the top 100 tech companies, women only make up about 16% of the technical roles, 23% leadership roles and only 6% of the chief executives – I aspire to work towards taking ownership of our narrative. One woman at a time. You once said: “if you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve”. It became a motto I live by.

Here’s what I know. Somewhere out there, a young female listened to one of your Design Matters podcasts with careful attention. You might not have known you were talking to her, but she was touched by your message. Therefore, I am also writing to you on behalf of millions of creative females. For those who believe in themselves, but don’t have the guts to try, and need a little push in the right direction. For those who are just beginning their careers or who may be reconfiguring midway through. All in all, it’s a reflection on how to design your highest self, instead of your fearful self. Whilst no advice is universal and everyone’s career is different, words, experience and wisdom can together be a tide that lifts all boats. Here’s what that young girl heard from you:

“The arc of a life is a circuitous one… In the grand scheme of things, everything we do is an experiment, the outcome of which is unknown”

She heard you urge her to start acting and try not to compromise. Too many people don’t know what they truly want because they feel incompetent, not talented enough. And that doesn’t matter. Many of us get stuck between wanting to act and taking action. The uncertainty of the uncharted path ahead can be daunting and translate into a “knowing-doing gap”: the space between what we know we should do and what we actually do.

She will remember that creative confidence is like a muscle – it has to be strengthened, trained and cultivated through effort and experience. It’s fueled by a restless intellectual curiosity, deep optimism, the ability to accept repeated failure as the price of ultimate success. IDEO founders, the Kelley brothers have a great list of ideas on how to get from blank page to insight:

  1. Think like a traveler – look at your surroundings with fresh eyes no matter how familiar they are.
  2. Reframe challenges – sometimes the first step towards a great solution is to reframe the question.
  3. Build a support network – creativity is more fun when you have others to collaborate and bounce ideas off.

“If you were to ask any successful woman how she got to where she is today, she’d probably say she owes a lot to her mentors.”

She shared your optimism to get by with a little help from mentors. Because behind every successful person there is someone who helped them get to where they are. Having a mentor is a great way to improve your skills and progress in your career. I always think of myself as a product; I’m looking to improve and become an agent for change in my skillset: strengthening visual design skills, business acumen and digital knowledge overall. Therefore, I like to seek advice from those who have acquired the roles I would love, work at companies that I admire or create products that I enjoy using. So think of a problem you want to solve, the skill you wish to develop and seek a mentor who can help you by sharing their experience and know-how in that area.

In the end, what matters most about your career or position is not the value others put on it. It’s how you view your job. It should be about your dream, your passion, your calling.

And finally…

“When she gets there, it will be because the cracks you worked so hard to put in that highest, hardest glass ceiling will ensure the light shines down to guide her way“

Each day represents a new chance and a new beginning. At the start of the year, that sense is especially acute. Maybe now is the time to give it a try.

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