Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

I first noticed the difference between “Talkers” and “Doers” while attending the University of Michigan Art School. A few students in my color theory, drawing, and industrial design courses excelled at the talking part—explaining intent/ideas/rationale for their work. I felt intimidated and unsure if I was up to pursuing an art career.

I had the eye, the hand, and the desire. As for coherently explaining my art through public speaking, well, that didn’t come naturally. Why? Because I’m more of a doer. I often prefer jumping in and doing, learning through experience, instead of thinking and talking. However, college me needed time to understand there’s nothing wrong with that approach.

Eventually, I noticed the most verbal students were often the least productive. Exploring ideas and expounding on one’s creative mission didn’t necessarily correlate with the ability to produce. There were missed assignments, shoddy work, or work that didn’t relate to the project. The students’ brilliant missions (and composure) sometimes fell apart at presentation time, something I didn’t relish witnessing.

I ended up choosing to complete my degree in History of Art rather than Art—largely due to my uncertainty about talking about my own work. But once I had my degree — surprise! — I made a beeline for a small advertising agency. I gradually accumulated hands-on experience while building confidence. I will always be grateful to my mentor, Bob Ferguson, for accommodating my interests. He helped me develop all the essential skills for running a successful design firm, including:

  • Financial skills like bookkeeping, accounting, invoicing, budgeting, and handling occasional calls to clients with unpaid bills
  • Creative production strengths like layout, photography, copywriting, proofreading, editing, typesetting specifications, and print preparation
  • Account management and becoming a primary point of contact for clients

I excelled when given a clear mission or assignment. Communicating a specific message to a particular group of people became my sweet spot. It led me to found Christianson Design, and I’m thrilled that we’re still thriving thirty-five years later.

It turns out that my strength in doing and my passion for learning allowed me to excel in a creative field. Polished speaking abilities weren’t essential for graphic design. I’m sure those brilliant talkers are now pursuing successful sales or public speaking careers. So, don’t give up on your dreams because you’re afraid you don’t measure up. It all comes down to knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

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