8 Lessons I Learned My First Year as a Professional Designer

10 min read | Testimony | Concept



My name is Rachel Wathne and I work for an e-commerce company as an in-house designer, and I always need at least 3 coffees on my desk at all times (go ahead and count them in the photo; it’s a real thing). I have been a professional designer for a year now, and I feel like I’ve learned so much already,including the fact that I still have a lot left to learn. Going from college to a corporate setting was pretty terrifying at first, but as I slowly studied how my coworkers and mentors dealt with situations and projects, I feel like I learned how to have a better grasp on this whole professional-designer-adult-thing. I’m dedicating this article to all you recent grads entering the field, my peers who I continually learn from, and all the experienced creatives out there mentoring this next generation of designers — let’s work hard and be kind to each other.

*Cue the 80’s music montage*

Buckle up, as I take you on a journey through a handful of lessons I’ve learned (and honestly am continuing to implement daily) which have become a cornerstone to my growth as a creative this past year.


1. The beginning is the hardest part, but it’s worth pushing through.

We’ve all had first day jitters where everything surrounding us is new and exciting and anxiety-inducing all at once. Doubt can creep into your mind about how well you can do this job you’ve just been given, but I want you to push that doubt away. You are worthy of this job, and you’ve earned it. Your managers hired you for a reason — they see so much potential in you and your work ethic. This job is just a new atmosphere in which you can grow, and much like how you’ve conquered learning design basics, you’re going to conquer this job too.

Now that the nerves have gone away, just know that the beginning of anything you do is always the hardest hill to climb. You’re going to be uncomfortable, and wonder what you just got yourself in to, but please don’t give up. There’s a certain point everyone gets to where one day you go in to work and just like magic, you feel at place and one with your environment. This point took me about 5 months of going to work everyday. So just keep working towards it, ask as many questions as you need to understand your surroundings, and know the hard beginnings are worth it later on.


2. Surround yourself with a creative community – it’s the best.

Creatives – we are a diverse and quirky group of people, which makes working alongside each other that much more fun. Creative block can be the worst, but having a community who can help tear down those walls, and shine some new perspective on the situation can help you come up with an even better design than you originally planned on .

This past year, I have surrounded myself with many creative people, whether it be me and my two roommates (both designers), my coworkers (who come from different creative backgrounds), or through Spire. In all of these circles, we continue to uplift and push each other in our design and life endeavors. I have no lack of inspiration, and have learned so much more about the world and design through these communities I’ve jumped headfirst into joining.

If you don’t have a community and you’re CRAVING that connection and creative outlet with similar people, then connect with Spire, search for design Facebook groups, or attend that creative conference which intimidates you. New friends are close-by, and a little bit of courage and bravery can lead you to them.


3. Mentors are a HUGE support to your growth as a creative.

Wax on… Wax off… Wax on… Wax off… Having a mentor allows you the insight of someone who’s had more experience than you, and can give you that wisdom in digestible bite-sized lessons. You may not always understand the lessons they’re teaching you in the moment, but as time passes, the intentions will become crystal clear. A mentor is a safe person to ask countless dumb questions to, and someone who can guide you through those tough lessons you don’t learn about in school.

I’ve had multiple mentors throughout the years, and each have helped me to become the person and designer I am today. It’s empowering to have someone who has been fighting in the ring for a while and is now in your corner cheering you on. If you’d like a mentor, but are not sure how to get one, just look at those people in your life who are influential to you. Simply ask if they can help mentor you. You can ask anyone – your coworker, someone from your church, an old professor – anyone, they don’t always have to be a creative to inspire you.

back to the future.gif

4. Blending-in…doesn’t stand out.

Go out there, find your style, and own it. If your illustrations are buzzing on Instagram – flaunt it. Your photographs have people raving? – Highlight it. Not quite sure what your niche is yet? That’s okay — you have your entire life to figure it out. Heck, I’m still trying to nail my style down.

Personality is key as a creative. Your interests, hobbies, and more can lead you down fun paths and help others learn more about the world. Nobody wants to hire a creative who can take marching orders and blend into the background. They want someone who can bring a new light to their team, and if you can demonstrate that you know more than the “hottest new trend”, you’re going to stand out and have a better chance at changing the world through your design and shining personality.

“Sometimes you just have to say ‘yes’ to a situation and let it lead you to something amazing.”


5. Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

When Elliot came cross E.T., he could have easily gone to his parents and they would have – first freaked out, and then – called someone to take care of the situation, and that would have been the end the story. No adventure, no magic.

As a creative, sometimes opportunities come knocking, or crazy ideas spark in our minds. These are the times where you don’t ask for permission, but forge your way forward – full force – and ask for forgiveness later if need be.

Now I’m not saying you do this for. Every. Single. Project. – that could lead to problems in your workplace. However, I say go for it if you see a need in a certain project that you’re passionate about. If you have the opportunity in a project to push it a bit further, you could help the work go from good to incredible. Sometimes you just have to say ‘yes’ to a situation and let it lead you to something amazing. Tap into that passion, go the extra mile, and show ‘em what you’re made of – something truly wonderful can come of it.

“Self care isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, it’s unique to everyone, and occasionally hard to do.”


6. Self Care. Self Care. Self Care.

I know it sounds cliché, but I hope you really take this one to heart. As you’re getting into the groove of working and handling your own projects, in addition to entering into another layer of adulthood, you’ll want to be going 24/7 because it’s all very exciting. However, it’s important to listen to what you need to take care of yourself. Many of us know the Gremlin story – if these cute, fuzzy creatures get exposed to certain stressful situations, they turn into little monsters. It’s no fun turning into a gremlin – trust me on this one – as I’m not one to promote a stressful, busy, and anxious lifestyle.

Get to know yourself and how you work, and try not to compare it to how others take care of themselves. Self care isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, it’s unique to everyone, and occasionally hard to do. Learn what you need, and know how to communicate to others when you need time to rest or restore. It not only benefits you, but it can even improve your work as well as your relationships. It’s amazing what some TLC can do.

“Stay strong and optimistic as best as you can, but don’t ignore those hard feelings. Success is a rollercoaster for everyone.”


7. Everyone’s path to success is different.

I’ve fallen victim to comparing myself to my peers. It’s in our human nature, but from what I’ve learned, nothing good comes out of this game we play in our minds. I live and work alongside many amazing designers, and we’re all on our own paths to success and have different experience levels. Comparing yourself to someone 15 years in the field will always have you ending up on the short end.

I’ve also had friends tell me their worries about not getting a job right away, while others seem to get jobs right out of the gate. The one thing I would (and still do) say is that everyone’s story is going to be different. God can be doing some amazing things in your life that you’re not even aware of yet. He could be setting up a new path for you to go on, for some interest you don’t even know you have yet. It’s all mysterious and wonderful and exciting when you view it from that perspective. Stay strong and optimistic as best as you can, but don’t ignore those hard feelings. Success is a rollercoaster for everyone.


8. Lastly, don’t forget to stop and have some fun along the way.

You have the rest of your life to work, and since you’re already learning so much as you start out, you’re allowed to have some fun. Feel like you’re stuck on a project? Get out of your rut and do something away from your desk for even 5 minutes. Allowing space to explore is a huge part of maintaining creativity, and exploration is meant to be enjoyable.

Schedule time for fun things with that community you’re now going out and surrounding yourself with (right? wink wink). Go out to karaoke after work and sing that song that you don’t know the words to, and do it at the top of your lungs. Take a dance break on your way into the office as you’re bumpin’ those sweet jams. And write an article with a theme that has no concept behind it other than the fact that 80’s films are fun (whoa, meta). Seriously, don’t take life too seriously because all work and no play makes for a very dull day.

All this to say…

Keep your head held high, continue to be true to yourself, and take chances. You’re not going to have all the answers right out of the gate but you will grow over time if you know how to maintain and support your curious, creative side. Reach out to others when you need help, and be willing to lend a helping hand.

I hope you learned something and left with an ounce of inspiration in your pocket today. KEEP ON KILLIN’ THE GAME!


I want to connect with you – Really, really.

I want to know what lessons you’ve learned throughout the years, and hear your stories, successes and failures all alike. Feel free to follow/message me through Instagram or email, and let’s chat.

Instagram: @rachelwathne

Email: rwathne.spire@gmail.com

ferris bueller.gif