Figuring out where to go and listening to our inner selves

Some advice on what to do when feeling stuck and sharing some reflections on how I move forward

I’ve been in the industry for around 5 years now. I’m at the point where I’m thinking about the next phase of my career and wonder how I should grow. I have enough experience, yet I still doubt if I’ve done enough. Other people even look up to me already since I help organize knowledge sharing sessions and workshops in the local tech and design community.

Despite having gone so far in my journey as a UX professional, I still feel stuck. So now I ask myself, what’s next? Where do I go from here?

Photo by Richard Parayno via Dispo

Which career path to choose

This tweet from David Hoang struck a chord to me since its topic was timely:

Source: @davidhoang on Twitter

If you’re working in a more traditional work environment, you may feel inclined to go the managerial route after a few years of working. After all, that’s how it has been ever since and is probably how you’d visualize your career progression.

But what if you enjoy your work as an individual contributor? You just want to keep creating and honing your craft, and managing people is the last thing you’d do for work.

If you’re like me, who’s leaning towards staying as an individual contributor for now, you might be asking yourself:

  • Is this what I’ll do for the rest of my career?
  • Is there anything I need to learn (or unlearn) with how I do things?
  • Is anyone even looking for a designer with my skill set?

And so on.

Is this all there is to it?

It’s easy to feel stuck since the increase in prowess doesn’t mean an increase in scope in what you handle. You might be honing your visual design skills, yet you’re doing the same kind of mockups and user flows for different projects.

You might even start to doubt your own skills since you think you’re not doing anything different. If you try to learn other things — on top of everything else you need to do — it may feel discouraging since you either don’t have the time, energy or capacity to get started and focus on it. In my case, I think I’ve reached my skill ceiling for visual design. So now I focus on organizing and maintaining design systems instead.

I pride myself on building libraries for the different projects or prototypes I work on. But every now and then, I need to choose which one to focus on. Either I don’t complete the end-to-end flow for a particular prototype, or I don’t have time to maintain the component library for the next few weeks. Unfortunately, both have their own consequences.

Work is work; we won’t run out of things to do. And as tasks pile up, we eventually reach a cap on how much we can do. We all have our limits. We can’t take on everything all at once.

Taking a step back and looking inwards

At this point, I’m already overwhelmed. I can hear my inner voice saying, “How do I even grow as a designer when I don’t have the proper space to do so?!”

Nowadays, though, I’ve learned to stop and take a moment to collect my thoughts. I do my best to remember my achievements, no matter how trivial. This keeps me grounded and helps me feel better about myself. Accepting my limitations and recognizing my past achievements help me feel unstuck from where I am now and focus on the present.

The main thing here is acceptance: that for everything that needs to be done, you can’t take them all at once. It’s not the end of the world if things don’t get finished.

I’ve learned over the years to not discredit my work, even though it’s easier said than done. It takes practice, but it’s doable. It may be hard, but it’s achievable.

Giving yourself credit

There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a pat on the back. It’s important to remember that despite possibly having so many downs, there are also so many ups in your life.

The person who deserves your utmost trust is no other than yourself. And if you’d rather design 50 screens for a prototype or maintain a design system instead of “moving up the ladder” and managing a team, then just go do that! You don’t have to pressure yourself to do otherwise. You may opt to consider the possibility, but if it really doesn’t feel right with you, then just don’t do it.

Listen to what your inner self is telling you. Whether it be about where you want to bring your career and dealing with things in the present, no one knows what you want best except yourself. After all, it really is up to you.

And in my case: I still like what I’m doing. And if I want to change things up, then so be it. I’ll go wherever I choose to.