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The Traveling Circus

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3 min read

Some days it feels like I’m a part of a trav­el­ling cir­cus, bounc­ing from one place to anoth­er, jug­gling var­i­ous roles and respon­si­bil­i­ties. I’ve been on the road for just over 13 years now. I’m not some dig­i­tal nomad or wan­der­ing free spir­it or life hack­ing dig­i­tal dis­rup­tor. I’m a hus­band and a father who hap­pens to have a skill set that is uni­ver­sal­ly applicable.

A Jack of all trades

I start­ed out like most oth­er kids who end up where I am, with a strong inter­est in graph­ic design and pho­tog­ra­phy. After study­ing both for a few years and learn­ing basic web devel­op­ment in my spare time, I start­ed to realise skills in web design and devel­op­ment were grow­ing in demand. Albeit this was dur­ing the ear­ly 2000’s in New Zealand, so in rel­a­tive­ly small demand. I also saw the need for web design­ers to be able to code — though this is a dif­fer­ent debate I’ll save for anoth­er day — so I taught myself all that I could about the lan­guages used to build web­sites. To be hon­est, I’m still learn­ing and I always will be, the lan­guages of the web are for­ev­er evolving.

After a few small free­lance projects and the odd agency job, my girl­friend — now wife — polite­ly informed me that she would be mov­ing to Aus­tralia to take up a PhD posi­tion and I was wel­come to join. With noth­ing real­ly sub­stan­tial on the hori­zon, I agreed on the spot.

This deci­sion was piv­otal. I guess the arro­gance of youth worked in my favour here. I didn’t over think it, I just did what felt right and went for it. Had I squan­dered this deci­sion and thought through all the pos­si­ble out­comes, I prob­a­bly would have nev­er left New Zealand.

Short­ly after arriv­ing in Aus­tralia I was offered two jobs. One at a soft­ware com­pa­ny, the oth­er at a design stu­dio. I took the for­mer, because the work was more var­ied and I felt this would broad­en my skill set.

Master of none

It cer­tain­ly broad­ened my skill set, from work­ing with­in a mas­sive team, ver­sion con­trol, soft­ware devel­op­ment, icon design, com­mu­ni­ty man­age­ment and inter­ac­tion design. The list goes on and from this expe­ri­ence I realised I was still very much a green­horn. It was hum­bling and cer­tain­ly what I need­ed at that point in my career, a swift kick to my ego. The main les­son I took away from this peri­od was to shut up and lis­ten. To be empa­thet­ic towards the end users — in this case, records man­agers around the world.

Now with an expand­ed skill set, I felt more con­fi­dent with mov­ing on and shift­ing my life to Swe­den. Though it was a dou­ble-edged sword, with my new found con­fi­dence came com­pla­cen­cy. I took a job with­in anoth­er tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny, a mas­sive For­tune 100 com­pa­ny with a head count hov­er­ing around 300,000. I was also unsure how life would be in Swe­den and want­ed the safe­ty net of some­thing famil­iar. This was a mis­take. My days were filled with strict cor­po­rate guide­lines and zero room for cre­ativ­i­ty or per­son­al development.

With every­thing I know now, I should have immersed myself with­in the sur­round­ing envi­ron­ment, tak­en a job local­ly and thrown myself into the deep-end. I did pick up some new skills dur­ing my four years there, I made some great friends and trav­elled to some amaz­ing places. There are pro’s and con’s to every­thing, but in this case my career devel­op­ment suf­fered due to my aver­sion to tak­ing risks. Les­son learned.

Woman in the snow, Umeå, Sweden
Umeå, Sweden

But oft­times bet­ter than mas­ter of one.

Want­i­ng to explore more of Scan­di­navia, we shift­ed fur­ther north into Arc­tic Nor­way. I left my job and start­ed the search for work local­ly in the small arc­tic town we had set­tled in. I didn’t have very high hopes due to its remote­ness — 350 kilo­me­tres north of the Arc­tic Circle.

Sur­pris­ing­ly though, it didn’t take too long. My broad skill set and proac­tive­ness turned out to be an ide­al match for a Biotech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny search­ing for a graph­ic design­er. Up for the chal­lenge of some­thing new, I dived right in. Ever since then, I’ve been evolv­ing this posi­tion and now work as the Cre­ative Lead for their par­ent company.

There is no right or wrong way to go about get­ting cre­ative work — it’s all con­tex­tu­al. In the con­text of trav­el­ing the world for the past 13 years, it has helped me great­ly to have a broad skill set, an open mind and to be proac­tive about learn­ing new skills. Try not to get too bogged down in the reeds, see the for­est for the trees. It’s easy to get hung up on the details, but try to open your eyes and see the big­ger pic­ture. You’re only here for a short time, make the most of it.