Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Not According to My Plan...Better than My Plan


For the last three years, I have been self-employed. Prior to becoming self-employed, I had nine jobs in nine years. Yes, you read that correctly. For roughly half of the jobs I had, I was laid off because the company or department I worked for ceased operation and the entire staff was laid off. So I jumped from job to job, just trying to stay afloat.

In my ideal plan, I would've gotten a good job right out of college, at a stable company with great benefits, and plenty of opportunity for growth. But that's not what happened. However, all these job changes prepared me for something much better than I could have ever planned out on my own.

During this season of Thanksgiving, I'd like to share with you some of the valuable things I learned while working for these nine different companies. Ironically, the most valuable lessons were at the companies who were in the process of going out of business. I've found that stable companies want to stay that way, and so, are pretty careful about how they spend their money.

But the companies who are on the verge of losing it all... well, that's another story entirely. Before the employees find out that the companies are shutting down, the bosses want to save face, and will agree to things that would probably never be considered in a larger, more stable company. For example:

Me: I am done with the work you assigned to me. What else should I do?
Boss: I don't have any more work for you to do. Why don't you read these software training books and just spend some time going through the tutorials?

Me: Can I introduce a new file format into the production workflow?
Boss: Why not?

Me: Can I spend thousands of (your) dollars on an untested marketing campaign? (And I had never done a marketing campaign before.)
Boss: Go for it!

Me: Can I change the software that the company uses for its main graphic production?
Boss: Sure thing.

Here are some things I've learned at my various jobs, half of which were at companies going out of business. The companies where I got laid off are colored in red.

Job #1: (went out of business, exciting, fun job!) 
  • Pagemaker
  • InDesign
  • Interactive PDFs
  • The importance of font embedding
  • Field documentation (behind the scenes tours of marine wildlife parks!)
  • Foreign travel
  • The importance of having enough billable work to make payroll
Job #2: (stable, crazy long hours)
  • RGB versus CMYK
  • Preparing files for 2-color printing
  • The trials of corrupted fonts
  • Rich black
  • How to clean up horrible black and white scans so that they print respectably
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Bezier curves
  • Communicating graphic file requirements to non-graphic designers
  • Quark
  • How to get along with difficult coworkers
  • Make friends with people in other departments. Show a genuine interest in what they do, and they'll treat you like gold.
Job #3: (stable, great benefits, established company, boring!)
Job #4: (close to home) 
  • Business cards, letterhead, designing lots of different types of documents
  • File imposition
  • File archiving and backup
  • Paper types: laid, linen, glossy finish, text vs. cover, etc.
  • Grain direction
  • How to avoid cracking on a print with heavy coverage
  • The importance of laser-compatible paper
  • Digital vs. offset printing: choosing the appropriate printing method
  • The importance of outsourcing printing when the job is beyond in-house capabilties
  • Working with dielines
  • Logo recreation
Job #5: (the best job to date, company went out of business right before the holidays) 
  • Sheetfed litho
  • Preflighting
  • Printing! I have found where I belong!
Job #6: (one of my favorite jobs, tons of overtime, company went out of business) 
Job #7: (company hit hard times and couldn't afford to keep me on staff) 
  • The importance of a live production status monitoring system
  • Making clipping paths in Photoshop
  • Learning to work for a boss who makes his employees cry
Job #8: (close to home, my department got shut down) 
  • FrameMaker
  • How to make cross references and tables of contents
  • The importance of using modern software and modifying document production workflow to increase efficiency
  • The direction of a company is determined by the executives, rather than hourly wage employees. No amount of effort on my part can change that.
Job #9: (same parent company as Job #8, but in a different department) 



Thanks to all my employers for giving me a job. An extra special thanks to those employers who continued to pay me for my work, even as their companies were collapsing around them.

And thanks to God for moving me from job to job, where I was able to gain new skills and capabilities at each one. It is because of all of these seemingly random job experiences that I can now be self-employed, doing work that I truly love.

Happy Thanksgiving!