Conversations with millennial friends are beginning to look more and more like the calm before the storm; starting off with the universal “How are things?” opener, right before the waterworks of gossips, criticism and grumbling are unleashed upon your ears faster than you can even take a sip off your pint. 

“How is work?”


This million-dollar question, perhaps assessing your contentment of life, is possibly the number one cause of frowns in the millennial age. Where topics such as how they hate their jobs, horrible directors, client nightmares, meager paychecks, overtime mileage and non-existent weekends have become the usual suspects domineering most table-top conversations. This million-dollar question here is about job fulfillment. It has to be said, if the chatter about slogging in the shadow of others, ‘grass is greener on the other side’ pep talk, and trading office horror stories remains persistent throughout the conversation, it could be more than just regular beer-o’clock rants, but rather, red flags to an impending burnout — a common syndrome (which stats claim are affecting more females than males) despite the current generation’s employment and equality improvements – that is plaguing the millennial generation. Where the answer to that question leads to is another question, through a grim path of job-hopping and career switching.


“Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming.” – Myrna Loy


Such are the somber state of talk amongst millenials these days. It is as if ingrained in these working-class youths, exist nothing but desires for future circumstances to be better than the current; a rebellious stubbornness to make most of present time and know that having expectations is likely the impediment to their successful dream. But who could blame them? As the global population of competitive millenials reaches 40 million, all vying for good seats in the workforce, it is no wonder everyone is inching further on the edge. Mistakably, most of them spend more time prioritizing their expectations than prioritizing their priorities—if they even knew what these were in the first place. A real shame, for what they have yet to realize is that this competitive ball is not in their court, but rather, in the employers’. Because in this Connected Age, and supported with the insurgence of newly invented/hyphenated job titles, the students entering the workforce are now smarter than their employers.


“And in truth, it’s often only experience that separates design students from design professionals.” (via The State of Design Education)


Word has it that the first job is the most important as it makes or breaks your creative soul and career; a reality every individual sooner or later witness in their friends and colleagues, succumbing to jadedness, and/or eventually leaving the industry entirely. Indeed, the merry-go-round of expectations, priorities and reality is one vicious trap where for the few of our millennial peers, getting by is now simply having their beer mugs clinked, chugged, and off their own ways.


“It’ll get better, they say.”

It’s the job, not me

If there’s anything to learn from twenty odd years of formally preparing for the real world, it’s patience. For not even two decades of education can equip you enough to breeze through the remaining half of your years.


But hey, it’s normal.


For sure, the first year out there is full of uncertainties but what one should be seeking out for in the first job is an assessment of oneself, barely any time to get comfortable and confident just by graduating with the latest industry skills. That first year (or beginning years for the struggling ones) is a great time in self-discovery, where responsibilities for one’s self and the shrouded future matters more acutely than the time spent in school worrying about intellectual property rights. As one began applying his experience onto the job, it is necessary to still maintain curiosity and inquisitiveness, finding time and zeroing in on personal design interests. For example:


 “What kind of design discipline are you really interested in?”

One may work in copywriting but the creative strength and interest may lie dormant in the art directing discipline. Similarly, one may work as a copywriter but not necessary be a brilliant or effective copywriter.


“Is your design of Eastern or Western influence?”

Western design is arguably aligned towards being reactive and aesthetically-led (experimental and innovational), while Eastern design conventionally extends from tradition and cultural values (emotional and contributive design). It is significant to one’s creative development and fulfillment in securing a job where the company’s scope of work complements and brings out the best in your design style.


“Perfecting a style own-able by one’s self?” 
Design is one of the few unique professions that overflow its mannerism (by long cultivation of its principles) into the personal life. Kenya Hara’s (Art Director of Muji) signature approach is the emptiness in design (minimalism), Vignelli (co-founder of Vignelli Associates) is tenacious in organized structural design, and Tim Brown (IDEO Chief) is known for his forward-thinking in contributive design. Out of thousands of designers, what is the one outstanding trait that you can offer to the industry?


Everyone had to start somewhere, good or rough. The very least one could do is to be responsible for that starting line sprint, to not be lazy and loosen the reigns on inquisitiveness before the first job. Research as much as one possibly could about the job you are willing to burn nights for, because dream jobs are never hand-fed. Research from job scopes, client accounts, working style, to even the employer and colleagues’ personalities (Twitter is great at that). Start early, make yourself heard and get that internship/application e-mail out there. Being in the creative game is good, but knowing how to get ahead of the game is greater. Who knows, that little bit of inquisitive undertaking may be the edge you are chalking up for and ahead of your graduated cohort.

It’s me, not the job. 

As straightforward as it is to the answer of job fulfillment, it is either you or the job. Would the outcome be any different if the job was satisfactory and comfortable? Unlikely.


The cycle of easy living forged arduously by our parents’ generation are tanking heavily (although student loans and healthcare debts may not drown the millennials in a rising Singapore economy, the inflation rates probably will) so much so that stories about shortcuts to success are quickly eroding and millennials are (or soon will be) learning the hard way that their assumed fast track to ‘living the life’ is not as promising and effective as presumed. There is no excuse, after 20 odd years of education, to still be falling back on options like ‘job-hopping’ and ‘searching for the right environment’ by cause of their high expectations.


“Maybe it was my parents’ fault — they made so many decisions for me that I never learned to have confidence in my own choices.

My expectations of everyone, including myself, are counter-productively high. High expectations can have a positive effect; people need a high bar to stretch towards. But I think many of us take it too far.” (via Peter Bregman)


Alternatively, one can view high expectations as a demand for perfection. The challenge here is knowing when you have taken the effort beyond its capacity that, in effect, it drags down your peers. More so, if one is in the business of design where opinions and criticisms are the everyday conversation, the pursuit for perfection is definitely one to run yourself wearily straight into the ground. In the issue of job-hopping as a plausible solution in finding the right working environment, it is extremely unsustainable. Yes, the plus points of job switch-a-roo may provide accelerated career advancements, wider trade skills, experience and their supposed fulfillment. But in the economic sense, no company would commit themselves to hiring transitory applicants and freelancers unless they are a skeletal unit specializing in artist management (eg. Hugo and Marie). For one, it shows a lack of organizational loyalty, a possible fickle reflection on your resume, and an annoyance for the company to invest in retraining time for new employees. As compared to the prior parent generation that perceived working as a means for getting by and settling down. As long as they had stability and security – an iron-rice-bowl pay – working for double-digit amount of years (common in their resumes) is never an issue.


The bottom line is, it depends entirely on your own to decide whether your future should be inviting or scary, therefore advantageous to determine and set realistic prospects for what you are searching in a job.


“Whom can you emulate yourself against?”

After bagging about that first job, the next sensible advice is to shut up, keep one’s head low and find somebody’s shadow to follow.


“Are you an art worker or a thinking designer?”

Talent is nothing without the right environment. For millennials, recognition and attention of their contributions are critical components in their fulfillment and loyalty to the company. If their daily role is to be at the director’s beck and call, it is only a matter of time before they realized their worth and replaceability. Talent is lost and insignificant in the wrong environment.


“What is your career priority?”

As mentioned earlier, proper research is essential in acquiring that early industry edge, and that means to really be scrutinizing the priorities. For in the event where the first job backfires, it will at least provide a springboard into other relevant disciplines and industry.


“Are you obsessed with success?”

In the recent years of design education, dialogues about how experimentation in creativity can lead to success are now being fiercely discussed. The irony here is that being obsessed about success can counterproductively lead one to failure as well. Hence, the best advice for an amateur is to be a sponge, soaking everything up around you, and being an observer of the people and environment. It takes a while; it is normal to take a while. Because success is a journey, not a destination.

All that said, hopefully the next bar conversation will go about how much fun you are having in your job.

Neville Hew
Neville is a designer working with brands.
Neville Hew
Neville Hew

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