Please, if you have experience on design teams and have a different perspective, add your comments at the end of this post. It would be great if wanna-be DT members had a place to come for well-rounded advice, not just my very one-sided advice. Thank you in advance.
Here is Joyce's question:
"Would you share your path of getting onto the design team and making the decision that it is not for you? The broader question is: how did you know it wasn’t for you until you worked as a design team member. I can’t help but wondering how I can decide if my goal is unhealthy or unrealistic if I have not achieved it. I worry that if I quit too soon I will regret that I didn’t try hard enough. At what point should we let go and move on because it is an unattainable goal? To me it is an extremely difficult question. The harder I try, the more self-criticism, frustration and unhappiness will result; but it is just equally sad to learn that the goal has not been achieved. It will then lead to more blood and sweat which does not necessarily transform to success. Isn’t it a vicious cycle?"
Joyce's question makes my heart hurt for all who struggle with the issue of design teams. I very much wish I had an easy answer, but of course, I don't. All I can offer is my own personal experience (which is of limited help, actually) and provide some things to think about as a person grapples with this question.
Periodically, I look for ways to shake up my crafting. Several years ago, I was contemplating either trying to get on a design team or trying to get published. I was very much in the contemplating phase, though, and hadn't started acting on either impulse, when I was contacted by a company asking me to be on its design team for six months as a representative of clean-and-simple style. I didn't try out or compete for a spot.
I chose to accept the offer because of the timing and because it was something of a challenge. It was also temporary, with the option to extend if both parties were satisfied. The company's stamp style was not obviously CAS (the reason they wanted me on board), and I knew it would be interesting to adapt it to my style. But I felt safe that if I didn't like being on a DT, I had an easy out in six months. I can do anything for six months, right? Yep. I'm a big girl that way.
The company had excellent lead times for its DT. I had my stamps months ahead of time and never once felt pressured by last-minute requests or production delays, as can happen on other design teams. I also felt that my compensation in free stuff was adequate to what was expected of me as far as projects and number of posts.
But I knew after the first month that DT work wasn't for me. I disliked the blog hops for monthly releases and also disliked putting marketing copy on my blog that I hadn't written. I worked in marketing for years and have very strong opinions about it that were not in line with the company's philosophy. Let me stress there was nothing wrong with the copy the company provided...except that I didn't write it. Most DT members likely don't care about that at all.
Also, while it was both fun and educational for me to use the stamps and product I had to use, it was also work. After a few months, I knew I preferred the utter, absolute freedom of being a hobbyist. As a hobbyist, I do what I want, when I want, how I want. Being on a DT let me know how important that was for me and my creative identity. I'd suspected that about myself, but didn't know for sure until I tried.
So, if my very individual experience helps you feel better about trying to be on a DT or about giving up on it, well, then, YAY. If not, here are some more, ahem, intellectual things to think about.
1. Why do you want to be on a design team? There are lots of reasons a person might want to become a DT member. She might want free product. She might want the exposure in the stamping community (who doesn't want to be popular?). She might want or need recognition and validation of her talent. She might want to stretch her creative boundaries and feel that the structure of a DT will push her in good ways.
All of these reasons ignore one fact about DTs: companies create design teams to promote product. Ideally, both the company and the DT members get exposure and gain popularity, but the DT's job is to promote and sell product by representing the company's interests in inspiring ways. It's work, not fun and games.
So in my opinion, the best reason for wanting to be on a DT is that you love the product you'll be promoting. Adding a work element to what is, for most people, a fun hobby can kill the joy you feel creating.
2. Don't take anything personally. Selection processes for DTs vary from company to company. Some have competitions, and some just ask the people they want. And you can bet your bottom dollar the people who are usually asked to be on DTs are those who already have an established presence and following in the stamping community. If you're not that well known, it's going to be hard to break in. And even if you are well known, if your style or skill set doesn't fit what the company wants at that moment in time, they won't pick you. It's nothing personal. They just want to sell product.
3. Are you good enough? This is the question that causes people the most angst, and the uncertainty over the answer can shred egos in the process of getting the DT spot. Some people love the hobby and want to take their participation to the next level because they live in a capitalist, competitive society and assume that is the natural next step. But are they good enough for professional-level design work? Some are, some aren't, and others could be good enough with a little work.
If stampers don't get on DTs, they might start questioning the quality of their work. As Joyce expresses in her comment, self-criticism escalates when we don't feel successful. There is a huge difference between healthy self-criticism and unhealthy self-criticism. Healthy self-criticism makes you try harder and fills you with determination. Unhealthy self-criticism makes you feel beaten up and depressed.
I believe there are more "good enough" stampers for design teams than there are spots. In other words, plenty of people who are good enough will never, ever get spots because there aren't enough spots to be had. If you judge your creative worth by whether you get on a design team, you're definitely selling yourself short.
I also believe some people could easily be "good enough" if they took a design class or two. Not everyone is good at self-teaching, and putting yourself in a classroom setting (there are some great online classes) can improve the quality of your work. Ask a few people (not just one) you respect and trust to be honest for their opinions about your work.
Finally, I believe that we all should do what we love: make pretty stuff. Who cares if your pretty stuff is professional quality or not? It's your stuff. Own it. Love it.
4. Is your personality right for DT work? There are some personality characteristics that make some people more suited to DT work than others. For example, DT competitions are often intense, with quick turn-around times. You have to be creative on demand. Some people struggle with that while others thrive.
Also, we carry around all sorts of unconscious expectations of what the judges want to see in competitions, and in trying to fulfill them, we can totally miss the mark. During my time judging for the CAS challenge DT on Splitcoast, I saw perfectly talented entrants miss the mark, sacrificing good design to "dazzle" with a "creative" use of a product or pushing limits on requirements. Others just didn't read and follow the rules.
5. Are you valuing your joy highly enough? I'm going to tell you a story about my sister, Lisa, who started taking ballet lessons in second grade. In eighth grade, she went to the North Carolina School of the Arts. After she graduated high school there, she was an apprentice at the Pennsylvania Ballet. She auditioned for lots of companies, but never got a call-back.
Finally, one of her mentors at Pennsylvania called a friend at the American Ballet Theater, then under the artistic direction of Mikhail Baryshnikov. Lisa's mentor told her friend to pay attention to Lisa at their next cattle-call audition.
Lisa's name was one of seven called at the end of the that audition. She swears no one looked at her on the stage with 70 or so other dancers. It was her mentor's phone call that got her a call-back, not her talent. So many lesser companies had turned her down, and she felt that she was nowhere near talented enough for one of the top ballet companies in the world.
Plus, Baryshnikov, people!!!
The seven dancers were invited to take classes for a week at ABT. At the end of the week, some of them might be invited to join the company. Lisa fully believed she couldn't make the second cut, but she had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn from the best, so she grabbed it with joy. She focused on having fun and soaking the experience all in, not on impressing anyone.
At the end of the week, she and two others were asked to step outside the classroom. Lisa expected to be sent home, but instead, a woman looked her in the eye and said, "Misha would like you to join the company."
Lisa's graceful response was a snort and "You've got to be kidding!"
She spent the next five years of her life touring the world and sitting through physical therapy sessions with Misha on the table next to her. Her amazing success came out of years of hard work, sweat, sacrifice, blood, and pain, but it was her joy that clinched it.
So my advice to Joyce and all the other stampers who are trying to get on design teams is this: focus on your joy, not the competition. Stamping won't make your feet bleed (though it might bloody up your ego), but it can bring you incredible joy to create stuff. Never lose the focus on that joy in favor of approval-seeking through design teams or publications or other measures of popularity or success.
Because it's your joy that will clinch it.
And now it's your turn. What are your experiences with design teams? What advice do you have for those who are trying? How can stampers break what Joyce aptly calls the "vicious cycle" of hard work not leading to success?