“There Is No Template,” and Other Career Advice That’s Easy to Forget

If you have yet to peruse Man Repeller’s new e-commerce site, I’m jealous. The first time is the most arresting—the moving graphics, the interactivity, the fact that you never know what’s coming next. I can guarantee it’s unlike any shopping experience you’ve ever had (and I can confirm it doesn’t get old). Turns out this is exactly what our Repeller team had in mind when they collaborated with the genius design team at Studio Scissor: to make online shopping a genuine thrill.

Today marks the final drop of this summer’s Repeller collection, so we decided to invite Studio Scissor’s own Lydia Turner, along with two of her industry-leading peers Roanne Adams of RoAndCo and Abby Muir to MRHQ’s Good Evening series to learn about the reality of pursuing a career in design—or anything, really. What ensued was a night of good advice and honest conversation (the best kind), facilitated by Man Repeller’s Director of Product Development, Dasha Faires.

Before I share some of the most compelling takeaways, a super-relevant heads up that we’ve also just launched a Good Evening site! Designed, of course, by putting all of Roanne, Abby, and Lydia’s advice into action. (Feels good.) Bookmark it so you can stay up to date on the latest MR happenings, get a preview of upcoming events, and sign-up for early access to tickets. And thennnnnn scroll down to hear about what else they taught us!

Lesson #1: There is no template

Sometimes I feel like there’s a set plan for every aspiring young professional. Take some APs, go to a good college, major in something that guarantees a good job, get an internship, get the aforementioned job, get 2.5 kids and a beagle. Lydia Turner did that. She started her own studio with the proverbial “businessman” that we all know and likely do not love. They had an office on Mercer Street, the whole professional nine yards. “It was really what I thought I wanted,” she said. “Because that’s what New York City wants you to do: have employees, wear fancy clothes, show up to meetings… And I hated it.” Rather than do the open office floor plan and have weekly check-ins, she chose to close the whole office, which was an extremely painful and difficult decision.

Roanne Adams, founder and creative director of RoAndCo, had a similar experience: After working in an office that played bad music and where she felt “removed from New York.” she quit completely to go freelance and, by 25, she was out on her own. “I just wanted to sleep in,” she said with a laugh. “I was overly confident then.” But honestly, is it overly confident if it works?

Lesson #2: Cubicles aren’t cool anymore, MOM

After closing down her office, Lydia needed to relearn where she worked best. Turns out she works best when she’s at the opposite of an office: places of leisure. She now works in Hawaii two months out of the year (yep) and in other stereotypically relaxing places and, curiously, gets more done than she ever did in an office. She calls her time in Hawaii “work vacations,” and she goes to be productive in a quiet place while eating pineapple and starfruit. And at her own Studio Scissor, she has the ability to work exactly how she needs to. No judgment. No pressure.

Roanne had a similar moment of transition, but came to a slightly different solution. Her studio, RoAndCo, wasn’t initially a fun place to work. She noticed people were competitive and sometimes straight-up mean. So she made the conscious decision to look inward to solve the problem, and now practices and preaches mindfulness and meditation in her office. “Do you ask for negativity?” and “Do you need to change your approach?” are questions she asks herself constantly.

Lesson #3: No one does it alone

From the very beginning of the conversation, they addressed the hard stuff. As Lydia Turner put it bluntly: “It’s not an accident that we’re three white women sitting up here.” She acknowledged that, yes, all women have to work extra-hard to get ahead, but she’s still starting with an advantage because of her race. “I can’t talk about how I got here without talking about that,” she said. Similarly, as the conversation moved on to how all three ladies got the courage to go out on their own, Lydia pointed out that the glamorous narrative of striking out all on her own is not the full story. After shutting down her studio, she received a loan from her brother-in-law and a computer from her father. Abby’s first job came from an internship a professor at Parsons had given her. In other words, they worked hard to get where they are, but it’s important to remember that the whole “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” way of thinking works far more easily when you have someone to help you put them on first.

Lesson #4: If you like it, you’ll work on it

In a world of clickbait and listicles (which can be fun, tbh), I can imagine it would be tough for people who work in tech to feel inspired sometimes. But when asked about what gets them going, all these women said the same thing: projects with purpose and personality. Abby’s cited a recent project as one of her most inspiring: “The design of the site is not the most revolutionary, but because it’s helping to serve a group that really needs it, it means a lot,” she explained, underlining the truism that purpose beyond paying the bills can be one of work’s greatest motivators.

If you want to see some of Lydia, Roanne, and Abby’s work, check out their websites, which I just linked. And if you to see our next talk IN THE FLESH, you now know where to find us!

Photos by Ken Castaneda.