Graphic designer Charlotte McBride talks about how her greatest strength turned into a weakness so big, she delivered 6 months' worth of bad projects.
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Ashley Stryker [00:00:01] Welcome to the Professional Confessional: How the biggest mistakes we've ever made fundamentally changed our work, our careers, and our approach forever. Gain wisdom and perspective through these audio absolutions.
Ashley Stryker [00:00:21] Today's guest is Charlotte McBride, a professional designer whose greatest professional mistake was once her best asset: The ability to quickly complete her projects... maybe too quickly.
Charlotte McBride [00:00:34] My mistake was rushing. We think about rushing, but it doesn't occur to us that it's ever a bad thing. It's always, we should work quickly and efficiently and fast and get it done.
Charlotte McBride [00:00:44] I grew up very much where I was like, "Oh, you're so fast." And it was very much seen as a compliment. So I adjusted to being oh, being fast means I'm doing good, which is not always the case. So I got into college, and being quick wasn't an issue.
Charlotte McBride [00:01:05] But then, I got an internship that I did for two and a half years at the college that I went to, for our College of Business. Largely what I did, I did the college blog, and then I did... We had these TVs in the building, we call them TV rotators, that we'd have announcements going on. And I would design those. I would do social media graphics. We would do print publications. I think the biggest project I did while I was there was a thing called the Business Bulletin, which was a document that went out to all of the alumni to get donations and stuff for the college.
Charlotte McBride [00:01:40] I was an intern underneath the director of marketing. She was great. I super love her. Everything I know how to do was because of her.
Charlotte McBride [00:01:48] As much as I love her, she's not very good about confrontation. She doesn't really like talking to people about things that they can change, because she just doesn't want them to feel like she doesn't want them to feel bad -- which I totally get.
Charlotte McBride [00:02:04] About six months after I started working with her, she sent me an email. It was just, essentially, "You need to be paying... You need to do, like, a final review before you send these to me, slow it down, make these designs a little better."
Charlotte McBride [00:02:17] I just felt this sinking feeling and had to try to stop myself from crying there in the office because it was just, like, I really looked up to her and she was my boss and I didn't want to disappoint her. I felt like I had, and it was really tough and it was there. That day was a really tough day. It was actually pretty crushing for young me.
Charlotte McBride [00:02:36] Something I struggle with still is the criticism. It is really hard to separate you from the stuff that you make because things that you make feels like your art. And so, when somebody critiques your art, it feels like in turn, they're critiquing you, which that's not... That's not the case at all.
Ashley Stryker [00:02:57] As a writer, I feel you. I have the same problem.
Charlotte McBride [00:02:59] And to be fair, this was also before I had actually really started doing graphic design in college. My major started out as theater, and then it moved into video production. And then, after I got that internship with her, it moved into graphic design.
Ashley Stryker [00:03:14] Oh, my. Yeah, you were a baby graphic designer.
Charlotte McBride [00:03:17] Yes, I was little and knew nothing.
Ashley Stryker [00:03:19] Did you go talk to her about it?
Charlotte McBride [00:03:20] Yeah, yeah, I definitely did. And the one thing that I did feel a little bit frustrated about was, some of the projects that she had referenced in the email were projects that I had done months before and that she'd already given the OK. I felt like I did a good job on those. But then, she was coming back and saying I didn't do a very good job.
Charlotte McBride [00:03:44] So I went and had a chat with her and I was like, "Hey, I know it's tough for you and it's tough for me, too. But if you could give me... If you feel like something I gave you is less than stellar, please tell me in that moment, because that makes it easier for me, because then I don't feel like I did a project and it was good and fine, only to find out a couple of months later that it actually wasn't."
Ashley Stryker [00:04:05] What kind of revisions was she asking for it? What was she looking for you specifically to do a final audit...?
Charlotte McBride [00:04:11] To be a little more creative in the designs that I was making that still adhered, obviously, to the college standards, which, as a side note, we're getting a rebrand actually midway through my internship. But, yeah, just being a little more creative, a little more artistically technical, which at the time I was totally new to the graphic design space, to the software.
Charlotte McBride [00:04:36] In fact, I think she also expected me to have more experience in the graphic design suite than I had at the time, because there was a point where I was like, "Why is this tool acting this way?" Because I didn't fully understand how the tool worked.
Charlotte McBride [00:04:51] And she was like, "That's just because of X, Y and Z." And she seemed confused that I didn't understand how that worked.
Charlotte McBride [00:04:57] But, it was just more being just more critiques and being more creative in the guidelines that we were given and which in my opinion at the time, I felt like I was.
Charlotte McBride [00:05:06] Looking back on my work, It was really bad. It wasn't the worst thing I think I've ever seen, but it definitely wasn't up to where it should have been.
Ashley Stryker [00:05:15] If you had been in her shoes mentoring you as a newbie designer, infant designer, new born designer, still in the egg designer -- how could she have couched her feedback in such a way that you would have been enthusiastic rather than blindsided?
Charlotte McBride [00:05:32] I think, as I said before, just coming to me after each project. I'm a big believer in, if you give negative feedback, you also need to give positive feedback so it doesn't feel like you're just being dumped on.
Charlotte McBride [00:05:46] So probably what I would have done, at least for me, I probably would have also set up biweekly meetings so we could do a check in to see where I'm at, if there's any areas I think I need to improve personally. Because, when I came into college, I started being more introspective about myself and my own skills.
Charlotte McBride [00:06:06] And, after that email, I did try to be more introspective and critical with my designs. But at the same time, I was afraid to send her anything for a period of two months because I thought it wouldn't be good enough.
Ashley Stryker [00:06:18] Oh, no.
Charlotte McBride [00:06:20] And so personally, I probably would have been like, "Let's do a biweekly meeting where we can check in, we can talk about stuff. I can give you feedback on a more regular basis. So it feels like it's petered out rather than just hitting you over the head all of a sudden with critiquing feedback for projects that were a long time ago. And then we can do regular check ins, we can do brainstorms or anything can happen during this meeting. But mostly it's a meeting for me to give you feedback and for you to give me feedback so we can make this the best internship for you."
Ashley Stryker [00:06:50] So how did she take your direct approach after her email?
Charlotte McBride [00:06:53] I think she was pretty fine with it. I worked with a gal once who said she felt like she couldn't ever criticize me because it hurt my feelings. And I'm like, yeah, but at the same time, I won't move anywhere without that criticism.
Charlotte McBride [00:07:07] So, yeah, she seemed to take it pretty well. And we did start setting up a time to have, like, regular meetings that we regularly met and we talked about stuff.
Charlotte McBride [00:07:16] Actually, at the end of my internship, she recommended me for an award that's given out every month. It's an intern of the month award and I won that last year. At first, I thought it was just cool: "That's cool. I got an award for being an intern."
[00:07:30] But then, the lady who gave me the certificate for it, she was like, "No, this is a big deal. There are a thousand applicants every month."
Ashley Stryker [00:07:36] Oh, wow.
Charlotte McBride [00:07:37] Yeah.
Ashley Stryker [00:07:37] What did the heck did she put in that application?
Charlotte McBride [00:07:40] That's what I want to know, because I have no clue! I've no idea.
Charlotte McBride [00:07:45] But half the stuff I know how to do, I did not actually learn from my education. I learned from her. Our relationship started out a little rough there, but I definitely think it improved. I got better. We got better.
Charlotte McBride [00:07:57] It actually got to a point where she went on maternity leave last summer, and I ended up taking over her position for the summer, which was very scary. But also it really helped me expand on my own skills, being put into a really big leadership position where I answered to the dean. And, the dean actually said that he felt like I did such a good job. He's like, "If you need any kind of recommendation letter, just come to me and I will personally write you one."
Charlotte McBride [00:08:26] So, yeah, I got better after two and a half years. I got better.
Ashley Stryker [00:08:31] Your old boss... I feel so bad for her, because I've been there, where you're like, "Oh darlin', I can see you're actually trying, but dammit, if it's not quite there."
Charlotte McBride [00:08:42] Yep, yep. Yeah. And like I said, I think a lot of it, at least at the start, with frustrations like that, it was just not knowing how to be a designer.
Ashley Stryker [00:08:52] Well, you're an intern. If she wanted a professional who understood things, you should have paid more.
Charlotte McBride [00:08:57] Yeah.
Ashley Stryker [00:08:57] All right. So then, if the error was rushing and not taking the time to check something over before you looked at it, you swung completely the other way?
Charlotte McBride [00:09:07] Yeah, but I think actually a lot of it was just improving my skill as a designer because it helped me make better designs.
Ashley Stryker [00:09:16] Has it changed how you approach other clients as well, in addition to your former boss -- with rushing, specifically?
Charlotte McBride [00:09:22] Yeah, I like to think so.
Charlotte McBride [00:09:23] Because now, some clients I work with, it is a quick project. Other times, though, they want something that's a little more vague maybe or a little more complex. And those things you can't rush and especially big projects.
Charlotte McBride [00:09:40] I recently worked with a nonprofit and they wanted a probably the biggest project I've worked on so far. They wanted 18 decks -- or PowerPoint presentations -- and each one of them, they initially said they wanted them to be no more than fifteen slides each. But yeah, that didn't happen. By the end of it, it ended up being three hundred and something odd slides, I think, altogether, plus a few other things. They also wanted activity packs. So, they were doing a thing where they had three different educational tracks and there were six decks in each track, but they also had an activity pack to go along with each track, and then also a facilitator script for whoever was running the track. So, I had to do those, as well.
Charlotte McBride [00:10:23] With that one, I did really have to slow it down because it's like it was repetitive. When things get repetitive, it tends to feel like you can just go through them because. It's all the same, but you can't, because there's still those little minute details that you still have to pay attention to and make sure are perfected before it can be sent off for distribution.
Ashley Stryker [00:10:48] So, at what point... When did you catch yourself rushing, and then how did you force yourself to slow down on that project?
Charlotte McBride [00:10:56] When I would have all of the presentations open at the same time and I would just be going through. I'd just be like, "All right, we got to take five minutes because we're going too fast and then come back."
Charlotte McBride [00:11:06] Because if I go too fast, like I said, you miss those obvious errors, but then you go back and you're like, "Ah ha, I missed that. You've got to go back and do it again" -- but then you've got to make sure that you did it right.
Charlotte McBride [00:11:16] The other ones, too, as I've gotten older, I tend to notice when I'm rushing and I shouldn't be. That's usually when I've just like I said, I've just been going through and through. I've got my music on in the background. I'm in the zone. But it's a different kind of zone.
Ashley Stryker [00:11:31] Like a creative meditation, almost.
Charlotte McBride [00:11:33] Yes, but it's more like a fast rush meditation.
Ashley Stryker [00:11:36] So how would you recommend other people if they find themselves getting caught up and in their work like that, how do you encourage them to take a break and slow it down?
Charlotte McBride [00:11:48] I will say, the creative flow is something that we should all strive to get to, because that's how a lot of great work gets done. Being in that mindspace where the stars are aligned and everything's just perfect... but at some point, take a breather, stop.
Charlotte McBride [00:12:02] I find something that helps -- and this applies, I think, to any kind of situation when you're hitting a wall creatively and you don't know what it is you're trying to do -- take five, go away from the space that you're in, get some water because you probably needed to get a snack. You probably also need that.
Charlotte McBride [00:12:21] And then, do something for five minutes that's not related to what you're doing, whether that's just reading your book for five minutes or journaling -- something that's not work related and then come back.
Charlotte McBride [00:12:32] I find, at least for me, I come back with a really refreshed mindset and perspective and it makes it a lot easier to catch those smaller details that sometimes escape when I'm trying to get through things too quickly.
Ashley Stryker [00:12:45] OK, I feel a little bit called out now because I haven't had lunch yet.
Charlotte McBride [00:12:48] Yes, go eat it.
Ashley Stryker [00:12:49] Yeah, right? No, my old intern used to be like, "Have you eaten yet? And I'm like, "You're on your lunch. Go away; I get to do what I want. I am the big kid here!"
Ashley Stryker [00:13:00] So, Charlotte's biggest professional mistake was rushing her projects to completion, prompting a career-defining confrontation with her direct supervisor. Her speed, combined with her inexperience and her manager's reluctance to speak up sooner, which was her own mistake, resulted in six months' worth of mediocre product that may have been avoided.
Ashley Stryker [00:13:20] But now, Charlotte deliberately enforces timelines with both herself and her clients, particularly when wrestling with repetitive assignments. She recommends physically getting up from your workspace, maybe remembering to eat that meal that you may have missed, so you can return with fresh eyes and greater attention.
Ashley Stryker [00:13:38] Today, Charlotte McBride is a PowerPoint and graphic designer to help corporate companies clarify their message, nail their pitches and close more deals. You can visit her website at PC-Podcast.com/CharlotteM. (As in McBride, because that's how we roll.)
Ashley Stryker [00:14:06] And, you can find this and other episodes of the Professional Confessional podcast at PC-Podcast.com, or on your preferred podcasting platform of choice.
Ashley Stryker [00:14:16] Do you want to come on and share your biggest professional mistake? Head to PC-Podcast.com/BeOurGuest to schedule your Professional Confessional.
Ashley Stryker [00:14:33] In the meantime, please share this episode with someone you think needs to hear this today. That's all for this Professional Confessional. I'm Ashley Stryker. Thanks again for tuning in, and I hope you'll join us next time. Talk soon!