My name is Matthew Encina, and I’ve been working as a creative professional as a designer, animator, and director over the past 15 years. Recently, I reviewed all of my old portfolio work. Going way back to 1998, when I was just starting my own creative journey, up till now working for big clients on some pretty amazing projects.
Staying motivated and trusting the process is a difficult thing to do. So what does it take to pursue a creative career? How can you stay relevant, motivated, and continue to grow in the long run?
Whether you’re just starting out, or are struggling to push forward, in this article I’ll be sharing the biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way, to help you navigate your own journey as a creative person.
Anything worth doing takes a lot of effort and along with it comes risk. The challenge for most of us is that we’re risk-averse. And we look for all the reasons why now is not a good time to pursue our next big idea.
In 2014, I pitched an idea to the band Coldplay, that I’d design an interactive music video for their song “Ink.” At the time, I really had no clue how to make it. I was nervous, cause I had very little experience in interactive design. And I almost pulled out of the project because, for a moment, I doubted my ability to deliver.
But I jumped in head first, and I believed that I could figure it out. My resourcefulness kicked in. I called everyone in my network. I did a lot of research on the technology. And a few months later, I created my first-ever interactive music video. Had I closed up and avoided risk, because of fear and doubt, I would’ve missed out on one of the most rewarding projects of my life.
That “will figure it out” mentality, I believe, is our superpower as creative human beings. We can see possibilities, where others cannot. And can come up with novel solutions to challenges, when we’re in a pinch.
When you have an opportunity in front of you, have confidence in yourself. Start before you’re ready, and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Cause when you do, you’ll grow beyond your current abilities, and you’ll surprise yourself. You’ll realize how good you really are.
Failure sucks. It’s embarrassing, demoralizing and can bring your life to a screeching halt if you let it.
In 2007, right after graduating college, I decided to start a design studio called, BORN, with my school mates. Life was good. Jobs were dropping in our lap. We were working with cool clients, like Linkin Park and Nissan, doing the kind of work we loved.
Then in 2008, the housing market crashed in the United States, and brought the global economy down with it. The phones stopped ringing. We stopped getting clients. And I realized everything I didn't know about running a business – especially in tough times
Our business became a burden rather than bringing us joy. So with a heavy heart, we decided to close our doors in 2009, and say goodbye to our little design studio.
While that experience left a deep scar on me, it was a humbling lesson that I'll remember for life. It taught me that I’m not invincible, and that there will be challenges that will appear in front of me, that I won’t be prepared for.
That experience revealed many gaps in my skills and knowledge that I wasn’t aware of at the time, but those became the things I worked on in the following years of my career. Now I’ve become more comfortable with disruption and pivoting when things change.
If you’re experiencing failure right now, just know, you’ll get through it. You’ll be stronger after it. Be willing to accept the situation and learn from it. And when you fail, ask yourself:
Knowing what you know now, what will you do differently in the future?
The more you can embrace change, the more resilient you become towards the challenges life will throw at you.
If you asked me when I was 13, what I wanted to do when I grew up, I wouldn’t have been able to give you a clear answer. If you asked me today, what’s my big master plan, I still wouldn’t have an answer for you.
The truth is, my career has been all over the place, without a real plan for anything. It was a lot of intuition and improvisation. Sometimes I took jobs out of necessity, and other times I intentionally chased things that piqued my curiosity.
In high school my first job was taking customer orders at a local pizza shop. I think that experience laid the foundation of giving good customer service, which prepared me for dealing with client relationships many years later.
In college, I changed schools, and I changed majors. I’m glad I did because I ended up finding a very fruitful career in advertising. Designing, animating, and directing commercials.
Throughout my life, I spent hundreds of hours playing video games. Sure my parents thought it was a waste of time. But I could have never known that would lead me down a path of actually working on projects for Xbox and Playstation.
At the time, many of those pursuits didn’t amount to much in the short run. But looking back, I can see that all of those experiences have added up to the person I am, and the work I do today.
I would've never imagined myself as a person creating videos on YouTube. I never planned for it, yet every experience and pursuit I’ve had to this point, has prepared me for this.
I think we all get anxious sometimes thinking about the future. Contemplating if what you’re doing right now is going to pay off? Steve Jobs had the best way of addressing this in his 2005 Commencement speech at Stanford.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
– Steve Jobs
I’ve always trusted my gut and followed my curiosity. This has allowed me to discover things about myself and the world around me. So I encourage you all to do the same. Don’t settle. Chase what you love. and remember, every chapter in your story will add up. None of it is a waste of time.
These are the three most valuable lessons I’ve learned, looking back at the last 20+ years of my portfolio work. While it might look like “I’ve made it”, I’m far from being done. I’m still a work in progress – learning, changing, growing – just like you.
Stay curious. Keep exploring.