Thursday, December 20, 2012

On being a professional

I think I can now call myself a professional graphic designer. Sure, I received an advanced certificate in graphic through a college, but more importantly, I have designed a dozen or so logos, over 20 book covers, at least 40 interior book layouts, and countless posters, business cards, and pamphlets. And yes, I have charged for the majority of this work. But I have never been great with labels. Calling myself “professional” at anything is always a bit amusing to me. It requires that I (1.) make money at said activity, and (2.) am skilled at said activity. As a publisher I do both of these things, the level and success of which is debatable. As a writer, the same holds true. And for the sake of argument, you could say these things apply to me as a graphic designer. But the word “professional” sticks in my craw. It assumes a certain “authority” I have never believed myself to possess. It is true I know a lot about books, more than the average person, after all I sell them, market them, attend conferences and sales meetings about them, I blog, tweet, and facebook about them, I design them, read them, and even, occasionally, write them. I have studied print history, and took courses on bookbinding and letterpress techniques, but I still don’t feel adequately knowledgeable enough to call myself a book “professional.” The issue is that I know that I still have much more to learn. And when it comes to graphic design, I have merely scratched the surface. Perhaps, I have developed some of the professional idiosyncrasies that go along with being a designer—like having a font collection that would crash most computers, or noticing the typeface first, instead of the food, when I look at a menu—but those are merely trained-in quirks. If these types of habits were all it took to call oneself “professional,” then I would have deemed myself a professional writer when I stopped using the word “final” in my document file names (insert literary laughter here). Regardless, I have decided to call myself a professional writer/ publisher/ designer, because those who depend on me expect that I have more than just a skill set; they presume, rather, that I am an authority on the subject. And even if I am uncertain if this authority exists, I have decided that it does. And it is a choice. It isn’t like one day you finish university, you get a job, and then you start receiving money via instant deposit, and voila, you’re a professional. Well, in some cases, maybe that is the case, but it never was for me. It took me about six years of publishing and learning the trade before I could even think about calling myself a “Publisher!” Years ago, when people asked me what I did, I’d say I was a housewife, mother, or I dabbled in writing and publishing, but I never called it my profession. Given the amount of hours I spend working, thinking about, and stressing about all things book-related, I think I have now earned the right to call myself a professional. After all, I deal with an accountant, have an office, an assistant, a sales force, a graphic design client list, and my own book, soon to be published, so rather than flailing about in my own self-doubt, I have decided to be confident. *Gulp. It may just be that I never labeled myself anything, because if I did, then that meant I could fail at it. After all, you can’t fail at doing something if, technically, you never were a (insert appropriate title here). So I am going to risk it, fake it until it feels real if I have to, and throw all my reticence and cautious philosophizing to the wind—today I declare that I am a professional.