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Blog November 6, 2019

Don't Settle for Small

Bree Basham
Bree Basham

When I was growing up, I knew that I loved to paint and draw at an early age and that I wanted to find a way to apply my passion for art to my career. That desire led me to take a chance on enrolling as a graphic design major at the College of Design at NC State University. I ended up loving it, and believing it is what I was meant to do.

Start Somewhere

I was sure with my positive attitude and newly minted degree that I’d immediately get work doing what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, getting the perfect job out of college and in New York City wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I lugged my portfolio around from interview to interview, staying on friends’ couches. When I secured a job at Calvin Klein, I was thrilled, but it wasn’t all the glamorous aspect of fashion that everyone pictures. My role consisted of a lot of production work including layouts and retouching –so much retouching! I definitely experienced a lot while there, and I learned a lot. While I knew it wasn’t where I wanted to be for the long-term, I was grateful for the paycheck and the experience. The most important thing is to start somewhere.

It Takes Work to Get the Work You Love

After doing my research, I knew that an agency would be a great next stepping-stone in my career as I could create work for more than one client at once. I interviewed at Frankfurt Balkind and while I knew it was where I wanted to be, the feeling wasn’t immediately mutual. I persisted with follow-ups until I was hired. I thrived in agency life and went on to create work there that still holds up today. I also got to work on some amazing projects, like starting a years-long relationship with Michael J. Fox and his Foundation for Parkinson’s research, and to work with the Guggenheim (a dream!).

Believe Anything is Possible, and Be Willing to Work for It

Armed with more experience and greater confidence, I moved back to Charlotte and then to Los Angeles, in various agency roles. I spent the larger part of my career doing brand-building work and immersing myself fully in understanding the customer experience (CX) at all touchpoints. I loved going in through discovery to listen to stakeholders and customers, help companies find their brand “truths”, and find out their “why”. And then making them look and feel that way. I dove heavy into digital – product design, web design, mobile, email, social and video – but still handled the traditional aspects of brand as well like identity, trade show, and sales materials. During this time, my titles changed from Designer, to Senior Designer, to Design Manager, to Creative Director, and then to VP of Creative.

There is no secret to success. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, a love for and belief in what you are doing.

What I Learned Along the Way

  1. If you want the job above you, do the job. Lead regardless of your title. Nothing convinces people to look at you as leadership material more than seeing that in action. Show that you can go above and beyond your current title, and the rest will come.
  2. When you’re comfortable, it’s time to change. I believe this wholeheartedly. ​If you aren’t learning and growing or gaining additional responsibility that makes you just a tiny bit uncomfortable, it may be time to move on.
  3. If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more. ​ When I was approached about my current role, I was unsure if I wanted to make a change in my career, happy where I was. But I’ve learned from experience, “always have the conversation.” I’m loving where I am now at CapTech, and thankful that I took the risk.
  4. Be on the forefront of trends. Be where you think things are headed, not where they have been. In the near future, we see CX benefitting from an explosion of technologies and a fundamental shift in the interactions between a company and its customers. I wanted to be somewhere that considered technology at the core of its business, not somewhere that would be trying to catch up to the trend.
  5. Don’t design for brands, design for people. ​Don’t simply design things that just look good. The ultimate charge is to create customer-informed and technically proficient products that yes, look amazing, but work even better. ​

What I Believe

Along with the lessons I’ve learned, I wanted to share my “top 10” values. These are things I try to follow to both life and at work.

  1. LOVE. Don’t hate on other people and especially don’t hate on other women. We’re all in this together. If someone is doing better than you – if they are opening a door before you, then that door is going to be left open a little wider for you to walk through it.
  2. LIFT. Elevate others to elevate yourself. The best leaders aren’t bosses as much as servant leaders and coaches. I believe my best work is discovering my team’s talents and interests to help them grow.
  3. PRIORITIZATION. This one is simple to say but harder to do. Focus on what you’re best at doing, and let go of the things you aren’t, so they don’t negatively impact you reaching your goals. ​
  4. CONNECTION. Get off the computer and connect with real people and real culture. Life is visceral. Every connection is a chance for you to learn something new and add to your rich experiences in some way. ​
  5. AUTHENTICITY. Know and own who you are. Be authentic. The most powerful asset you have is your individuality. ​
  6. BE KIND & POSITIVE. You never know what kind of day someone is having. Pass along kindness and compliments. ​ Also, remember your attitude determines your direction. ​
  7. STAY CURIOUS. Travel, see things, and continue to learn. It’s a humbling and inspiring experience to see another way of doing things and learn how much you still don’t know. ​
  8. GIVE BACK. It’s important to give back. I remember how much it meant when someone took a chance on me, and I now feel a calling to do that for others.
  9. LIVE EXCUSELESS. This is a big one. I hear excuses all day long. ​If someone is doing something better than you, or doing more than you are, you may find yourself making excuses. We all have 24 hours in a day, it’s what levels us out. This goes back to prioritization. Make sure you are spending time focusing on the things you want to be.
  10. WORK HARDER. I can’t stress this one enough, work harder than you think you can, and you will always benefit from the effort. ​

Your values might differ from mine or they might overlap. Regardless, I urge you to contemplate your own path and what values drive you in your life and career.

I also urge you to reshape the conversation, change the dynamic, and be the one to just go for it. Success will follow. Don’t settle for small.