Actually, let me rephrase: up until last week, I had no idea that user experience was just another term for everything I’d been doing since graduating from university almost a decade ago.
You see, I come from a research and teaching background. I’ve spent much of my 20s figuring out other people’s needs in order to improve their lives, whether it was through data analysis, observation, or classic trial and error. For the past year, I’d also been having a quarter-life crisis over my career trajectory. While I enjoyed the interactive aspects to teaching, the limitations brought by the bureaucracy of school administration frustrated me endlessly. Witnessing the stress of both students and colleagues alike on a regular basis led to my eventual disillusionment with the educational system, especially as I felt (and still feel) that so much could be done differently to better everyone’s experiences.
I made the decision to quit teaching several months ago when I realized exactly how burned out I was from trying to be an innovative educator in a backward setting. After taking some time off in the summer to rejuvenate, I moved back to my hometown to start anew, thinking I would finally return to my Psychology roots and pursue a doctorate. My former professors supported me and I, under the impression I’d stand a good shot, sent several emails out to potential supervisors for lab opportunities.
Let me tell you, Imposter Syndrome is particularly well and alive in the field of academia. It didn’t matter how many research positions I held in the past; I was simply invisible to the professors I was interested in working with because apparently my life experience outside of a university campus didn’t immediately appear to be relevant.
Out of desperation, I referred to Dr. Google for answers, as any millennial with existential questions at 2am on a Monday would. I’d intended to search for “Psychology major use”, but as fate would have it, I ended up typing in “Psychology major ux” instead. Konstantin Escher’s Medium article showed up as the third result and the rest is history. You can’t make this stuff up.
I’m not going to repeat what Konstantin highlights as similarities between research in UX and research in Psychology, but he completely connected the dots for me. UX is no longer an alien concept to me (confession: I actually thought it sounded very sci-fi) now that I’ve begun reading various books and articles on the topic. I’ve even started a self-paced edX course.
The funny thing is, I don’t think I would have such motivation if it weren’t for one of the first tips I came across: meet and network with industry people. As a shy introvert, I’m not sure what got into me that Monday night, but maybe within 15 minutes of discovering UX, I’d already signed up for a Meetup event that was to take place in two days. Of course, on Wednesday morning, I was freaking out about what I had done and contemplated withdrawing my participation. A voice in my head told me to go anyway, if only to say hi to at least one person.
Fortunately, I listened to that voice. The awkwardness of going to my first-ever meetup lasted for all of five minutes. By the end of the night, I’d added 13 new connections to LinkedIn (yes, it IS useful) and formed a study group with two other girls who were also new to UX. One invited me to attend a more formal networking event the following evening and again, I forced myself to say yes and you know what? It really gets easier and easier to do so. In fact, I’ve just accepted another invitation to a UX demo day next month.
In case you’ve forgotten, I’m only a week into my journey to become a UX professional. I didn’t quite wait for motivation to come to me; I did something to generate that motivation. Like Mark Manson says in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, sometimes action is what brings about a determination to achieve something, rather than the other way around. The idea that one can fake it till they make it certainly has worked for me so far. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re in a similar boat as me. So what are you doing about it?
Note: Most articles about career changes seem to cover several months or a year into the transition. I wrote this to summarize what has been a surreal week for myself, but I hope some of you out there will find it a relatable insight into the pivotal early days.