Writing is rewarding when it comes to personal and professional development and it’s also much simpler to get started than most may think.
In this article Alexa Herasimchuk, Design Community Manager at Zendesk shares her story below on how the simple act of writing can lead to personal and professional growth.
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I’ve learned to find my voice, reflect on challenges and embrace self-growth through writing and it all started with writing letters to my future self.
I remember the exact moment in 2014 when I received the offer to become a Product Design Intern at Yelp. I was sitting at my desk in the small studio apartment I shared with a friend, anticipating a call from the Yelp design recruiter. Yes, that’s right, I spent 1 year of my early adult life living in a studio apartment with another person while we shared a bunk bed; but hey, you make things work when you’re a student living in the expensive housing market of San Francisco. It must have been early in the morning because almost immediately upon the phone ringing, I ran into the hallway to pick it up.
It was a flush of excitement. The recruiter had no idea but I was dancing up and down the hallway trying to keep my breath while answering her questions as to what the next steps would be to finalize the offer to join the Yelp Product Design team that summer. It was the best feeling. It felt like my life had changed.
The Yelp Summer Product Design, Product Management, and Engineering Interns of 2014
Fast forward a few weeks, the internship was approaching. Amidst all the excitement, I had a lot of questions. How do I prepare myself for my first day? What should I be learning to understand the product before I join? What projects will I be working on? Who will I be working with?
But what I hadn’t thought about was me. What do I want to get out of this experience? After this internship is over, what do I want to have learned? Where do I want to be in the next 6 months? Lucky for me, I had found myself an excellent Product Design mentor to help me through this. That person was Andrei Herasimchuk, who also happens to be my dad.
What he told me to do to prepare was simple, he said write yourself a letter. I was to fill this letter with my thoughts and expectations for the internship, what I wanted to get out of the experience, and what goals I had for myself. Afterwards, I was to put it away, only to revisit it once the internship was over.
I opened the letter as soon as the internship ended. That moment was invigorating and this experience of self-reflection has really stuck with me. It’s one thing to have a transformative professional experience but it’s another to be able to reflect back on exactly what you learned, what you may not have, and why.
That Fall, I returned to school for my final semester at California College of the Arts. I was enrolled in a class called Transition into Professional Practice, led by my professor Marc O'Brien. Within the first week of class, he told us to write him a letter indicating why we would have gotten an A for his class that semester. If what we wrote in that letter was true at the end of the semester, he would give as an A. And there it was again, a similar exercise of self-reflection but within a different context. He gave us back those letters which I have since kept as a memory.
The letter Alexa wrote to her teacher
Alexa's fun and creative method of writing
Both fun and creative, this method of writing a letter is also special. It allows you to hear your own voice, learn what you care about, and take control over your self-growth. Life can only be understood backwards after all.
As I’ve gotten more senior in my design practice, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to pass down this ritual to other designers that I’ve worked with professionally both within an internship and mentorship context.
You don’t need to consider yourself a writer to participate. Keep it simple and think about what you want your future self to know. If you need some guidance, this is what I typically follow:
Say hello - Address yourself and acknowledge that writing to your future self could be sort of silly.
Provide yourself with context - What is happening in your life right now? Paint yourself a picture so you can put yourself back into that moment in the future.
Share your uncertainties - Is there anything you are worried about? What is not clear to you yet about the future? Is there anything that you are particularly excited or anxious about? Document that.
Share your goals - What do you hope future you will have achieved by the time you open this letter? This writing is about what you want to learn and why.
When it comes to goals, I typically recommend using the SMART framework to make sure the goals are thorough. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Your goals should check all these boxes before they are ready to go.
Remember, don’t open the letter for a set period of time. On the last day of an internship is a great date to set. Maybe it's the last day of a mentorship program or 6 months from now, 2 years, 5 years, etc… Whatever day you choose, just make sure you choose one. That day will be the day you celebrate.
What is the value of writing
On a more personal note, I’ve truly learned the value of writing. I’ve gotten into the habit of writing yearly goals, writing to myself in a weekly journal, as well as writing scripts for the videos I make on my YouTube channel about design. Until recently, I would never have considered myself a writer, let alone a good writer. I’ve always had a lot of thoughts and ideas and things I’ve wanted to share with the world but it didn’t always come out of my mouth the way I wanted. What I do know, is the more I’ve been writing the more I’ve gotten clearer about what exactly it is that I want to say and why. So now, when words come out of my mouth, it’s clearer and stronger than ever before.
You don’t need to write lengthy 10 minute long scripts like I often do for my YouTube channel. You can start simple like getting into the habit of writing to yourself in a weekly journal. When I was getting started with journaling, I made sure to keep it visible in my room so I would notice it as a reminder. Bonus points for finding yourself a journal that feels special and true to you. Mine is a bright yellow which I love and it’s also hard to miss.
Now that journaling is a habit for me, it’s always something I remember to do Monday mornings. It’s one of my favorite rituals. But hey, if journaling is too much of a commitment for you right now, you could try something even simpler. You could start by writing yourself a letter. I know now that I’m a better person, and a better designer, because of it.