Actually, “Know everything and learn as much as possible” is terrible advice.

[This article was originally posted on reddit.]

I was fortunate enough to have taught myself the basics of HTML and CSS as an enamored sophomore in high school and I was designing before I even knew there was a name for it.

Working professionally on the web for the past 8 years – as a web developer turned web designer turned Interactive Art Director turned UX/UI designer – I still find it very easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of new technologies, techniques, and best practice revisions coming out every day. HTML5, CSS3, SVG, Responsive Design, Adaptive Design and oh crap, they asked for WordPress… and the list goes on.

My skillset is very broad and specialized in a few key areas; but I have to say that anyone that believes you have to know everything and learn as much as possible is missing the point.

I’ve been that person furiously googling a buzz word that I had just heard in a meeting for fear that I would be “found out.” As if not fully understanding some buzz word was going to expose me as a fraud.

I’ve also been that person who had to turn away work because I felt anxious about not being able to deliver.

But then I realized something.

Trying to keep up with anything and everything haphazardly and without discretion is like drinking from a fire hose and really, you’re essentially drowning. And how do you know when you’ve learned enough? So instead of being afraid of being found out as a fraud – here’s what I do instead:

I replaced my fear with curiosity.
Whenever I came across a term I didn’t understand, I learned what it meant and tried to discern whether this was relevant to the kind of work I wanted to do. If it was not relevant, I didn’t pursue it. I didn’t go buy three books, take an online course and invest 10 hours a week for 6 months in it just because it was the hot new marketing buzz word. What I did learn to do was follow my curiosity because that allowed me to maintain energy, interest, and have better retention with the stuff I deliberately chose to learn.

I stopped being an insecure weirdo and listened better.
Sometimes a client would ask for something they wanted, which may or may not be what they actually needed. And instead of listening and understanding their true needs, I would be too busy worrying about not having developed the perfect competency, which led to insecurity, which in turn, led to the project being underserved or passed on to someone else.

I’ve since realized that the first step is to not panic about what they throw at you. The second step is to really listen to their problem and how you could possibly solve it. If the problem sounds like a problem you’re excited to solve, figure out the solution. If that meant learning a new skill – then go and learn that. Over time, you’ll find that picking up skills by following your excitement is the best and most effective way to learn. It’s doing one better than simply “learning by doing.”

And I started to pay better attention.
I talk to everyone. I talk to engineers, marketers, account managers, project managers, receptionists, lady at the grocery store, etc. But once I started being more present in my conversations, odd things started to happen. If I came across a coding problem, I would remember an obscure discussion I’d had months prior with a front end engineer that would inspire a solution. If I was struggling with a design problem, I would recall a design pattern from a team critique that was a perfect fit.

The three habits above have allowed me to keep up pretty easily without obsessively going through every new article in my feed, taking every online course and listening to every podcast. And incidentally, it has even helped me become a better designer.

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  1. Joann says

    I just happened to stumble onto your page from a post you wrote on Web Designer Depot. You know that this is exactly how I have been feeling over the past year. I have been a Graphic Designer for about 5 years and recently wanting to make the jump over to web. I started taking a couple of classes over at a community college to help me get started and let me tell you I am just so overwhelmed with all the technologies that have come into light over the past few years. Especially with Skillshare being one of the new trendy sites to help you learn anything from typography to creating gorgeous websites it’s hard for me to say no and focus on one thing. Thanks for sharing your views on this subject; I think I need to sit down and write down my goals and focus on that then trying to learn everything all at once.

    • Christine says

      Hey Joann – very cool and congrats on taking the action on moving to web. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any specific questions!

  2. says

    Hey Christine, got here from UXMastery. Just started sifting through all this ‘stuff’ and I am a bit overwhelmed. This article helps me out a lot, mentally!

    I’ve been doing video and motion graphics for the past nine years and think it’s time to broaden my skill set. Still debating design vs. development, it’s a lot to take in but your articles are really helping make this easier! Thanks!

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