How I Became a Toy Designer

How I Became a Toy Designer

My name is Calvin, some know me as a Toy Designer, some know me as a video guy, and some know me as a design researcher, and I am all of these at the same time.

You might wonder how might that be possible? The answer is you can, and my recommendation is you should! Instead of telling you how I got myself into all those different roles, I would like to share with you why you should develop multiple ‘careers’ just so you could uncover and unleash the many and different potential of YOUs

Age of multiple careers: what I have learned from Bruce Lee

The world has been shifting from one job-one role-one career to an age of multiple careers.

More and more often we see people with multiple titles and operate across industries, driven by passion and purpose, I have known many professional people either assume multiple roles beyond their trained profession or on the path of continuously reinventing themselves.

Is simple really, as the world is forever changing,  human being by design should also be constantly evolving, no one could remain the same forever, and by this, I don’t just mean continuous learning, I am talking about never stop reinventing yourself.

The beauty in people keep reinventing themselves is not just self-development, but the cross-pollination of experience, ideas, and perspectives, they bring the world closer together, transcend boundaries, break down silos, turn competition into collaboration, which is in itself a generative process.

‘Life is an endless journey of self-discovery’’ – Bruce Lee

At the age of 43, having worked in Corporate Communications, Event Management, Toys Design and Production, Video Production, and now Service Design Consultancy, I can tell you that Bruce, who was a martial artist, an actor, and a philosopher,  was absolutely right!

In-Service Design, we often say ‘Learning by Doing, not talking, which means the only way to learn anything, especially learning about yourself, is by getting your hands dirty and do it. There will be failures and setbacks along the way, there will be frustrations and self-doubts, that is the only way to learn, no shortcuts, but I do have two hacks that might help you determine if you are on the right track and how to make it a little more tolerable.

The 10,000 hours rule

You can only be good at something by spending at least spent 10,000 hours on it. Famous athletes, musicians, chefs all went through the same thing, if you want to be good at something, you have to be willing to endure the pain, the dullness, and sometimes sacrifice leisure time to hone your craft, to give you the confidence, and most importantly, to prove that you really love what you are doing. If you cannot spend 10,000 hours on it, maybe you need to rethink if that is the thing you want to be. 

Think Big, Start Small

Anyone can have amazing dreams or visions, the reasons only so few could achieve them lies in the distance between thinking and doing. One hack that can help bridge that distance is by starting small, one step at a time, one day at a time; celebrate even the smallest improvement to keep you going the distance. Another advantage of starting small is that you can fail fast and fail early, learn from the small setbacks, and bounce back fast.

‘Be Water my friend!’ – Bruce Lee

Is so true!

Career development is usually perceived as a one-way, linear growth path. You get into an industry either by choice or by chance, you try to get good at whatever it is that you do and stay ahead.

Yet ever so often we hear people saying ‘they never teach you this in school’, unfortunately, this is true. There are a lot of things about being in a workplace or organization there are essential things that were never taught at school.

Good grades don’t make you a good teammate, knowledge can only take you as far as your people skill, being able to empathize with people you work with and communicate your ideas in an empowering and enabling way is a life-time learning process.

What does that mean? It means it really is not about you, is about the people you work with, your boss, your colleagues, your clients, and your customers. You are not actually building a career, but your career is built on your relationships with all these different people, is non-linear, and is organic.

To this end, I would recommend you to explore the following two topics as you enter a workplace, which I can assure you are more if not as important than being good at what you do.

‘Stakeholder management is the job’ 

This is huge learning from my current job as a Service Design consultancy! The ability to ‘read the room’, sense the different perspectives, agendas, hope, and fear within an organization is key to success in any situation. What it requires is stop thinking about yourself or the task on hand, but to know and consider other people’s needs and situations, empathize with them, and enable them to work with you towards something generative, making their career development part of your own development, this should make things smoother and just might open more new doors for you.

‘Expectation Management is the goal’

Unless you work alone, like some sort of specialist, no one can pull off a project by themselves. Whenever we work with other people, there are different expectations, things that are expected of you and things that you expect from others. Quite often these are not as effectively communicated as we think or wish they were, and many difficulties and problems came from this failure in communicating expectations. Similar to stakeholder management above, you can’t focus just on yourself, but be mindful of what precisely is expected of you, and most importantly, manage your own expectations. Knowing and balancing both will help you go a long way in building relationships with people you work with and your own careers.

Life is also journey of self-actualization’ – Bruce Lee

I have been a corporate volunteer for many years. As a toy designer, I have started my own initiative called ‘Action Figure for Good’ to help fund-raising for local charities. Through the Service Design consultant, I work for I also produce videos for NGOs and Social enterprises on a pro-bono basis to help raise awareness of their causes.

In recent years there is a trend among corporations and individuals to seek purpose-driven works, going beyond profits and self-interests, moving away from ego-centric to ecosystem kind of thinking.

That is all good and well-meant, and I do encourage you to volunteer and give back as much as you could in your own capacity. What I want to share is how self-actualization relates to careers development.

Purpose is not given, but self-developed

No one could define or create a purpose for you, volunteering should not be a ‘feel-good-about-yourself’ activity, and definitely not something to be treated as an extracurricular activity that helps beef-up your CVs. Of course, many might have done so with such a mindset and might have helped their career in one form or another. But in terms of personal development as much as careers development, I believe ‘Authenticity’ is far more important.

The reason I emphasize ‘authenticity’ is that purposeful works take heart, genuine compassion, and commitment, and these things are critical to your development as a member of a community and society. My experience from volunteering is most often less about giving, but rather how much more I could learn from people I was trying to give care to and serve for, and how much of what I have learned from them that I could reflect upon about myself and our society.

Self-worth and balance

Going back to what I mentioned earlier about ‘It is not about you’, you might find it contradictory that at one point I was on about not focusing on yourself, now I keep talking about the self, which one should I focus on in careers development?

The answer is both. Like I shared earlier, it is not a linear development process, rather, they are more sort of like layers, from within to without then back to within. You discover and develop yourself by spending that 10,000 hours, kept going at it in small steps, then constantly be mindful and emphasize with people you work with and manage theirs and your own reflection. This ongoing action > reaction > reflection > action exercise is where we find our self-worth and balance our different ambitions, hope, aspiration, and fear.

And in this process, you never stop re-inventing yourself, and by doing so, you are developing your career, and that career is your life, a life of passion, and of purpose.

Wishing you all a great life journey ahead!

Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water my friends.” – Bruce Lee

Calvin Lo

Book recommendation: Bruce Lee: Artist of Life

Also read: Postsecondary nondegree award – Career Opportunities

How I Became a Toy Designer

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