You Can Survive and Thrive After a Crisis

by Grant Friedman

on December 8, 2009

in Articles

Sure, some of us have it easier than others but for the most part, success comes to the people who want it the most. We all know that life isn’t easy and there sure as heck aren’t any free rides. Life will beat you up, drag you through the mud, and then steal your girlfriend. Why? Because it can!

In my short time however I have found that the low points in one’s life are often the times when things start to turn around; that success is often forged from the ashes of one’s past. In the last year, most of us have suffered some hard times. The economy has forced many designers from the job market and forced a lot of us to rethink or get creative in terms of how we earn our living. Adding to our frustration, or pain, many of us have also suffered from personal hardship that can make our lives even more complicated.

My Story

Many of you may not know that prior to Colorburned, I worked as the Sr. Designer for the Governor of my state. I had a nice, cushy, corner office in my state’s capitol building. I worked in this position for 2 years; that is, until my boss (The Governor) lost his re-election. When that happened I had about 2 months to find a new job. This left me with a choice; find a job in politics, or in design. After working for the state for 2 years and in politics for several years before that, I decided that I had enough of it and started looking for a design job at an agency.

I spent quite a while looking for a job in my area with very little success. I had a couple interviews but nothing panned out. Things were looking pretty grim and to be honest, I was a bit nervous. It was this time in my life that I started Colorburned. Originally, Colorburned served as my personal portfolio website but it eventually transformed into the site you see today.

I’ve put a lot of effort into building this site and I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish but if it weren’t for those unfortunate circumstances, the Colorburned that you know today would not exist.

Why I’m Writing This

After thinking about my situation I started wondering if any other designers had endured similar situations in their life. I recalled a conversation I had with Fabio Sasso last summer at the Front-End Design Conference about the roots of Abduzeedo and decided that there were probably others out there with a similar story to share. I emailed him and several other designers and bloggers that I have come to know and respect over the last couple of years and found out that many of them, in fact, did have similar stories to tell; some had suffered true tragedy, others battled health or professional problems but one common thread was that each of them were able to turn their tragedies or struggles into something positive. No matter how bad things got, each of them were able to achieve a measure of success in the end.

Below are their un-edited stories. It is my hope that by sharing these stories with you, we can all learn that no matter how bad things look, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. As long as we keep hoping and trying, success and happiness can never be too far away.

Vitaly Friedman – Smashing Magazine


As ironic as it may sound, I believe that the hardest days in your life or career are often the most helpful and useful ones. In the end they help to see clearly what you want and, more importantly, what you don’t want to be doing in your life. A couple of years ago I was fighting what seemed to be an endless loop of failure and crisis. It seemed that the walls are crashing upon me, nothing seemed to work as I plannned to and continuous personal and professional problems made it extremely difficult to move on. At some point I realized that things just had to be changed.

It was the point when I jumped in web design with both feet. I started reading and learning days and nights long, analyzing how others did their work and sketching my own idea in notebooks and book notes. I spent 8-9 months trying to enrich my knowledge, getting a better understanding of how to do things right and experimenting with all kinds of design and coding techniques to find my own style, or my own understanding of what “good design” means for me. It was the time when I learned the most important concepts and ideas that are still essential foundation of my work. Of course, you need to learn every day, but without these 8-9 months I certainly wouldn’t be able to become who I am today.

I strongly believe that change is the most important aspect of turning hardships into a positive experience in your life. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it should provide you with an outlook in the future, motivation and optimism.

Todd Garland – Buy Sell Ads


When I was 23 both of my parents died two months apart. I was still in college, and both deaths were a surprise. My mom died of a stroke and my dad of a heart attack. I’m not really sure how to explain what it was like going through all of that, nor do I feel like my situation is special or unique – this stuff happens all the time, many people have even worse stories; it’s life. What the experience provided me with was a chance to really think about my life and figure out how I could fill the church, as they both did, on the day of my funeral. What I learned is that:

  • Family is everything
  • Being an honorable person and conducting your life in an honorable fashion is one of life’s greatest rewards
  • You can never worry about the future, today is what matters
  • Passion and purpose is everything; if you have passion and purpose in your life you will never be lonely
  • “He who is afraid of making mistakes, is afraid to succeed”

While I’m still pretty young and don’t really consider myself “successful” yet, living by these core principles helps me feel successful at the end of each day.

Fabio Sasso – Abduzeedo


Abduzeedo started after a robbery, my studio was robbed and they took everything, including all my computers, external hard drives, backups and even my iPod. I completely lost my digital life, found myself lost in space.

After that I decided to share my work using the web, that way I could promote myself and back up my files at the same time.

Now, it’s been almost 3 years since the incident and the lesson I’ve learned is that it is very important to “do” instead of “wonder”. I say that because before the Abduzeedo, I used to think that a blog wasn’t that necessary, or I was always thinking of things I had to do to promote myself, but every time I would start or do something I used to think that it wasn’t well done or planed. When I lost everything I simply did it.

Of course I’ve been adjusting and planning the blog all the time, but now based on tests and not just imagining if it will work or not. But I think that was the most important lesson I’ve learned.

Jacob Cass – Just Creative Design


It was probably about 4 years ago, I was training full time as a European Handball player. I’d played for local, regional and state teams of European handball and had just recently made the Under 21’s Australian European Handball (this was when I was just 17). About 2 months before our team was due to leave to play in Sweden, I tore my ACL (Anterior Crucial Ligament) inside my left knee, which meant I could no longer play. I had to have a knee reconstruction which ruled me out of sport for 9 months. After these 9 months, I moved house 2 hours north to study design which meant training was just too far away. I suppose the rest is history.

Steven Snell – Vandelay Design &


Several years ago I was working in a job (not long after graduating college) that wasn’t what I wanted to do at the time and I was working hard to try and get a promotion to a different position within the company. The position opened up, I was well qualified so I applied and interviewed. Things looked pretty good and the hiring manager indicated that an offer was likely. After a really long wait (several months) I didn’t get the job. After that I decided to look elsewhere and I took a job with another company, which wound up being a disaster.

This two year period was really hard for me to deal with because I was doing everything within my power to get ahead but it just wasn’t happening for me. I decided to move to the Philadelphia area (about 3 hours from where I had been living), which I didn’t want to do, but I did because I hated my job so much I needed change.

Within a week of moving I re-connected with a friend from college, we started dating not long after and we’ve now been married for over three years. If either of those two jobs had worked out like I wanted, I’m sure I would still be there and I wouldn’t be with my wife. I’m a Christian so I feel like God had a different plan for my life than I did at that point, and I’m glad He did. From a professional perspective, having jobs that I didn’t like is really what led me to work on improving myself as a designer and a blogger, and now I love what I do for a living.

About Grant Friedman

Grant Friedman is a graphic design, blogger, and author. In addition to being the founder of this website, Grant is also the editor of Psdtuts, one of the world's most popular tutorial websites.