You Can Survive and Thrive After a Crisis

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.

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.

  • I am happy you went this way, sometimes its that push we need to go in the right direction.

  • Grant, thank you so much for sharing this with us. It’s nice to read about the struggles of those who seem like they don’t have any struggles. These guys are the people that I look up to in blogging, and it’s very interesting to see the paths that they have taken to get where they are today. Excellent post!
    .-= Design Informer´s last blog ..Where Do You Work? =-.

  • Very great and motivating post! It show us how you have to never give up to succeed.

    Best wishes of succes to you, Grant.
    .-= Jean-Baptiste Jung´s last blog ..How I made over $200 with a simple blog post =-.

  • yeh, i got a story went from music producer to web-designer because my house burnt down with all equipment and that was the end of a life style! ;-) as you say keep the spirits high and something good will come back around. i started then to do some part time teaching at the local university in Swansea south wales and im now working for one of the biggest web design companies in the UK.
    .-= Paul´s last blog ..Web Design tweaks for Christmas =-.

  • Nice post and great lesson for everybody.
    .-= Waheed Akhtar´s last blog ..SOTD – Site of the Day – N.Design Studio =-.

  • Such a fantastic and inspirational post, Grant! I’m only 18 (almost 19) and after leaving college earlier this year I had no luck whatsoever in finding a job of any kind; a job in design was completely out of the question. I landed one interview as an in-house designer for Hotel Chocolat but being up against graduates and more experienced designers didn’t get the job.

    I was felt like the world was against me, but I kept strong and opened Circlebox Creative and Circlebox Blog. I am now getting decent traffic to my blog, and although I’m not earning a living from it yet it has opened many windows for me and I am now writing for Smashing Magazine, Six Revisions and so on. I love working from home and with people from all over the world, and I am now glad to say I didn’t get the job at Hotel Chocolat.

    People in the same situation should most definitely concentrate on every day as a separate day and not worry about the future. I completely agree with Todd’s quote that he follows everyday: “He who is afraid of making mistakes, is afraid to succeed”.

  • Really fantastic read. I enjoyed reading it.

  • necessary one…thanks

  • Enjoyed it very much. Thanks for sharing :D

  • Really amazing stories!
    I am an undergraduate student having electronics major. But my interest is in computer, web development, coding stuff. I always wanted to work on the things I like and now these stories have made me to work on it!!!

  • Wikus du Plessis

    I never really did much in my life. In school I was too preoccupied with parties, girls and all the “fun” stuff that I never really focused on building on my future. Things got so out of hand that I ended up not finishing high school and some would say became a “drop out”.

    I always had a deep interest in programming and web design so when I finally realized that I’m throwing my life away I spent all the time I had available to teach myself how to do it and get out of this hole I have created for myself. After much learning and a couple of REALLY crappy odd jobs I got a job at a travel agency as a data capturer. My salary wasn’t all to great but I thought I would stick there and see where life takes me.

    After a while I asked my boss if I could do a redesign of their website and if they liked it then perhaps task me with more web based jobs. They loved it and I ended up becoming their web designer and also started earning a bit more.

    My dream however was too start my own online business and I vowed to myself to stay with the company as long as it takes me to get my own things up and running.

    Then the economic crisis came into play and less people started traveling, which left the company bankrupt and me without a job. That was 2 months ago.

    At first I thought: “This is great! I now have more time to focus on what I wanted to accomplish for myself!” But the closer I got to finishing the website the less I wanted it to be finished. Deep down I was afraid of failure.

    Then I stumbled across this article and it has made me realize how much I have already been through. I have not come this far only to stop right before success. Even if I may fail now, I will NEVER fail in life!

    Thank you, this most probably changed my life for the better.

  • Shekhar Somani

    Wow! I can’t believe it! This has come to me like a blessing. Today is the day for me where I am supposed to make a very big (but disappointing-looking) decision, that will change many things forever. I was wondering around hopelessly and suddenly Smashing Magazine’s tweet brought me here. This has enlightened my faith and inspired me to let go and move on. Thanks!

  • That was a brilliant article. I loved it. Well done.

  • This was a very nice and inspiring read.
    .-= Umut M.´s last blog ..CMS For Flash Websites: FlashMoto CMS =-.

  • Jen

    Thank you for sharing these stories.

    I recently left a cushy job for a job that ending up not working out after a really short period of time. I’m “jobless” for the first time and have been pretty depressed.

    My husband as been pushing me to do my freelance web design and development full-time now and I think this article will help give me more of a push. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that so many people I look up to in the design community started doing what they are doing because of similar situations. I’ve always wanted to do my own thing but it’s scary and I never knew if it was possible. Thanks so much!

  • Your post touches me at a critical time in my professional career.

    After nine years of forging and scraping out a living as a designer I’m ready to move into uncharted territory for myself by creating a new company. Whilst the economy in the US still remains stagnant and the B2B sector is basically FLAT I’m not going to wait around and hope for a change.

    I think most of us realize that we MUST create our own economy and offer support and inspiration for each other.

    Much success!

  • Eric

    Thank you! I really needed this! It’s great to see that out of adversity comes success, from tragedy comes triumph. Thank you. I’m inspired!

  • These are some very inspiring stories, especially in times like these. I’ve been in the design business for quite a long time now. There have been good times and not so good, but with every cycle there is an evolution that occurs whether you notice it or not.

    I am a prime believer in making my own destiny and this economic time is no different. I’ve jumped head first into the social networking and blogging world that I never really frequented before. Self-promotion only happened in the awards shows. Now, I’m exploring a whole new community that I learn new things from every day and I am grateful. I get to share my knowledge and experience with others and receive ten fold in return.

    That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
    .-= Leighton Hubbell´s last blog ..The client that got away. Or was it? =-.

  • Awesome! That was very inspirational. We all need that spiritual fuel every now and then.

  • Ann

    Seconding JoAnn’s thoughts in particular. This article is wisdom for the ages. Many thanks to all who contributed their stories.

  • Mini

    Great post, thank you for sharing it. It is indeed, very encouraging to read all of these inspiring words, as I’ve been struggling with things on my own as well. I’m still a beginner in the field of design, and I’m loving it. I do it as a hobby, and yet intending to develop my skills. Someday I may have a nice portifolio, and eventually getting some freelancing too. Honestly, I would love to keep on doing it :)

  • Amazing.. amazing read.. really inspiring and motivating!!


    I <# Design and all the blogs mentioned above!

  • Life is like that. It always throws grapes at you when all you want to do is really make lemonade! But then, keep pressing those grapes and you’ll have the finest wine ever :):). This was a wonderful article. Thanks Grant and everyone else!
    .-= Sneh Roy´s last blog ..Christmas Gadgets – A Premium Free Icon Set =-.

  • I was left very skeptical and cynical of the goodness in people after I was assaulted. I relocated, decided to study subjects like nursing, anthropology and archaeology to examine humanity a little more closely, but eventually gravitated back to design. (I designed my first book when I was eleven, and Web site when I was thirteen.) I learned from my experience that life is too short to digress from your aspirations and eventually opened up my own design studio, Unicorn Press ( Now I service clients and organizations that help make the world a better place.

  • I definitely agree with abduzeedo–best advice about “doing” instead of “wondering”…hope to join the great stories of the online design world!
    .-= Melody´s last blog ..Frida Kahlo: Sex, Pain and Still Life =-.

  • Wow, it’s so great to hear all those stories. I had no clue some of these designers went through such hard times. Very inspirational… thank you.
    .-= Toby Cummings´s last blog ..Wolverine Rips the Competition a New One, Bub =-.

  • Life is like that; sometimes we need a bit of a push to realize where we need to go. I got laid off from a job I stopped enjoying about a year earlier. I never went back to corporate after that. I started my freelancing career, something I’ve thought about doing for the longest time and it’s been nothing but a great ride.

  • Swati

    Thank you thank you thank you all for sharing your vulnerability.

    I have been jobless for over a year. What started off as a well needed sabbatical has somehow gone awry. I have been thinking about going solo for sometime now. But am scared to death with the uncertainties of starting all alone.

    Your stories have renewed my faith and belief in myself. Something I felt ebbing away each time I received yet another rejection email after an interview. I now know that if anyone, I can make it happen for myself…one more time!

    Loads of joy, luck and success in each one of your hearts desire!

  • thanks to all contributors for their personal story. I sometimes felt lost after loosing my father, and right now my mother is terminally ill. Todd Garland’s story sounds very familiar and his life lessons are the same as mine.

    I heard Ji Lee, creative director of Google saying last night: “Ideas are nothing, doing is everything”, so true.

    Me and my wife have bundled our forces and skills in webdesign, interior architecture and identity and are now starting our own business.
    .-= Entwerpen´s last blog ..Private apartment, Rotterdam =-.

  • no matter how bad things look, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
    * 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”

    This is what i was looking for!
    Thank you so much!
    Truly inspiring!

  • GS

    I am reading this article at the perfect time!
    Right now at this moment I am sooo broken, helpless and lost bcoz,

    1. I do not have a JOB since May & 2. I was in relationship for 5 yrs…and we just broke-up(The reason was that guy can not marry me bcoz of my my STUDENT LOAN and he got afraid of the economy) :(

    So u guys can imagine my situation. I really hate living this life. But after reading this inspiring article, I really feel like “Yes, I can survive and I will”.

    And now believe me, I really know, what do I want to do in my life…
    I guess everyone comes to this phase when they have lost something important in their life…for me that is my LOVE…And I still believe in LOVE…”It’s better late than Never”…ryt?

    I will not QUIT fighting to get a JOB in this tough Economy. I absolutely love to create Killer ADs…and as Fabio said “Do it than Wondering” And I am sure there is a light at the end of the Tunnel…

  • Great article. Same here. I moved to Finland and didn’t speak the language. During a year I sent out over 50 applications but nothing came of it. So I decided to start for myself. Eight years later I am so happy I did because I have created my own future and became successful at it.

  • “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.”

    This is *so* very true …. recently made redundant, now working at an absolutely fantastic company! And I’d been really worried about finding work in this recession. Couldn’t have worked out better.

  • I’m 14 and always trying to learn more about web development and design. The best part is that I became interested in HTML through Neopets. Yeah. Everything I do right now is like an experiment, so I get to figure out more and more. And my mom wants me going to MIT. Yikes.

  • I’ve been through my own share of troubles, as have any of us, and this really hit home that some of the top people I look up to have gone through similar or equally devastating phases in their life, and used that hurt to get to where they are today.

    Although I think I’ve been through the worst of my troubles (I’m at a financial crisis right now), I think I’m pulling through and I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m still just starting though, so who know’s where it’ll take me!
    .-= Crystal´s last blog ..New Web Designers: Getting Started in the Industry (Part 1) =-.

  • Thanks for your post. It is truly inspiring.

  • You have a beautiful mind and this post is really thoughtful.

    I am the guy who battled health and had to leave my beloved office. Walking the same path right now only a bit left behind :)

  • Thanks for the story. I firmly believe that know mater what the circumstances if you want something bad enough and are prepared to make the sacrifice you will achieve your goal.

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