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My Biggest Lesson: Ben Edwards

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Five by Five’s UK head of design, Ben Edwards, on how he learned to be happy outside of his comfort zone, and why embracing fear can be the catalyst for making your best work

My Biggest Lesson: Ben Edwards

I like my comfort zone. There’s a lot to be said for them - especially when you’re finding your way in the industry and learning your craft. You can’t underestimate the value in knowing what you can do well, and being in a positive groove.

But there’s a danger to comfort zones, as well. Personally, I know from experience that it’s easy to become complacent or, even worse, just plain bored when you’ve been in yours for too long. Ultimately, there’s no doubt in my mind that the best work of my career has come as a result of untethering myself from the safety of what I know I can do, and setting out to achieve what I don’t know if I can do.

So that’s the biggest lesson of my career so far: learning to find happiness outside of my comfort zone. 

A Constant Conversation 

I’m sure that a concept familiar to any creative person reading this will be the voice in the back of your head. More often than not, that voice is associated with negative, sometimes anxious, thoughts. It might tell you that you’re not good enough for a certain project, or that you’re some kind of imposter who’s about to be found out. There are seemingly a million self-help books and articles out there, all offering advice on how to silence that voice. They might have you think that, if you just search in the right place, you can find a magical pair of earplugs to cancel it out. 

But, in my experience, it can’t be silenced. And that’s a good thing. 

When you hear that voice, it’s like a smoke signal, telling you that you’re on the right path to something great. The reason you’re hearing it is most likely because you’ve left your comfort zone, and if you stay true to your course then you’re about to arrive in a new, previously undiscovered place. 

Accepting, managing, and eventually overcoming that negative voice is a feeling unlike any other in the world, and whenever it happens it reminds me of why I love doing what I do. It’s the antithesis of that moment when you’re staring at a blank piece of paper and you feel your heart plummet through your chest. It’s the euphoric sense of it soaring back up again. 

Trial By Fire

The first time I can recall this happening to me was a campaign I was working on for Range Rover, called Positively Charged. Looking back in hindsight, it was a classic case of a mid-level person (me) doing what might have been picked up by someone more senior. I remember staring at that blank piece of paper and, despite some of the most thorough background research and insights you could think of, not knowing where on earth to start. 

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be working with Lee Aldridge, an amazing creative who knew how to push people in the right direction and in the right way. By pushing through, I was able to create work that I didn’t think I would have been capable of at the start of the project. Ultimately, that’s how you grow as a creative. 

Above: Ben cites Range Rover’s ‘Positively Charged’ campaign as a significant moment in his own creative development. 

I was describing this process recently to someone I was mentoring. His eyes lit up and he immediately said, ‘Ah, so you have that too! How do you get over it?’

And the truth is that I don’t think you ever do. 

What you can do, however, is learn from that feeling. You can draw on it in future, and know that when you feel your heart fall in your chest, you’re onto something. Tap into that sense of fear, and let it become your strength. 

Very recently, I’ve learned that this sensation doesn’t solely apply to creativity. I’m feeling it right now in my role as Head of Design at Five by Five, and I’m loving it. I’m working with a new team of people, learning their skills, and managing a department.

It’s an environment which is just outside of my comfort zone. But that’s okay. The space just outside of your comfort zone is the most exciting place to be. 

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Five by Five UK, Tue, 15 Jun 2021 10:06:39 GMT