Brenda Bergen is, among many other things, a process person. She wants to know why and how we do the things we do. A conversation with her is likely to take infinite spins and turns. In it, she'll dazzle you with stories and insights, listen intently, and ask questions you may need to think on. Her work as a creative director and designer spans the music industry and luxury worlds and her extracurriculars include things like Get Fueled, a blog she uses to explore the creative processes of really cool people. Boundless can easily be applied to her energy, creativity, and capacity to make things interesting.
She offered to share some of her own processes of reflection and assessment.
Following Up By Looking Back
I’ve been thinking lately about my career, what I’ve done, what I’m doing and what I want to do. I’ve been lucky; I’ve had some wonderful experiences and opportunities—going to a mind-blowing grad school (Cranbrook Academy of Art), living in one of the most exciting cities in the world (NYC), working for various entertainment companies (Vibe Magazine, VH1, Atlantic Records). All of this surrounded my interest in graphic design and photography and creating personalities.
The Power of Breaks
And then, I started to feel a little stir-crazy. I know, how could that be? But it’s true, it became routine and my designs felt repetitive. I needed to do something BIG and I needed to make something by hand—off the computer. So, I left the record company to go off on my own. One of the first projects I did was for Ford Motor Co. Car show—BIG graphics. And I took my hobby (jewelry) and created a line and sold to stores like Steven Alan and Erica Tanov. It was great; I worked on a huge variety of projects.
A few years later, I moved to Chicago, had a son, and took another break. Then, I fell into the job of Creative Director for Vosges Haut-Chocolat (who could pass THAT up?!).
What It Seems
And now, I’ve circled back around to having my own design business, for the second time. And, like most of you, I pause sometimes and take a look around. I see people I’ve gone to school with or colleagues who seem to be more successful. ‘Seem’, that’s the magic word. I don’t actually know how they feel about their career, but it looks more successful from the outside. I wonder, if I had stuck with a straight path, would I be more successful (whatever that means)?
I know some of you are thinking—wha ?? You ARE successful, you jack ass, don’t you appreciate it? Yes, I do appreciate it. I have this odd combo of happiness and optimism mixed with constant dis-satisfaction. Because I know I can do better. I’m always thinking—how can I make this more interesting, more fun. How can I elevate this brand? How can I make this design better? And then that nagging questions pops up in my brain—do I even want to be doing design? I’ve always been ‘in like’ with design, but never ‘in love’ with it. My career has taken twists and turns and forks. I’ve always wanted to make things, or design things, but never the same things, and I need to change up my environment.
The Positive Power of Change
Sometimes I like working in a company, heading up a team, with an office and every resource I could ever need. And then, I like some freedom and flexibility and the ability to play my music REALLY loud and sing along to it. So now, even though I sometimes wonder if I'm ‘as successful’ as some of my colleagues, I've started assessing where my successes lie. I do get to make some pretty great decisions. I get to decide what I work on (most of the time) and who I work with (no a-holes). I decide when I work (I feel most creative at midnight) and where I work (this summer, I’ll be working from my sailboat—anyone want to co-work with me?).
No Need For the Straight Path
But I wonder…what’s next? and how do I get there? I’m feeling a tiny bit stir crazy again, I want to get back to my carefree bold and fearless design that I used to do. I want to produce and create big juicy projects, a series of cookbooks maybe, art directing for photo shoots again, or curating fashion or products. I want to do work that brings me across the ocean or the planet—a fresh perspective. I want to break out of my norm and take another fork. I guess this is exactly why I could never follow that one straight path, but hopefully this road still takes me to the top of my game.