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This is where I share occasional musings on all things type, design, and business.
Hi, I’m Jen Wagner

We all know about the exponential curve – maybe the only thing we reliably recognize from old math classes.

But we often neglect to look at the whole thing. An exponential curve has a couple important parts.

The one we all know and recognize is the “swoop” (as I like to call it, with sound effects, of course). The “uptick”, the tipping point where everything starts to really compound and lift.

The part we don’t talk about is that whole first bit. The part where things look slow and steady, if they seem like they’re growing at all. Things compound, but what we’re starting with is small, and so it doesn’t look like much.

Like doubling your sales, but from 2 to 4. Those kinds of gains.

What I’m noticing is creative careers seem to follow the exponential curve. It’s nice, in theory, even optimistic. But it becomes problematic when you can’t see beyond the tiny compounds in front of you. That whole, long, first bit.

When you have no view of the swoop and it seems like “just a little better” is the farthest your career path will take you, it can feel like a dead end. It’d be better to switch to a more reliable career path, a place where I can climb the ladder, etc.

And this is where many creative careers stop. Time and time again, I’ve seen that the longer you stay in it, the more things grow. 

Sustained action, over time. That’s what the exponential curve is all about in the first place. Sustained action that compounds over time. The risks get bigger, then wins get bigger, and one thing stacks on top of another until you have something that’s really working (hopefully in a way you like).

To be sure, there are times to pivot; but the times it’s really the right move to abandon ship are few and far between, in my opinion.

From what I’ve seen, self-driven careers like creative work don’t move when you put just a little on the table to be compounded. It’ll compound – I really believe that – but it’ll look like “nothing’s happening” because you put so little in the pot. The more you get in, the more you’ll get out. The more you’ll learn. The more you’ll discover and add to the pile that starts to do work for you, and then enables you to do even more.

Trust the curve. Trust that your intentional and targeted work will compound over time. Trust that focus and discipline will pay off. Trust that paying attention to and doing more of what works will serve you at exponential levels over time.

Don’t stop before you get to the swoop.

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