John Oates

The Andy Dufresne Effect

Have you ever seen The Shawshank Redemption?

You have! Awesome! Let’s do — oh wait — you haven’t?

Okay, let me give you a TL;DW (too long didn’t watch):

Guy (Andy Dufresne, pronounced Do-Frane) gets framed. Goes to prison. Makes friends with Morgan Freeman. Listens to opera music. Eats pie. Tunnels through some 💩 . Escapes to Mexico.

Phew. Okay now, let’s do this.

Andy 1

See that nice, friendly, waving guy? That’s Andy Dufresne. Say hi! Don’t worry, we’ll come back to him in a bit.

Crappy jobs

We’ve all had them. They are stressful, and oftentimes the ones we least expect to be bad. But what makes a job crappy? Is it the type of work? Is the environment destructive? Are the hours long? Maybe it’s all three, and if that’s the case it can be very disheartening.

Either way, it can often be tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel when we feel so stuck.

Bad jobs are a double-edged sword. By the end of the day they drain us, with no desire to look elsewhere. And when we do muster up enough gusto, we often don’t feel qualified or ready to make that leap.

If you’re in this position now, this will sound a bit weird.

That bad job is, oddly enough, a good thing. Or at least it will be a good thing. You see, we don’t get anywhere without going through some 💩 first.

Here’s an example of a friend of mine. Let’s call him Devon.

Devon and I were talking the other day. He had just left his job where, to put it mildly, he was miserable. His new job, though, is “amazing” — those are his words.

At this previous job he was tasked to do all the things with tight deadlines. Things he wasn’t hired for or educated to do. He was the Project Manager for web projects, he handled client relations for the company, he worked on video shoots as a grip or even a stylist, he even did content strategy — he did it all — for four very long years.

Whether the company knew it or not, they were exposing him to a ton of skills. They may or may not have been in his wheelhouse or super stressful to master. Whatever the case was, he did the work. He did it with perseverance and the understanding that, “I am learning something new — it may be under-appreciated here, but it will be appreciated elsewhere.” He worked hard every day and after work to go from that miserable job to his new amazing job. This is what I call the Andy Dufresne effect.

Sometimes we have to go through something like a very crummy job to get to the other side.

Now I’m certainly not saying we praise our bad jobs, but to look at them with a new perspective. Use that current position to push through to the next thing. But how do we break the loop like Devon did?

Remember our new friend and escapee, Andy? In this 1994 classic, Andy has a nice outline for just this. Andy didn’t simply tunnel his way out of prison — that would make for a very short movie. He was patient. He had a goal, kept his tools sharp, and he didn’t stop digging till he got to the other side.

So what’s the plan?

This is certainly not an easy question and can even get a little existential. But let’s not curl up into a ball just yet.

Sometimes it helps to know what we don’t want, and well… we know we don’t want that crappy job anymore. So . . . check! Way to go tiger, we’re rolling now.

We need a plan so it gives us something to work on and work towards. Because without it, we would be shooting without aiming. Once we’ve got this in place we can begin to identify the strengths and weaknesses in our skill set. Maybe you want to become a product designer in Seattle or be a front end developer at X Company. You then know that you should probably work on more user experience projects or become better at Javascript.

Now let’s talk patience.

A whole lotta patience

First and foremost, Andy had patience — a lot of it. He was in prison for almost 20 years. But he didn’t just decide 20 years into his sentence to escape. He knew it was going to take an enormous amount of time to escape.

Setting your expectations early allows us to gain a little more perspective for the time it could take all in all. Which, in turn, gives us patience.

Imagine that job you want — it might still be 3 years out (or more). You might have to cut your teeth on two other jobs first, but if it’s something you truly want, that dream job will be worth it.

Sharpen those skillz

We often think that we are on this journey alone, but that is far from the case. Andy tunneled out of Shawshank Prison with a small rock hammer. How did he acquire this tool in prison? He asked his friend for help.

For designers and developers, there are so many services that can provide us with a platform to learn, whether it’s Youtube, Dribbble, or places like Treehouse. These are all useful places to get you started.

If there is any piece of advice I wish I’d known years ago, it would be to get more feedback. There are so many more ways to connect with designers now. Join a Slack group (Sidecar has a great one; send your join request to, seek out mentorships; whatever it is, open up more conversations around your work. This will help you learn to take critique and become better at talking about your work, which are both huge.

This will take some after-work dedication. Especially if the current position is not the type of work you want to be doing. Instead of treating yo’ self to more episodes of Parks and Rec, it might be time to put the remote down and start a side project.

Side projects are an important way to bridge the gaps in your skill set. Putting in these extra hours also shows a strong work ethic and self-initiation, which can be tough to come by.

Sharpen those tools, and keep them sharp.

Just keep digging, just keep digging

“Woah double movie reference, bro."

Once these points are in motion, the goal now is to keep them in motion. Remember this is a long game. Nothing comes overnight.

Of course we will grow in a great company; that’s what makes them great. Growing from a crappy job and turning it into a positive? That speaks volumes.

Keep diggin,’ y’all.

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