Largely self-taught, Charchit shares his story of selling sandwiches on the streets to becoming a designer
“Son, you learned business card designing in Mumbai, didn’t you? Why don’t you start to polish your skills again and maybe I could get you some business”, said my dad.
It was just another day for most in early 2014, but one of the most dreaded times for us. It was a time when there was no school for me – I was supposed to be in the 9th grade – and my family was staying in a single room apartment. We had lost everything – work money, savings and my dad was desperately trying to build things right up from scratch. Until things became a bit better for us, not before a couple of years, I had unintentionally started to walk on the path of design.
The next day after my dad’s suggestion, I designed a few business cards. They weren’t even remotely decent and dad didn’t get me any business. But what he had obliviously pushed me towards was much more than that. He had pushed me to a world that made me very curious in the days to come. I had no mentor, no education or experience in the field, but my curiosity to find, research, and learn more about design led me to carve a solid career path ahead.
I landed my first internship in the 10th grade. I worked for a travel magazine, did pro bonos, and everything I could to build my credibility in the market. By the 11th grade, I was earning a decent amount working as a freelancer.
That was my financial kickstart and I owe it all to my curiosity and the unwitting push my dad gave me. This marked the beginning of my journey. I realized how someone without a degree, discipline, goal, and without the usual success-frameworks can still create opportunities and thrive by just being curious.
While my curiosity for design helped me make a decent career, the journey wasn’t without its lows. During the initial phases of my family’s financial struggle I hardly acted responsible. I even thought of leaving my house and hated my father for getting us into a financial mess. But one evening at the dinner table, my dad went, “I have nothing to offer you that an ideal father should. You have to create your life from scratch.” Again, my dad probably said it in a weak moment but this had a profound impact on me. I still shudder when I think about it.
I suddenly felt the urge to contribute to my family. While I had begun freelancing and the money was enough to support a single person, it was still low for a family. To help my family rise up financially, I decided to take a radical approach. I took a loan from my mother’s personal savings and brought a cart. I sold burgers and sandwiches on the street. I cooked, procured, served and did everything that had to be done. Within a month, I was making a decent amount. Though It was tough and extremely embarrassing to stand on the street where school friends would pass by, I did it for the sake of my family.
Looking back, when I think about it, standing on the street taught me a lot about design. To get rid of the fear of embarrassment and to take feedback constructively. When people disregarded my sandwiches, I learned to comprehend the difference between taking feedback personally and taking it objectively. I would say the quality of receiving feedback positively in my design career has stemmed from that experience.
I continued selling burgers for a while, before I landed an internship at a design agency with the help of a friend. I shutdown my cart and focussed on enhancing my skills to get a full-time opportunity there. However, the remuneration they offered was so low that I had to turn it down. And now with my cart shut too, I was again left with nothing to contribute to my family.
With nothing at hand, I immersed myself rigorously in honing more skills – reading, portfolio building, marketing. I taught myself the business of design, sales negotiation, presentation skills, anything that could make me stand out from the crowd of talented designers. Four months later, I was called again by the same design agency with a good offer this time.
I joined and was able to support my family to my heart’s liking. But, like they say, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and so it did.
The agency where I worked had a lot of design processes that I did not agree to. I wanted to bring about a change and so I rebelled against most of the happenings there related to design, which now I realize was a bit immature of me. In frustration, I started looking out. When I got an opportunity at a food-tech startup, I took the plunge. But being the ignorant fool that I was, I did not serve the resignation notice period and chose to abscond instead.
Soon I realized my mistake and decided to work on my ethics as well. About a year later, I wrote an apology email to the design agency who I had absconded from.
Ethics, discipline, commitment, integrity are the soft skills to build a strong relationship with colleagues. Being hired as a designer is good, but being hired as a trusted designer is better. I only wish I didn’t have to learn it the hard way.
In the second wave of COVID in India, my life began to walk on a completely different path. Doctors diagnosed me with clinical depression and I saw my mother’s health start to deteriorate. While I worked actively to recuperate and to take care of my mother, I also began to contemplate on life more than ever. In one of these contemplation sessions, I realized how long and far I had walked.
From being an ignorant child to becoming the only breadwinner of my family; From a lazy guy to being a responsible, disciplined son; From day-dreaming to handling multiple design disciplines single-handedly; From having no presence to having a global presence and respect in the design community. And while I’m aware this is not an award show, I’d still take the opportunity given by DesignWhine and call out the people who have shaped me as a person, as a designer.
Dad (Niraj Garg) – I’m standing afoot because of you today. If it weren’t for you that evening, I wouldn’t be here today. I apologize for being childishly angry with you for a small period of my life.
Mother (Pooja Garg) – If you hadn’t saved money for our rainy days, we wouldn’t have come out of our troubled times!
Other people who I’m indebted and grateful to – my siblings, extended family – Sourav Ghosh, Anupriya Saxena, Aanan Khurma, Aditya Seth, Darpan Sharma, Sudhanshu Tyagi, Anubhav Sinha, Shubham Dixit, Adarsh Kumar, Dhruv Bhattacharya, Lakshya Sangwani, and WellVersed Health Team.
P.S. I recently got promoted as UX Designer at Hapramp Studio which is a new beginning in my career!
This article was last updated on November 27, 2023; Originally published on August 31, 2021