Just so you know, I’m planning a conference with Jason Schwartz of The Secret Handshake. We’re working with a team of amazing directors, some kickass volunteers, and generous sponsors to make it all happen.
Hike 2014, you heard it here first.
“XOXO’s talks had a deep undercurrent of mental health: dealing with stress, depression, impostor syndrome, and doubt. Emotions are good, especially when aired, and stress can be beneficial, but they are not meant to derail you. If the best, brightest, most talented and successful people we have in the independent community are feeling this way, clearly we have some corrosive expectations of ourselves and one another, and things need to change. We have a climate problem with personal consequences.” – Frank Chimero, “The Inferno of Independence”
There are probably seven French words to describe the feeling of reading something that you know immediately to be true. I used to pressure myself to be the best at everything, especially the internet. I crafted interesting tweets, gathered a following, posted regularly, and developed my online presence. Online and offline I felt this urgency to prove myself, to be everything to everyone.
In the past year, I’ve slowly given up on these notions. Only in the last six months have I been able to step back from my online community and decide there’s a different way. I found the pressure of comparing myself to successful people and keeping up with the oh-so-rapid internet just too damn much. Having a side project is shit if you don’t have friends to grab a beer with. I spent college being mostly too busy for my friends, and I don’t want to fall into that trap again.
It’s like Frank said. If he’s feeling the pressure, and I’m feeling the pressure, and the talented, respected people we look up to are feeling the pressure, something’s gotta give. We’re hurting ourselves with stress.
I want to make things that help other people live their lives, and I don’t want to ignore the rest of my life to do so. Instead of making things for my own recognition, now I’m making them because I want them to exist.
Be nice to yourself. Give yourself a break. Remember that no one expects to be [whatever amazing thing you think you’re supposed to be.] Make things with vigor because it brings you pleasure. Make your dreams more about other people, and less about yourself.
“As I continue to get better at my craft, it’s important for me to remember why I loved it in the first place. So many of us set this aside and simply do what others suggest, never finding our own voice, and forgetting why we set out on this journey in the first place.”
I really screwed up at my job yesterday, and a small domino set of days before that. I didn’t put the time in, and my work suffered. Is it the end of the world? No. Did it feel like it? Yes.
Ask for help as many times as it takes. Even if you don’t know how to describe the problem, try. Start communicating what you’re having trouble with, and you’ll find the answer together. Keep asking for help until you actually feel confident about the answer. Do not wait until the last minute to press the Emergency button, red lights flashing. You need help the second things start feeling shaky. The sooner you get help, the sooner you’ll be on the right track again.
Shannon Fong, Associate Director of Industrial Design at Smart, said needing help never goes away: not as a senior designer, not as a director. Everyone needs help, everyone keeps learning. Over time, the anxiety that accompanies getting help as a beginner fades.
“Wouldn’t it be sad if you graduated college, and were already the best you were ever going to be?”
Xiulung Choy, industrial designer at Smart and recent grad like me, said his best professors were the strict teachers that no one liked. The professors who would count you tardy at 9:01, or not accept late work. “You can’t give your client a doctor’s note and turn in work two days late.”
Whatever your weakness is in school, from timeliness to critique to showing process, will be magnified in real life. Every single person you’ll ever work with has weaknesses. The trick is knowing yours, and working extra hard to correct them. I’m not sure if that ever gets easy, and I don’t really mind.
Be ready to put the time in. When you screw up—and you will screw up—take responsibility. Find colleagues who will be honest with you, and help you grow.
Crying in the bathroom at work is okay. Breathe through your nose slowly. Splash cold water on your face. If you’re crying at work more than every once in awhile, that’s too much. Find a job that makes you cry less, or toughen up. You’ll be fine. Wear less makeup. Dress cooler than you think you are. Smile more.
I recently tweeted “Fear is useless,” and got a mix of responses. There were some favorites, a direct message about different kinds of fear, and friends who disagreed. I’m glad they thought differently, because it made me think about fear a little more in-depth.
I wrote “Fear is useless” because I was frozen about starting a two-week project over smack dab in the middle. I had been working in one direction, and then was presented with compelling reasons to change my approach. I was under pressure, and I really, really wanted this client presentation to go well. I wanted to succeed so strongly that I was afraid of failure.
Being scared of fucking up was keeping me from getting my hands dirty, from doing the work I knew I needed to do. In that moment, sitting at my computer worrying about how to do what I needed to do, fear was hurting more than helping. Sending that little message to the world was my moment of resolve, giving the middle finger to the silly human feelings that were keeping me from doing a good job. After that, I signed out of Twitter, rolled my sleeves up, and dedicated myself to working out the problem.
What I learned–or what I remembered–is that fear is useful, depending on what you’re scared of and why. I’m scared of being a boring person. I’m scared of dying a boring person. On my tombstone they would write nothing, because I gave nothing. So I work hard, and I make things with my hands that feel important to me. Lots of people feel this way.
Stephen DeStaebler says this more eloquently than me:
“Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.”
If you haven’t already, go read Art and Fear. When I follow the authors’ advice closely, I have a greater chance of conquering fear.
What are you scared of? How does it hurt you? How does it help you?
"…the best recipe for success with telling bigger stories is the one that helps everyone be the hero in their own story."
In orchestral music, the last note of a piece is the most important note, because it is the last note the audience will remember. My band director advised us, “No matter what happens during the piece: no matter how many times you mess up, strive to make the last note strong.”
When I near the end of a difficult activity - running, writing, or designing - I’m always tempted to let my energy fade a little bit at the end. I’ll think, “I’ve done the work. I’m tired, it’s almost over, I can just slow down.”
There are two problems with slowing down.
When I relax a little bit: leave some corners unpolished, or skip the last half mile, I’m cheating myself. I know I can do better, it’s just a matter of doing so.
The second problem with slowing down is that the end of an activity can disappoint the people who work with you. It disrespects the integrity of the project.
The key to overcoming this is reframing the activity in your mind. Time is valuable, and any time you spend doing something is worth doing well. It also feels good to actually complete a fast-paced activity. Choosing to not complete a project strongly is laziness.
The last 10% of a project takes 90% of your time. Make sure your last note is strong - it’s what people will remember about you.
Thinking about how the majority of design work isn’t “sexy”. It’s working with others, organizing the moving parts, and getting a project to completion that makes up the most design work. It’s the heavy lifting that will make you a great designer.
"I once read that safe-crackers rub the tips of their fingers with sandpaper to increase tactile sensitivity. It make their fingertips ultra-sensitive and enables them to feel the nuances of the lock’s gear mechanism, as they rotate the dial in search of the magic combination that will open the safe. It’s the same with graphic design: the more sensitive you become to the world around you the better you will function. This means studying design in all its contemporary manifestations, as well as design history and the visual arts in general. But it also means studying the world beyond graphic design."
- Adrian Shaughnessy, How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul