Live with intention.
About 5 years ago, I wrote about the idea of looking at life as a design problem. As a designer, solving problems, or creating approaches to nebulous situations fascinates me. I enjoy balancing a mix of contradictory ideas to find a workable whole. The mindset and toolkits of the designer are uniquely positioned for innovation. They allow those who use them to create something remarkable.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about ‘life by design’ – the idea that you can intentionally design the kind of life you want to live. Not a new concept at all, it’s the core idea of personal development. But I’m wondering what happens when you apply design techniques and thinking to life and growth.
I think that is my personal theme for the New Year. 2016 was a good year for me, despite the shit storm it was out there. I spent more than half of it pulling back, learning, digging deep and setting up foundation for the things I want to do next. It has shown me glimpses to the great power of planning; of strategy and letting your actions build on one another.
Sometimes we find ourselves in tough places, where external conditions are so strong that it seems near impossible to live the life we want. But still, there is some sort of way out. Being a designer means looking at what we want and taking stock of the situation at hand, and fighting until we find some way to make it work. There is a loophole to exploit; there is a different way of reframing the problem. The solution may have to be hard earned, but we will find it.
On a long enough timeline, you can innovate your way out of any problem.
Which means that no matter how bad things are today, something can be done, you can move from point A to point B. You can take action such that over time, you will grow into and live the life that you desire.
It starts with intention. To design anything, you need a brief, something to focus your efforts. Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? What do you want to have? What do you want to give? What obstacles do you face? Take a honest look in the mirror and take stock of yourself, your desires and your present situation.
Sometimes the solutions are obvious and simple. It’s getting ourselves to take action that is the tough part. You can design change into your life by transforming your environment to suit your new goals. You can set up your routine in such a way that it supports you and propels you forward. The company you keep, the media you consume, the habits you develop all drive your outcomes in seemingly innocuous but powerful ways.
More often than not, the solutions are not obvious. You will have to explore and experiment and endure the process. The more you ask, answer and tinker, the more you will learn and the answer will emerge.
It’s a proactive way of looking at the world. You acknowledging that though there is a lot we don’t control in the world, we are ultimately responsible for what we choose and what we do. Life is not a linear path, it meanders. It’s full of ups and downs, back and forths. It’s messy. But we are up to the task. We will live by design.
Coming up with ideas is fun. Executing them…not so much. Especially if you have a lot of inertia. You know, having a lot of ideas and not ever doing anything to make them a reality. And its true, making things happen can be hard, its messy. Have you ever seen an artist’s studio? Most times it’s a glorious chaos of paint and brushes everywhere, half done experiments and sketches, pieces of inspiration. Any form of creation requires a fair amount of mucking around, of doubting yourself, of false starts and detours…and of course…failure.
But if you embrace that mess, all that remains is the work. You just have to do the work. Execution isn’t pretty, it is quite messy, sometimes painful. Its banging your head against the wall for days on end looking for answers. Its long nights at the office or at your desk. But that’s where the real fun is. In stretching yourself and growing, wrestling with creation until it yields and you are rewarded with the rewards and the lovely side effect of deeper self knowledge and experience.
I made a piece of graphic art to remind myself of this concept, Check it out here.
Some days, all you have is the process…
If you want to achieve anything spectacular, it’s not going to happen in one furious instant of glory. It will take time and effort and death by a thousand cuts. You have to major in the day to day. You have to break down the big project, the big hairy audacious goal into its component parts and integrate those pieces into ur daily life. If you just focus on getting each day right, on eating the proverbial elephant one bite at a time, eventually the elephant will be done.
But you have to focus, and trust the process. Not just on the days when you are motivated and fired up, the days where everything goes your way. Even the days it seems like nothing is going right, when the challenges and pressure mounts up, or when people fall away because your thing is taking too long. All you need to do is focus on the process. One step after the other. On the good days, on the bad days, just keep ploughing through. One day, you will find yourself on the other side.
As you can see, this requires patience, and a clear long-term view. You have to be playing the long game here, and you have to be playing to win. It will help you stay focused, it will keep you from falling prey to distraction. The process helps to keep you accountable. It doesn’t matter what happened today, if that deal fell through, the client didn’t pay, your boss shouted at you, your girlfriend ignored you. Shit happens! The question is, did YOU do YOUR job, did you trust the process, did you handle that lil chunk of elephant meat for the day?
Especially if you feel like you are starting from the bottom, with the odds stacked against you; but you got big dreams and the stars in your eyes, then you better hunker down and get started on the process. Ignore all that noise around you, the naysayers, the social media, the petty shit and keep your mind and eyes dead focused on the prize. Write the piece, make the call, make the art, learn the skill, read the book, watch the documentary, take the chance, do your job for the day, rinse, repeat.
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a big Kanye West fan. I knew the College dropout and Late registration when they came out, but he first truly struck a chord with me with the 808s and Heartbreaks album and since then I have been intrigued by his creative prowess and consistency in pushing the envelope in his craft.
A lot of people say Kanye has changed and they want him to go back to his old stuff and style. These are things people have been saying since he put out 808s. Last week I checked out a 20min video of a Kanye West interview from back in the day before ‘College dropout”…dropped. And I realized like I always suspected that Kanye hasn’t really changed, he has just become more Ye.
I grew up on self-help material and large parts of what I read and learn about today are ideas on life and how to live better and succeed better. A few days ago, Kay remarked to me how interesting it would be to interact with some of the greats at the time point just before they broke out, just to see where their mind was at. The interview with Ye was a time machine of sorts that helped us do that. This is what I learned.
- Sometimes what you love is slightly (or maybe even completely) off the path of what everyone else thinks is appropriate and safe for you. You have to make the decision to be serious about what you want and pursue it.
- There will be haters, naysayers, people who say it can’t be done or who just plain don’t believe in you. That’s fine, pursue your vision regardless, focus on perfecting your craft and soon it would be undeniable.
- Respect everyone equally. Nothing is promised and a lot can change very quickly in life, while you climbing that ladder, respect everyone and treat people well.
- Your work is your responsibility, be involved in every aspect, if something in your project doesn’t come out the way you wanted, that’s your fault.
- Nothing beats authenticity. Put your heart in your art.
- Take inspiration across disciplines, from movies, from art, from everywhere and have a strong creative vision.
- If you have a dream, go for it. You have to see it, believe it and just do it.
- The music is bigger than the media. Forget about the hype. Whatever you feel, whatever inspires you, go with that, and be true to that.
In 2011, I wrote about Career, Passion, Balance and Happiness in response to my friend’s question on the nagging problem of doing a job with high financial gain versus pursuing your passion. I referenced some thoughts from Cal Newport on the dangers of following your passion. Last night, I read another Newport post on why ‘follow your passion’ is bizarre advice, and thought I’d expand my thoughts on the whole issue.
How I found my ‘passion’
I never knew I was going to enter the field of graphic design; it wasn’t even an option in my mind until I came across it at college. My first attempts at designing were not because of some burning passion, but because I honestly preferred to tinker with things than party. And that was my thing, instead of going out with my friends to party, I would sit in my dorm most nights and write…thoughts, feelings and ideas on how I wanted to grow and improve. If I didn’t feel like writing, I would read, or make beats…eventually I started playing around with Photoshop. Because of my background or general predisposition to visual art (I was pretty good at drawing/painting as a kid), I guess it took a hold of me quite quickly. Another thing that made it stick was the fact I saw myself as the visual guy and pretty soon, people started asking me to design things for them. So with my utterly rudimentary skills in Photoshop, I started working on real life projects very early. One project snowballed into another and soon I was gathering tutorials, looking at magazines and learning about design on my own…and I was hooked, and I developed a passion.
How I chose a ‘career’
Circa 2008/2009, I was studying architecture, dabbling in graphic design and choreographing hip-hop dance. At this time, I was actually known more for dancing than design. I knew I really didn’t like doing architecture, and I needed to transition into something I enjoyed and could work at to become good in. At this point, it was between dance and design. I was very pragmatic about the whole thing. The possibility of growth in dance was limited, I mean, what happens when pop locking and krumping goes out of style? Can I keep dancing in my late 20s and 30s and on? What do I do after that point? Teach? How much money can I even make off that? On the other hand, design seemed like the sort of thing I could carry on into my 70s…if I lived that long. And as a designer you have a much wider sphere to work in and there are more things you can do. So I chose design. I figured as a person with a lot of drive, I could just throw myself into it and work at becoming as good as I can and make something out of it.
My point here is that even though I was probably more passionate about dance than design at that point, dance would not have survived becoming a career for me, but design could. So passion is not the sole determinant of a career path.
Follow your passion?
Newport approaches the whole passion argument with the view that we should not assume that we are hard-wired for a specific economic pursuit, and spend all our time being dissatisfied trying to find that one magic job that we are passionate about. The whole premise of his latest book is that happiness and fulfilment in careers (things we all want very much) have nothing to do with a pre-existing passion. Instead fulfillment is connected to things like autonomy, competence, etc.
And I agree.
I love being a graphic designer because I work freelance (have control over my time and how I use it), I’m good at it (competence), and as a field it gives me options on where to grow into and what to do with it. My developing a passion for design has helped me to put the hours in to grow my skill.
While pre-existing passion can be a great starting point for a career, many people now feel that to be happy in their work, they need to first identify that burning passion. Which becomes very tricky, because not many people can easily point to a passion, and even when they do, not every passion can translate into a career. Plus, we often have it backwards; passion only develops after you’ve put in the time to grasp the skill.
I think the problem with passion is our misunderstanding of its role, and its confusion with mere interest. If you mix interest with competence and a compelling reason, you begin to get passion. The rallying cry behind the ‘passion movement’ is really less about jobs and more about life. The question is are you turned on, tuned in and tapped into life? The experience of being really into something and diving into it to master it and serve with it is much preferable to just grinding out a bland existence at some random job. Living passionately has more to do with your values and the way you approach life than the actual thing you do.
Follow your passion doesn’t necessarily mean make your passion your job. It means fill your life with more passion. Nurture your soul, pay attention to your longings and grow them. Passions can be investigated as jobs or they can become side projects and hobbies. Passions are the fuel to life. Not all passions should become jobs, not every passion can survive becoming a job. Because no matter how passionate you are about something, a job is still a job. It won’t be 100% perfect. So in career choice, yes don’t blindly follow passion, be strategic about it.
Getting rich off your passion
The cardinal rule of making money is find a way to take people’s money from them, or, make things or do things that people would pay for. Passion focuses on you, what you like to do. To make money, you have to focus on the customer. Making your passion into a career means finding a way to make your passions serve the interests of others. To make a living or get rich off your passion, you have to live in the sweet spot, the intersection where your passion is something people would pay for. Otherwise just get a job that pays you enough to live on and leaves you enough time to indulge in your passions in your off time. That is what hobbies are for. And if you want a job you enjoy, it makes more sense to cultivate the traits that foster job satisfaction rather than blindly following passion wherever it leads you.
Never buy the lie that your job is “just a job.” Nothing you do 40 hours a week is just a job. That’s just your life. – Jon Acuff
I debuted this at a lil party/exhbition on my birthday…Dreams of a Gem-In-I. All attendant quotes are from Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman series”.
I hope you like it
“You get what anyone gets – you get a lifetime”
“it’s more than that. The things we do make echoes…Our existence deforms the universe. THAT’s responsibility”
“Dreams shape the world”
“Dreams are composed of many things, my son. Of images and hopes, of fears and memories. Memories of the past, and memories of the future…”
“Some things are too big to be seen; some emotions are too huge to be felt”.
“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means someone can get inside you and mess you up”
“It is sometimes a mistake to climb; it is always a mistake never even to make the attempt. If you don not climb, you will not fall. This true. But is it that bad to fail, that hard to fall?”
“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly”
“Omnia Mutanur, Nihil Interit.
Everything changes, but nothing is truly lost.”