When I was a sophomore in college, I approached my Graphic Design 1 professor, Robert Sedlack, looking for some advice. I had just switched my major from Biology to Design, and was feeling behind. I had charted out the next two and a half years of my life in course schedules, in shades of gray prismacolor. I could take this many classes a semester, and graduate with a BFA. Or this many a semester, study abroad, and graduate with a BA. In my high-performing, always striving for the top world up till then, that BA felt like a second best degree. The BFAs had a thesis show in the campus art museum at the end of the year. Their work went into a gallery, they got lots of attention. Got to wear a different color tassel in their graduation caps. Surely that BA was second class, right?
“Without question. Study abroad. It will be the biggest regret of your life if you don’t. That semester in a new place will change you more than any extra letters in your degree will,” was the answer I got back.
And so I did. And 10 years later, it’s still some of the best advice I’ve ever been given.
There’s a lot of dogma in the design world right now about Making. Always have a side project! Stop thinking and just make stuff! Always be producing! And while much of this advice is solid, and with great intention (get ideas out of your head and into the world), it can begin to feel confining. In design, and in New York, it can be easy to feel as though you’re failing if you don’t have five irons in the fire at all times.
“I just don’t sleep that much,” we say with pride.
“I’ve only been doing my day job,” we say with guilt.
I’d like to offer, to myself as much as anyone, it’s okay to not make sometimes.
Sometimes it’s important to just be.
Close that Trello tab with your to do list in it.
(No really, it’s gonna be fine. Close the tab. The Internet has saved it, you can get back there, I promise.)
About a year ago I decided that my “side project” was myself. And since, I’ve done a lot of yoga and spent time outside, found time to travel, and be with family. The things that mean the most are often the simplest. I feel centered and sure of myself in a way I haven’t in years. Outside of work, I haven’t done much writing, drawing, or coding. I will again. Maybe now is that time. I’m starting to get a little antsy.
Back in grad school, one of my classmates was working on a prototype of a table that visualized the conversation of a group of people over the course of a dinner party. As the meal progressed, color ballooned out around those talking the most, leading another classmate to exclaim, “I wish there was a color for ACTIVE LISTENING.”
In my career so far I’ve had periods of intense productivity, and periods of…less so. Life ebbs and flows in waves. Time to speak, and time to listen. My “day job” I spend talking to, and designing for, cancer patients. This doesn’t give me any magical insights on what’s important in life, but I’d be lying if it hasn’t been on my mind a lot lately.
This spring, my old professor, Robert, lost his battle with ALS, at the much too young age of 47. An old friend of mine lost her year long battle with glioblastoma at only 31. None of us know how long we’ll get on this rock. I’ve decided to spend it on my terms. And for me, that means taking some time for active listening.
“In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.” Rumi