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How do you stay fresh?

I get this question a lot, and I know many people like to brush it off as a garden-variety interview question, but I always try to answer it, assuming it’s genuine.

When I was starting out, I always wondered how creatives found inspiration. So often, I’d sit down to write, and the well would quickly run dry. I used to think that people somehow just innately “had” inspiration that I wasn’t lucky enough to possess, inspiration that never runs out.

…chase that inspiration.

I know now that notion was totally wrong. While I’ve had flashes of brilliance and ideas that seem to come from nowhere, most of the time I have to slowly coax my ideas out. I have to chase that inspiration. To help things along, I’ve worked up a few ways to speed the process, even when things aren’t quite firing on all cylinders. …

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It’s a trap! — Admiral Ackbar

We all have a tendency to overspecialize. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. It’s safe.

If we stick to what we know, we can never be wrong, never be corrected, and never be embarrassed. We’re an expert there. Nobody can challenge us if we’re a specialist.

In the words of the Mon Calamari Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”

I’m guilty of this thought process myself. When I first started out, I was determined that I would be a writer, and only a writer. I didn’t want to mess around with visual design, videography, or photography. I hadn’t even heard of UX design or learned that I had a mind for information architecture. I just wanted to be a writing specialist. To pigeonhole myself further, I wanted to only be a journalist. Even though the pay was low and the hours were long, it was a safe spot. …

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Recently on Design Matters, Gretchen Rubin talked to Debbie Millman about how she kind of drifted about during her early life to the point that she basically drifted into—and out of — law school, and into a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The conversation struck a pretty personal chord with me, especially every time Gretchen talked about how she drifted from one thing into the next. I’ve done the exact same thing, just maybe not on the same level.

When I take a hard look at my life, I must conclude that I don’t often do anything on purpose. I’ve spent most of my life drifting around as circumstances carried me along. Either I would do what was expected of me, or I would take the path of least resistance. I went to college because it was expected of me. I ran cross country because my brother did for a year. I became a journalist because it was the easiest thing to do right out of college. …


Carl Dunker

Work: Writer, Content Strategist and IA Consultant. Pleasure: Typophile, Francophile, and All-Around Design Enthusiast.

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