2015 in Review
I started 2015 at one of my best friends funeral. Literally. James Golick, that brilliant asshole*, made sure to go out on the one day of the year that we’d have no choice but to stay together until midnight. He made sure everyone he cared about ended the night in someones arms, because it’s New Years, and there’s rules about these things. A new years kiss is good, but try a holy-shit-today-cant-be-real-(please. please. please.)-hug. It was horrible in all the ways you think it was. It was heart-filling in every unexpected corner. I remain in disbelief.
This time last year, I was feeling lost. I had a lot of anxiety about wasted time. I base the way I see myself around the things I like to do — do more, see more, faster, bigger: Let’s. Get. Rad. — but I couldn’t explain why I wasn’t doing them. I was in the middle of coming to terms with the truth of the matter: either I need to start doing them now, or I need to re-evaluate my identity. The available evidence was quickly compiling against me and I was beginning to accept that I won’t do the things I want until someone asks me to. Maybe I was just scared of doing it alone. It being anything.
Feeling comfortable as a freelancer (2016 making it 5 years & going strong) left me with a similar restlessness. Yeah, I can always take the next project: money in money out. What’s the problem? but what am I really doing/building/making? Nothing in particular. I was crippled with what my next move should be. Should I be more strategic about what projects I’m taking? What does that even mean? I’m already picky about what I take. I already love every project I take. Am I supposed to start an agency now? Yeah, okay. So just take all the skills you love, and outsource them. Then take all the things I hate and do that, but bigger and harder and all the freaking time. Cool. So do I join a company then? But, what if I don’t want to join a company? I like my autonomy. And my hours. And sleeping in. And powder days. And no pants before noon. I was asking everyone I met what to do; where to go; who to meet… but then I’d quickly glaze over: I was happier sitting in the middle of the road a little longer.
Then James died. Like, just. fucking. died. Not passed away. We didn’t lose him — I refuse to use a word synonymous with “misplaced” to describe the day he ceased to exist. If I hadn’t already experienced it, I’d be certain in telling you my instinct is to shut down. The world is scary and knowing people sucks. I don’t have a mentor anymore. I don’t have my friend anymore. Everything is hard. Why is everything so hard? I want a break and I think I’ll take one.
It was the opposite. Instead of being paralyzed, I found myself inspired. No, I had a responsibility. We all did. There’s a James shape void left in the world and if we’re going to try to fill it, you had better step up. There’s no time for second guessing or waiting around for the decisions to come to you. The time is now, we have a lot of ground to cover.
So to recap, 2015: I gave on my apartment: gave away what I could, and threw the rest in storage. I visited 26 cities in 7 countries. I traveled alone for the first time, and only cried once (about traveling alone, I mean. I can’t be expected to keep it together while pixar is putting out movies like inside out). I went blonde. Then I went less blonde. I spoke at my first conference (and also only cried once) (kiddingggggg but I only sweat through 3 shirts so call it a win). I got a tattoo. I got another tattoo. I was on my first conference panel as an industry expert. I got my first design award since art school. I started going to museums alone. I did my first big editorial project for print. I made friends. Good friends, like the lifelong, hey-I’m-here-surprise-I-dunno-when-I’m-leaving kind. I made time to write. I made time to read. I watched less. I did my first live interview. I never got burned by a client. I never put out work I wasn’t proud of. I never worked with people I didn’t think were fantastic. I never started a project I couldn’t wait to start. I never finished a project feeling less than great about it.
I learned that it’s okay to work for free sometimes — and participated in two group art shows, as well as contributed to Slapstick sticker project. I learned how to downhill mountain bike. I fell off a lot of bikes, most of them mountain. I learned how to identify projects aren’t the right fit early, and how to accept that I should turn them down. I learned that I am better than drugstore moisturizer. I got better at email. I learned the benefits of being upfront about your limitations, coupled with enthusiasm to try. I learned after effects. I learned to put my flight confirmation code in the google calendar event. I got more comfortable with negotiation. I stopped trying all the tactics I keep reading about and started having conversations. I learned the same lesson I learn every year: my people are still just people, and everyone is trying their best.
I found values. Like, things I really care about and want to talk about more. I really care about how we communicate in our community. I want people to stop yelling “thief” at the first shared stroke weight. I want to help bring our community back to a collaborative and supportive environment, with empathy and compassion. I really care about encouraging people in our community to have a life outside design, by giving people reasonable workloads and timelines and not glorifying the hustle. Pressuring people into sleepless nights — and all the other parts of not taking care of yourself with false deadlines — is frankly, just stupid, in our made up industry. And I think it’s a lesson for both sides of the table: the ones giving the deadlines as well as the ones saying “no problem”. Even better, I found a voice that I can actually talk about these issues with, that I’m comfortable putting out into the world, but is still true to myself.
And through all of it, somehow, I still had my mentor. I consistently went to James for advice, either checking back in on the enormous back log I already have — from what to buy, to how to work, to who to date — or by playing both sides of the conversation. There’s a particular kind of honesty that comes with speaking for your absent counterpart. Yeah, he was good at seeing through the lies I tell myself before, but he has been on fire lately. I’m not going to give him all the credit it here. Or maybe I am. I’m not sure what my life would look like without him on my shoulder. I’m not ready to think about what my life would look like if he was still here. All I can say for certain is that living up to what he would say, or already said, and trying to take after him — his ambition, his fearlessness, just the literal amount that he got done every single day — got me through 2015 feeling proud of where I got, and excited to look ahead.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is it’s been a helluva a year. Thanks James, I owe you one.
*I know that you guys know that I’m just saying that for effect, but I can’t hit publish without saying I don’t mean it, I mean the opposite