Out with the old, in with the re-newed
“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” — George Lucas
For years, one of the main principles I’ve followed is to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. In doing so, my focus was split between designing the best possible outcome and fighting off any threats that would impede this outcome.
As I’ve been reflecting over my career these past couple months, I’ve realized that my reality became fighting off threats as opposed to embracing the journey and focusing on the best possible outcome. My focus became my reality — the fight was real.
Those who’ve worked on my teams in the past few years can attest to the effects of this approach. Several people embraced this principle but allowed me to clear the path forward for them and the rest of the team. Others, politely declined. Some tried to coach me otherwise. I was blinded by my focus. Only now, as I write these words do I see the signs.
I’m not going to go into the dynamics that created the rewards that reinforced the beliefs and behaviors — that’s not constructive. What’s important to know is that successfully launching products and projects on time, if not on budget, was a large contributor.
Reflection & self-discovery
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to hit the reset button in a major way. The opportunity allowed me to focus on the question: what’s next, both for me personally and for the career I was struggling to be passionate about.
Sidebar: To be clear, one thing that will never change is my commitment to my beautiful wife and my wonderful children — this is not about that kind of change — this is about how I’m going to trade my remaining time on this planet for positive change and greenbacks.
Without knowing it, there were aspects of my recent journey of discovery that mirrored the ‘hero’s quest’ — from reluctant adventurer, to the actions and events that incited the acceptance of the quest.
The main catalyst for this journey, let me say bluntly, was that I had testicular cancer this year. I’m physically fine now but, using a polite phrase, I’m not the man used to be. I’m on a 5 year surveillance program with my oncologist that promises to get me through without any radiation or chemo treatments. My next check-in is early February. I feel very lucky — VERY lucky. But coming to terms with your own mortality provides clarity and is a strong motivator for reflection, if not change.
As my family and I thought about the reality we wanted, we made some big decisions we’d been putting off for years. My wife and I bought some property on Manitoulin on the quintessential lake of our childhoods. I attended racing school in time to start my rookie racing season (see notes below on resetting expectations vis-a-vis the race car). Thanks for our summer adventures Kerr and the kids!!
Beyond changes in my personal life, it was clear I needed to re-kindle some passion on the professional front. So I focused on things that brought me joy and that sparked passion for the wonderful career I’ve had. I met with mentors and friends. And I reflected on my “career best”, the people I learned from and the people who were negative influences professionally and personally.
Re-igniting the spark
As it turns out, having a creative space is important. Not just any creative space, your own creative space. The first thing I did was to exit the household office, grab the “Make Space” book and walk around the house. We are lucky to have the luxury of some space.
I selected the only real space that could be used for VR and augmented reality exploration. My initial rebound was to jump into a new medium without considering my ‘why’. But within days, I decided against jumping into a new medium before finding my spark.
I used my own creative process to let the space evolve. I immediately received positive feedback from my family about the location and the rough layout of my studio space. The final configuration and setup took 8+ weeks, but it now looks and feels like my creative space. I feel like I’m getting into the groove…
A firm goal with a real time constraint
As I write this, it appears that there was a great plan and that things were structured. Trust me, there was no plan and there was limited structure. My personal creative process is all about time and letting things percolate — many things, unrelated, all at once.
After the second week and my first real milestone, I gave myself a timeline with 6 more milestones. I hoped to achieve my goal by Christmas. I had a few unwritten rules: I wouldn’t force it, I’d take time every week to experiment and to get inspired — following ideas down rabbit holes and ‘squirrling’ were needed parts of my creative process, visiting with people was very important but didn’t need to happen every day.
Evernote as my journal
I started capturing notes, pictures, sketches, and my progress in Evernote because it was instinctual. Years of habit has made Evernote a critical part of my process. It has become an instrumental part of my thinking and reflection process.
The race car
I had spent a year and a half pressuring myself to learn and do as much as I could to build my own race car. Mid-October, I finally got the 87 Porsche 924S on the track to do some lapping. I completed roughly 18 laps at Cayuga. I achieved my goal — reset several times over the year. So, I wanted to celebrate my accomplishment by taking a break. However, there is some fuel system work that still needs to be done.
What does this have to do with my creative process? It was my primary creative outlet since I purchased it. It was one of my hypotheses, and part of the way I test and learn. As such, it is part of my creative process — and I assumed it would continue to be part of that process.
I hoped to work on the car every week up until Christmas. I got the car on jack stands and the racing tires into the house to protect the racing compound against the Canadian winter. But that is all I’ve done in 8 weeks. And surprisingly, I’m more than ok with that. It turns out that working in the frosty garage on the race car wasn’t part of this particular exploration.
Art, illustration and portfolio
This part of my journey was inspired by my son. He is getting his portfolio together for applying to Colleges and Universities for the school year of 2019–2020. On his birthday in late October, he decided he wanted to go to the OCAD — Ontario College of Art and Design open house.
On his birthday, we jumped in the car, had a birthday breakfast complete with a milkshake at Mel’s Dinner, and headed into Toronto for the day.
I have a Fine Arts degree from the University of Waterloo and was inspired by the mix of art and design at OCAD. My son humored me as we toured the foundry and art studios. He was more interested in design and really enjoyed the final stop in the newer section of the building.
This open house tour may have had a bigger impact on me than on him. We then walked down Queen street for a burger at Burger’s Priest and a stopped at Sonic Boom record store on Spadina. He had some birthday cash that was burning a hole in his pocket. He was itching to add to his record collection.
In November, the entire family attended the University of Waterloo open house. We ended up doing our own self-guided tour. We ended our tour in the Fine Arts building where I spent many hours during my University career. It was oddly familiar. And the kids enjoyed stories from Mom & Dad’s time a UW together. The Fine Arts students had printed up t-shirts and we each got to pick our own.
Inspiration was starting to stir a bit more. No spark yet.
I started drawing and sketching. I quickly realized, I’d be able to much better achieve the feeling I was looking for on the computer.
Update Jan 1, 4:34 pm: Request by Dana Marr, more of my messy process for week 0 and perhaps into week 1…
I moved to my favorite tool/medium — Adobe Illustrator. I first purchased Illustrator back in 93/94. Back then, I was hoping to use the Pathfinder tool but realized the computer I bought didn’t have the required math co-processor. I learned to do some of its functionality by hand. But, this was before I started my career in tech — when I thought I could have a career as an Illustrator and Graphic Designer.
I continued experimenting and decided to draw the race car as a way to try a new paint color — Signal Green. Yeah, I could have used Photoshop but my subconscious mind needed to fool my conscious mind into starting an illustration. I seemed to be re-tracing a long forgotten path.
As a child, I dreamed of designing cars. My friend Aldo and I would share our drawings and talk about the aspects of our designs we liked the most.
Half Nuts Racing — Instagram and starting from scratch
Remember that race car and my testicular cancer? I decided in early summer to start an Instagram account under the name Half Nuts Racing — @halfnutsracing. I’m not going to explain the double-entendre, but the joke helped add humor to my recovery.
I’m a big fan of “Creativity Inc.” and am a firm believer of creating a safe space for creative endeavors. My Half Nuts Racing (HNR) Instagram account was my safe place to experiment and learn online. HNR has accounts on other sites but this is that main place to see what I’m working on.
To create safe online space, I decided to not invite my contacts until the end of my 8 week exploration. Part of my journey was also to understand how these social mediums operate. And that required taking my personal networks out of the equation. @halfnutsracing now has an eccentric, diverse and inspirational mix of Illustrators, racecar drivers, toy car collectors and petrol heads.
Friends and family, invites will be forthcoming before the end of January…
As it turns out, I still love drawing cars. After the first car, I decided I’d draw one car a week until I hit my deadline.
As I drew the second car. I fell in love with it as I was drawing it. It was a car I’d seen on the track at Mosport in 2016. I had taken pictures and videos of it. Looking around online, I found it for sale. But I really didn’t like the paint job, so I decided to draw it in the Jagermeister livery. I bet if it was painted this way it wouldn’t still be for sale.
If I had a million dollars…
I wanted to draw a car in motion on the track. I reviewed my video footage from 2015 and 2016 and it dawned on me that I didn’t remember ever seeing illustrations or art from a driver’s point of view. I did several frame grabs from my footage and drew one of my favorite corners at Mostport — Moss corner — with two Signal Red Porsches ahead of me. I struggled with the square format on this one and consider this to be more of a study than a final piece. But, since I only gave myself a week for each, I need to be good with where I landed.
After having coffee with a friend, and discussing whether 1 week design sprints for UX on product teams were constructive, I realized I had given myself just that — a product release with 7 week-long sprints and one sprint zero. I’m still trying to come to terms with this irony. And haven’t yet confessed this to Andrew, but I’m sure he was thinking it when I explained what I was doing. For the record, my personal opinion is that 1 week design sprints are not constructive. Ha ha, but this retro proves me wrong.
I decided to go back to older cars for my next illustration. I decided to illustrate a toy car that one of my German cousins gave me as a child. It was a fictitious racing police car from the German toy company Siku. I have several Porsche toy cars from this manufacturer but was most intrigued by this one as a child. I imaged getting chased down the autobahn by one…
Up until this drawing, the illustrations were all based on my photographs or videos. This was the first one I didn’t have an image of. So I spent some time finding the best image to start from. As I was researching, Jay Leno’s video of the week highlighted the very model I was going to draw. So I did a mashup.
Inspiration & props:
@pmb_performance — Eric Shea’s 1974 Porsche 914–6 GT tribute car on @jaylenosgarage — https://goo.gl/RUobfs #pmbperformance
@classicdriverofficial — An Original 914/6 GT — https://goo.gl/D8CReY
@sikumuseum — #siku ADAC #rennpolizei — https://goo.gl/UcdC6z
Part of my immersion in Instagram led me to discover that Porsche had once again beat the Nordschleife Nurburgring lap time with a production car — the forthcoming GT2 RS — 6 minutes, 47.3 seconds. So I set out on a mission to find the best photo of the attempt. One of the challenges with the new cars, is that they are so stable, it is hard to find images of the car in motion that actually capture the speed and g-forces associated with their achievements.
On the illustration front, I tried a couple new-to-me techniques. I also tried a couple different levels of detail on the final posts, dipping my toes into graphic design.
On my journey, in my own creative space, I can more easily create my own playlists. The one I’ve been working on with the most interest is a playlist of all the best songs my wife and I danced to together as teenagers. They say music is good for the soul — I agree.
Continuing down the path of trying to humanize recent racing achievements, I chose the 919 and the 24 hours of Le Mans. I wasn’t overly inspired by the 2017 car as I was by the drivers and the win at Le Mans this year. I much prefer the car from the first year of the Porsche 919 — but it didn’t win.
Again, I spent time searching for the best image of the car — it needed to show some drama during the actual race. The image I found was by far the best out there. (Props: Robert DALAUDIERE — https://goo.gl/vZJrhf)
The illustration is growing on me, but I think I disagree with Enzo Ferrari’s quote I used in my Instagram post. Even after winning, it is not a visually beautiful car.
My final week. I didn’t quite believe it would be my last. I wanted to draw something special. And I wanted it to be Gilles Villeneuve — man he could drive! Who else remembers watching him on cathode ray tubes with rabbit ears?
The illustration I wanted to do could not be done in a week. I wanted to do a poster of him racing in Monaco with fans and the Monaco skyline in the background. So I opted to start the next best image I found, hoping I might have time to switch. I didn’t have time. I’m happy with the last illustration — I continued to learn more as I drew this one. But, there is a missing piece in my 2017 exploration — the Gilles Villeneuve poster…
I’ve given myself until the end of January to make a decision. I have yet to create a challenge for myself for this new year. I wanted to get through 2017 before I did that. And, as it turns out, I needed some time to share my journey first.
My spark is back. It is not a flame, but it can be stoked. I need to make sure I continue to hope and take action for the best! I’m focusing to ensure my reality is a positive one.
Happy New Year all!