Are You Doing What You Love, Right Now?

I fell into my career in design by circumstance and fortune, and certainly had no great plans to be doing what I’m doing now when it all started. My education was all geared towards fieldwork, language study, and sustainable development. I figured that eventually my path would lead me back into the university life as a professor. Yet here I sit drawing and making things look pretty on a daily basis.

Some days I wish I was here

Let me be clear on this point: I love my job. I would not be doing what I do if I didn’t love it. That’s just how I’m built. I’m not someone who can do the mundane droning jobs and find happiness and satisfaction. I paid my dues working those kinds of jobs when I was younger, and put myself in a position to (hopefully) avoid going back – you never know, life’s a trip and filled with surprises and unexpected turns and twists.

But right now, I wonder regularly if my efforts are actually making anyone’s life better. Does my job improve the world, take away from it, or as a third option, does it have a significant effect either way? I think I’m sitting in the third seat right now, just whiling my time away making things function. Of course I’m learning skills, honing my tools (take it easy dirty birds), and hopefully fostering the different talent I work with on the daily.

However, I am filled with a sincere passion for affecting change, and when that variable enters the equation, I can’t help but wonder whether I’m where I should be. No regrets though, for sure.

Honestly, ten years ago, I figured I’d be living in East Africa (or at least spending all sabbaticals there) studying/teaching. I have sketches for rainwater catchment systems and village planning diagrams that (I think) could actually help people live better lives.

Today’s not the day to make the change, for certain – I have a wife and three kids (two of which are very young) – but knowing that the fire is still burning is what’s important. Maybe I need to be sharing ideas at this point, and maybe the right opportunity will present itself. Hmm, what do you think?

What Did You Want To Be When You Growed Up?

Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing with your life? Are you happy with where you’re at? Do you have any regrets about the decisions that you’ve made? Many of us end up down far different career paths than what we envisioned for ourselves. While it’s not necessary that you follow that path your 10 year-old mind set out for you so many years ago, it is important to remember that you can (and should) always try to seek out the same level of joy and satisfaction you anticipated for yourself when you were younger.

All kids have dreams

I can remember as far back as five or six years-old telling people that I wanted to be a dad and a professional baseball player when I grew up. I worked at being a baseball player very hard as a kid along with all of the other sports you play like soccer, basketball and football, but baseball was clearly my love. Once I got to high school, I ditched the other sports and started playing year round.

After a mediocre high school career and my first long bout with tendonitis before my senior season, I went on to play college ball at University of Redlands, and majored in everything in the first two years: International Relations, Accounting, Economics, a minor in Chinese, etc. After a great sophomore season (easily the best in my life), I decided to transfer to a better baseball program and a school where I could study my lifelong love of architecture more seriously.

For some strange reason, I changed my mind and returned to Redlands days before classes started and quit baseball to focus on my education. In hindsight, walking away from baseball is the only regret I have in my life, albeit it a minor regret (I don’t really believe in the word, but perhaps that’s an entirely different article). Either way, this decision started things in motion that have brought me to where I am now.

There is life after the dreams change

During my sophomore season, one of my buddies was a transfer from Montana who was about as bright as they come. He was a writer, and since I’d always fancied myself the same, I kinda jumped in his back pocket and joined the campus weekly as a staff writer.

After baseball, I wrote much more extensively for the paper, and really started to feel strongly about my course of study. I was terribly interested in anthropology, environmental studies, and of course, writing. I rolled them all together and majored in Ecological Anthropology, with a minor in writing.

My senior year kicked off early and halfway around the world on the small islands of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Tanzania, East Africa. I was writing correspondence articles from abroad, and studying marine biology and coastal ecology with the trailblazing group of American students (the first group to live in Zanzibar).

My life began to feel focused. I was sure that a master’s degree, PHD work, and an academic future lie ahead. I could feel everything starting to come together.

Upon my return home, I took over as editor-in-chief of The Bulldog Weekly at Redlands, and began my education in Adobe programs as I helped transition the newspaper to a fully digital pre-press operation.

I had no idea that I was beginning my career in those late night editing and layout sessions.

Graduation brought with it a whole new level of confusion and question all surrounding the main theme: “What’s next?” I didn’t want to go back to school immediately, and I decided that temping at Wells Fargo, part-time shifts at Trader Joe’s, and healthy amounts of drunken frisbee golf would be the best bet.

Life was going smoothly until about December, when my first college loan payment notice arrived. Two nights later I stood up at a coffee shop – after probably 48 hours straight searching for editing positions, layout jobs, staff writer openings – and asked if anyone in the room needed a designer. I realized my incoming cash flow was not going to pay the bills, and was willing to do just about anything to find a job that I wanted to work.

Okay, so I’m a designer

Oddly, someone said “yeah, actually, we are looking for a junior designer right now.” I laughed, and double-checked to make sure that the guy wasn’t pulling my leg. But sure enough, he was serious. I interviewed a few days later, and started the job the following week. I’ve called myself a designer ever since.

I didn’t go to school for design. Even though I nearly transferred after my sophomore year to enter architecture school, and have sketched my entire life, I have no formal design education.

So, as soon as I started my career, I started reading HOW Design Magazine, devoured books by Steven Heller, Milton Glaser, and Paul Rand. I read on Helvetica, about Bauhaus, and fell in love with the institution of design. Without classes on color theory, grid, and typographic basics, I felt naked at times. My designs exposed my weaknesses, and I often cursed my inabilities to translate my ideas and concepts into well-executed design.

While I was able to get along and ultimately succeed without a design education, I’m not suggesting that is the right path for everyone. In fact, it’s an uphill battle for years and years without one. You have to constantly be improving and learning.

My career path since those early days slinging Photoshop for minimum wage (literally) has been filled with ups and downs. I’ve had a blast to be sure, and have learned a ton. I have since had a chance to contribute on a variety of articles about design, and a few years back had a chance to be interviewed by the first designer I ever read back in 1997, Steven Heller. That was the point when I felt like I’d arrived as a designer.

As for the original dreams?

I started playing competitive adult baseball a few years back, and really loved being back on the diamond. There’s something in me that just purrs when I get to compete physically. My soul really had a chance to heal playing baseball for the better part of 6 years, from the spring of 2001 until the fall of 2006.

I’m now married as well, and have two beautiful kids and a third on the way.

While slightly modified, my dreams as a five year-old have been reached. Being a father is the most important thing in my life, and I fill my need for competition and sports by staying active and by writing on Bleacher Report. I didn’t ever get to be a professional baseball player, but had I continued playing I can very safely say that I would not be where I am today. And I could not be happier where I’m at.

I did go back to school, to UCLA for a master’s degree, but that was put on hold when I started working at (mt) back in 1999. Someday, I plan to return, finish my degree and work towards that goal of becoming a professor some day.

Please, share your stories about your first jobs and what got you there. Did you take a critical path to get where you are (that is to say, for example, let’s take a designer: high school art classes to design school, intern with an ad agency, and climb the design ladder)? There’s no right answer. Share your experience and maybe you’ll have someone reply that you’re telling their story. It’s fun to find kinship in common experience.

Grammar and effective communication

I’ve always been very particular about grammar. Sentence structure, punctuation, appropriate usage, correct spelling, rules and guidelines; these things have alway stuck out to me as supremely important. That isn’t to say that I don’t break the rules from time to time, purposefully, and even by accident occasionally, to boot.

That being said, my stomach turns when people confuse:

  • “we’re” and “were” or even “where”
  • “they’re” and “there” and “their”
  • “your” and “you’re”
  • “its” and “it’s”

I don’t mean to be an asshole, I really don’t. It’s just sad to me that our country’s education system allows people to graduate from college, let alone from high school, without mastering these very simple rules. I’m not suggesting that we should all break into Shakespearean song and dance when typing; rather, I think it is paramount to practice proper English and grammar to communicate effectively.

The adoption of more “instant” forms of communication are bastardizing the English language. And I find it increasingly more difficult to decipher the lexicon and usage of this “conversational short form”, as my friend D. DeLucca calls it. Mixin’ in an “lol” or “brb” isn’t what troubles me. It’s the fact that this new instant medium breeds chaos and disorder. While I find IM an indispensable tool for our company, having designers and developers (as well as clients) all over the world, it’s nearly a necessity. But from it also come headaches, miscommunication, and wasted time having to retype an explanation because someone forgot to put an apostrophe in “we’re”.

More than anything, I suppose what makes me acutely aware of these things is the fact that I am raising a 9 year-old. He’s in third grade and learning how to write, speak, and read correctly. He makes mistakes, but it’s hard to blame him when SpongeBob, LeBron James, and Paris Hilton have a more profound influence on the lexicon of today’s youth than do Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chinua Achebe, C.S. Lewis, or J.R.R. Tolkien (to name a few favorites from my youth).

As he turns off the TV and reads more, I can see the changes taking place in the way that he speaks in the house, and his teachers have noted a rather profound improvement in his English skills. So, perhaps it’s that simple for all of us. I read voraciously, but I definitely feel like I’m in the minority now. There have been more than a handful of occasions in the past few years that I’ve heard someone close to me say, “Yeah, I’ve never really finished a book cover-to-cover.”

My mouth doesn’t drop quite as far anymore when I hear that, because I see the way that MySpace and YouTube contain and command the attention of each and all. How can I argue with the upkeep of your online portfolio, your slew of profiles, buckets of Flickr photo sets, or anything in the online arena? It’s my job. I do the same. I just wish that more people would unplug and pick up a paper, a magazine, or even a bottle of Dr. Bonner’s Magic Soaps (that’s like a small pamphlet wrapped around your lovely soapy concoction). Read, read, read.

If you feel so inclined, here are a few links to resources:

Hopefully no one takes this as pompous or preachy. It really is not intended to be so. I just care about the preservation of language, and feel that pop-culture assaults and attempts to dismember anything that takes too much time to learn. I am standing up to fight this new super-language of crap and convenience. For those of you joining me, fight on.