Survey Says

I get endless surveys. I get one each time I stop at CVS. I get one each time I go to the doctor’s office. Any doctor. We go to a restaurant near our house several times a week. I get one on every receipt. I’m a heavy user of Adobe products, and I get a 15-minute survey from them virtually every month. Is all this feedback necessary? Am I not voting with my presence, with my dollars?

As a designer, my work is very visible. Large projects are especially so, and I do have an internal team of critics. There are a handful of people that find fault with virtually any effort, and they tell me so. I always read the comments, but I rarely respond.

Their feedback does rattle around in my brain at the next juncture, and it has made me better. Better at parsing those small slights that I clearly miss. “Why did you list this department first in the agenda.?” Only because they came through first in the paperwork. Nothing nefarious, but we’ll switch that up next time. I’ve noticed that entire divisions feel left out because they are physically more remote from the corporate office. As a result, I’ve made them first by design the next time a job comes around. I make notes to physically visit on a regular basis. Do they notice? I’m never sure, but the effort is what matters.

Does it make me feel bad? Full disclosure – it used to, but it doesn’t anymore. I think it speaks to the power of design. These projects project the company culture, and that’s not nothing. I should be careful, and I am. My critics just point to the holes.

The thing about complaints is that most people are more apt to say when they’re unhappy than to recognize a move in their direction.

The small kindness is always worth it. Always. It improves your work and breeds inclusion. Just don’t expect it to be noted on the comment cards.

Stuff

Last winter, I instituted a room by room cleaning project. I emptied closets and cupboards. Nothing was untouched. Nothing uncleaned. I got rid of boxes of stuff. 

In Brad Warner’s fantastic book, Sit Down and Shut Up, he writes this about things:

Every object you acquire comes with a certain degree of responsibility for that object. Most of us don’t realize this, which is why we treat the stuff we own so incredibly badly.  You need to take care of these things. When you don’t, you cause yourself and others a heap of trouble.

The only way to really be happy is when you desire as little as possible.

I keenly felt the burden of things during my clean out, but since then, I’ve continued to acquire. I was unable to give it up then, but I’m coming around. I just bought a new computer and deliberately let go of some files. I purchased Spotify and stopped buying music. I’m thinking of dissolving my CD collection. 

Technology helps as certain technologies go away like VCRs and DVD players, those relics left behind lose their meaning. Streaming services mean you no longer have to own your movies or your music and thus the burden of caring for it.

It’s sometimes noted with a sneer by older generations that millennials don’t want to own things like cars. I think owning things comes with a certain complexity that this generation has decided to avoid. I think we need to, perhaps, applaud that thinking and re-examine our own.

Eye of the Beholder

Here is something that happened to me just recently but has reoccurred throughout my design career. The things I care about. The things I think are cool or good or difficult or clever are not always what others think are cool, good, difficult, or clever.

Most people walk around in their own bubble of interests. Most people are not designers. If you work with a team, what matters to any particular member of the team is what that person is interested in.  It may take you 15 minutes to put together that flyer, but if that flyer is promoting this team member’s project, then that is all that matters.

My advice to you is to treat everyone’s project like it’s important. Don’t down play any work you do. Don’t sell yourself short because you thought it was easy. Put your best work forward always even if it isn’t what you consider challenging or especially interested. You’re helping to interpret and sell their dream, and that’s important. Always. That’s challenging. Always. Even if you did it before.

For the hard and interesting stuff, keep a side hustle. Find a way to fit in the work that you really want to do, the work that challenges you, the work you find interesting or cool, the work that makes you feel like a pro. You also need to please yourself, and the tough stuff will do that. Make sure you fit it in even if it doesn’t pay the bills because it will feed your soul.

Coaching from a Spouse

Despite sharing the same rank for a season, my husband is a better tennis player than I am. He played sports in high school. I did not. We both work hard on our games, but I think he has the edge. He’s a wonderful student of the game. He watches videos. He reads books.

So when I decided to put much more effort into my game, I had to decide to give up on that ego and take his instruction. He’s not one to compliment anyone, and I’m historically someone who needs a little encouragement. I had to put that aside, and I did. I’ve been working on growing as a person, and taking advice and criticism is a big part of that growth. It’s not personal. Keep repeating that. It’s true.

Part of my commitment to getting a better game is just playing more matches. There is always a flutter of nervousness for me in a match. Always. I thought playing more could take that edge off, and it has. I committed to three teams and a night class this winter, and in retrospect, that was probably a lot. I struggled mightily on one team in particular, and Jeff asked to come watch.

My partner and I won, but it was kind of ugly. Afterwards, Jeff had an hour discourse on what I did wrong. One of the last things he said was, “your knees weren’t bent. You weren’t ready to move. In fact, no one on that court was ready to move. If you just do that, you’ll be better than 90% of the people out there.”

A lot of what he said clicked, but the knee bend stuck like a barnacle. Playing with your quads engaged will leave you with burning outer thighs, so I upped my yoga practice to compensate. The knee bend and ready position has the side benefit of giving me something to focus on.  The improved concentration has also helped my game.

Sometimes we overlook the expertise of those close to us. We shouldn’t. It’s wonderful to have a personal coach and hitting partner with the kind of availability only a pro could dream about. As my game gets better, I’ve given back in the form of suggested drills and my own observations. We were 2-2 for the fall season, which isn’t too shabby. I see more great play in our future.

Project Runway: Mind Your Own Business Edition

Project Runway is one of the few shows I wait to watch. I know when the next season is being released, and I’ve seen all 16. It inspired me to take a sewing and pattern making class and buy a sewing machine. However, more than fashion, I think it is a show about leadership and conduct. It’s about doing the right thing and acting with courage and sometimes, minding your own store.

On the October 5, 2017 show, a talented contestant named Margarita becomes fixated with the thought that another contestant, Claire, is cheating by copying designs and measuring her own clothes in order to make patterns. Consulting a pattern book is verboten, but copying is in the eye of the beholder. Regardless, the situation so unnerves Margarita that she ruins some fabric and ends up making a sub-par design. She also shares her suspicions with another contestant, Michael, who is also furious.

In this particular show, Margarita has immunity, so she is not eliminated. However, the object of her fixation wins the prize. In this case, the win comes with $25k. Whether the money prize created an additional level of tension for the cash-starved design crew is probably unknowable, but at one point another contestant reveals that 25k would be almost more than his annual salary.

The entire show was filled with the tension of envy and anger. Of someone building expectations for Claire that she is unaware of and can’t meet.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing entrepreneur Jen Groover speak. One of the take-home messages was the importance of letting go of expectations for others. Most often, you can’t or don’t communicate those expectations and other people can’t meet them regardless. They’re your expectations, not someone else’s. Expectations are what you’ve built up for others that become a source of frustration for you. Let go of them and focus on yourself and what is within your control.

That lesson was evident on this episode. Those who copy and cheat are most likely living on borrowed time. (In this case, when the cheating is revealed, Claire is eliminated and the prize is revoked.) Margarita would be better served to focus on her own work and what she can control than worry about another person.

Let your work speak for itself.

Tim Gunn pets Mood’s resident dog, Swatch.

Evol rules my world

Since I previously posted about food, let me spend a few minutes talking about a food I really like, evol.

I work 30 minutes from my home, and the distance makes it impossible to go home for lunch. I don’t want to spend too much on food, and the options near my workplace are limited. I also am sometimes limited on time for lunch, and I rarely cook dinner so have few leftovers. What to do? Frozen dinners.

evol frozen dinners
evol has a lot of vegetarian options include two versions of ravioli.

evol frozen dinners have points
Save the points on the box for cool tshirts and goodies. What a great branding idea.

Hey, I know it sounds awful, but they’ve come a long way. When I first started eating frozen food, the pre-made dinner options were pretty awful – high in calories and fat. Since that time, they’ve come a long way. The brand I especially like is evol. They have a variety of vegetarian options that I dress up with low calorie goodies like hot sauce, fresh tomatoes, and green peppers. They are relatively low in calories with each dinner clocking in under 400 calories. The lasagna and mac and cheese are higher, so consult the box.

Finally, they have an evol community option. Each box contains points printed on the box. Collect the points, and you can send your points in for cool t-shirts and other neat stuff. It’s great branding, and the community gear options are very nice.

#recommended

evol hoodie
I traded in 200 box points for this awesome hoodie. Even more great branding. Now I’m wearing their brand.

Keep Growing

Recently, I had a tennis friend fix something for me that I had been struggling with for years. (Keep that left arm up when you’re serving. It helps you sight the ball.) I’m sure someone else had given me the same advice, but I didn’t hear it. When I was ready to hear it, it stuck.

This is how I felt after completing Lighting for Photographers at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design (PCAD). The basic concepts of photography finally came together and made sense in my mind. The class was twice a week for five weeks with an audience of five and one professional instructor, Ole Hongvanthong, of PhotoOle.

Ole graciously allowed us to use all his lighting equipment for the entire class, and now I have a firm idea of what I want to buy and full-on camera envy. That 5D Mark III will be mine someday! Every class was experiential. We learned by doing. When I lined up my photos from the first class to last, it was obvious that the lessons had been absorbed.

For the final night of class, we were invited to hear Ole speak to the League of Women Voters at the Candy Factory in Lancaster. More lessons. He was asked about removing scars in the final image and noted that he tells clients to embrace their imperfections because it makes them who they are. He talked about his own camera envy for a Canon Rebel owned by his cousin, and that she ended up giving him the camera and even named his business for him.

Ole Hongvanthong speaks at The Candy Factory, August 10, 2017. Photo by Justin Zook.

Finally, I couldn’t end this post without talking about the people. Justin was a passionate landscape photographer and the cousin of a good friend of mine. Mary Ellen was a reporter with LNP who was frequently tasked with taking her own photos. She was looking to improve. Rick was a former stay at home dad and teacher who once ran his own photography business. He was the most natural teacher of the group and was hoping to become an art instructor again now that his children were grown. I hope he does. At 19, Cameron was the baby of the group. She had started freelancing taking photos for friends and had some mad Photoshop skills. Her mom accompanied her to every class because she had seizures regularly and could not drive. She was a sweet and wonderful human.

This class ended but another one will begin shortly. Provided I can secure some equipment, there are two I am considering for the fall.

Get yourself out there and learn something new!

Be Awesome

I just completed a successful job search, and this is one thing I learned. Be Awesome. To Everyone. All the Time. Awesome is your currency. Every interaction you have in life matters. So be kind. Be Awesome to everyone you meet. People want to work with Awesome. They want Awesome Around. Awesome wins every time.