Tag Design Matters

Debbie Millman on Finding Inner Courage, Taking Responsibility for Your Own Happiness & Growing Into Your Self …*

“Imagine immensities. Try to pick yourself up from rejection. And, plow ahead. Don’t compromise. Start now. Start now, every single day.” -Debbie Millman on what it means to her to live a good life.

Is It Really Possible To Design Your Life via The Good Life Project, published April 23, 2014.

Here is a wonderful interview with Debbie Millman by Jonathan Fields of The Good Life Project. In this hour long conversation Debbie, with her characteristic honesty, intelligence and elegance, shares how she has designed her life, and attempted to create and own a sense of meaning and purpose in the process. 

– YOU CHANGE CONSTANTLY, WHETHER YOU REALIZE IT OR NOT – 

“I very very recently found diaries–I kept diaries from 1973 until 1992–and I’ve been going through them and reading them all and I realized just how low I felt and how hopeless I felt about life. It’s sort of interesting, I think as you grow as a person, as a human being, you sort of somehow think you’re still the same person, you’re just bringing all of those experiences along and yes, you’ve realized more, but you’re intrinsically the same person. And I guess, I’ve been thinking a lot about that because now that I’m in my fifties, I feel like I’m still fourteen. But then when I went back and read my journals at fourteen, or my diaries, I am definitely not fourteen and I am nothing like that fourteen year old person, nor am I like the thirty-two or forty-two year old person. But going through that is what gives you that clarity–seeing how far you’ve actually come. How there isn’t quite as much self-loathing. How there isn’t quite as much insecurity–it’s still there but it’s not the prevailing emotion.”

– DON’T GIVE UP HOPE OF GROWING INTO YOURSELF – 

“The one common denominator that I can share with anybody that feels self-loathing, or insecurity in their twenties, or thirties, or forties, or fifties, is don’t give up hope that that might not ever go away because I think it does. I’ve done about, now, two-hundred interviews, I’m close to my two-hundredth episode of Design Matters and then there’s been all sorts of live events that I’ve done over the years and then all the interviews that I’ve done for Brand Thinking and How to Think Like A Great Graphic Designer, and the one common denominator that I can share that great brand thinkers, great cultural commentators, great designers have shared with me over the years is that they all feel like they have to get up everyday and do it again. They all feel like they very well may be discovered as phonies, they very well may never ever achieve what they’d hoped. The only two people in all the years that I’ve done this that have been different in that–that have had a different experience in articulating who they are and what they believe–are Milton Glaser and Massimo Vignelli. But I think the common denominator that they share, is that they’re both in their eighties. They’re both in their eighties. I think by the time we’re eighty, we’ll be like, “ok, you know, this is who I am.” Either that or you don’t have any idea who you are. “

– YOUR HAPPINESS IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY – 

“You have to make your own happiness, wherever you are–your job isn’t going to make you happy, your spouse isn’t going to make you happy, the weather isn’t going to make you happy, a restaurant isn’t going to make you happy. I think you have to decide what you want and you have to find that way of doing it, whether or not the outside circumstances are going to participate in your success. And for people that want to create something meaningful, if you’re not getting it at work, then do it at home. If you’re not getting it everyday in the workplace, self-generate your own work. Make what you need to do to be happy. Even if other people think it’s crap, even if other people think it’s terrible. You have to be able to create your own happiness, period.” 

– FINDING INNER COURAGE – 

“That’s why I took Milton [Glaser]’s class, it was touted as a really good class for people mid-career that wanted to shift the focus of what they were doing and sort of find their inner courage. And it changed my life, it absolutely changed my life. Where, suddenly, Milton was very very clear about defending your life, about owning your choices, about making the choices that you hold yourself to as if you had no issue with succeeding. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about being successful? And he has you envision your whole life–your entire life, five years from that moment in time–if you could do anything in the world that you wanted, what would it be? And you have to own it, you have to defend it, you have to declare it. And he talked about the magic in that exercise. And how over the fifty years he’s been teaching, that this particular class was the most important class that he taught and how it transforms lives. He talked about how he’d always heard from people that that exercise, that class, was the defining moment–the before and the after–and that was what it was for me. And suddenly I had this scenario, this vision, and that is what I think has helped propel me to lead a more purposeful life.”

– BUSY IS A DECISION – 

“I’m afraid to give up stuff. I’ll take on new things and still do the old stuff. That’s become a little bit untenable […] I’m a big proponent of “busy is a decision”–you decide what you want to do and the things that are important to you and you don’t find the time to do things, you make the time to do things. And if you aren’t doing them because you are “too busy,” it’s likely it’s not as much of a priority as is what it is you’re actually doing. And that could be watching reruns of Law and Order SVU, you know, I do that all the time, but you have to own that and you have to really say, “Ok, I know that this isn’t as important to me as watching Olivia Benson get the bad guys.” I think knowing it helps.”

– REACHING THE NEXT STEP BY TAKING A LEAP OF FAITH –

“What I’ve done, because I am so afraid of giving something secure up for the unknown, is I’ve kept the secure and then taken on the unknown. You know, there’s that scene in the third installment of Indiana Jones, where Harrison Ford just takes a step–I think you have to do that. I don’t think you can achieve anything meaningful without taking it. […] I think in order to take that next step you literally have to take the step and hope the ground is beneath you.”  

-THE MAGIC OF OWNING YOUR VISION FOR YOUR LIFE –

“In that class with Milton, I made a list–I love lists–I made a list of all the things that I still dreamt that I could do or achieve or experience. And it wasn’t a bucket list, it was like twelve things and I put the list away. I finished Milton’s class and then I started to try ever so sort of elegantly, or inelegantly, to take the steps to try to get a few of those things. And once a year now I reread the essay that I wrote and then I look at the list and it’s mind-boggling because there are things on the list that I actually forgot we’re on the list and it’s scary how so many of them have become something that has manifested. And you know, Milton says it’s magic, maybe it is.”

listen & rethink …

Debbie Millman on Taking Risks, Chance Encounters, Failure, Design & Avoiding Compulsively Making Things Worse…*

This past Tuesday, the online journal The Great Discontent published a deeply inspiring interview with the great Debbie Millman. Millman, a Renaissance-woman if ever there was one, is President Emeritus of AIGA, a contributing editor at Print Magazine, and Chair of the Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She also hosts the fantastic (seriously, check it out) podcast, Design Matters, the first weekly radio talk show about design on the Internet and has authored five books on design, including Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design (HOW Books, 2009). Below are some of my favorite insights from the interview, which I strongly urge you to read in its entirety over on The Great Discontent.

Enjoy & rethink…*

“My first ten years after college were experiments in rejection and despair. I knew that I wanted to do something special but, frankly, I didn’t have the guts to do anything special. When I graduated, I didn’t feel confident enough, optimistic enough, or hopeful enough to believe that I could get what I really wanted. I wasn’t living what I would consider to be my highest self—in fact, I was probably living my most fearful self.”

{…}

“My whole life has been one thing leading to another, leading to another, and then another. It has been completely circuitous and mostly unplanned. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about these chance encounters: those elusive happenstances that often lead to defining moments in our lives. But what if one of those defining experiences never occurred? What if something wonderful, something that we have come to depend on, that serendipitous bit of luck that provided us with a big break or a big deal or the Big Time never happened? One of those “if I hadn’t been eating a gigantic McDonald’s breakfast on the 7am flight to Vancouver in the middle seat, I wouldn’t have apologized to the beautiful, elegant woman sitting next to me on the plane; we wouldn’t have started talking and I wouldn’t have found out she was an important editor of a cool design magazine; we wouldn’t have become friends and so on and so on” type of moments. I call this “six degrees of serendipity”—the quintessential recognition that if this didn’t happen, then that wouldn’t have happened, and we wouldn’t have ended up right here, right now, in this way.”

{…}

“A moment that I thought was a complete and total failure—this takedown of everything I’d done to date—ended up turning into the foundation of everything I’ve done since. I’ve just created a lecture titled “How the Worst Moments of Your Life Can Turn Out to Be the Best” because the worst professional experience I ever experienced turned out to be one of the most important professional experiences of my life.
I was really ashamed of all my failures for a long time. Now, I feel it’s important to share these experiences. I am hopeful that it can give other people hope and context to see things a bit differently. It’s not a failure until you stop trying.”

{…}

“Honestly, I feel like everything I’ve done has required some risk. I don’t think you can achieve anything remarkable without some risk. Risk is actually a rather tricky word because humans aren’t wired to tolerate it very much. The reptilian part of our brains wants to keep us safe. Anytime you try something that doesn’t have any certainty associated with it, you’re risking something, but what other way is there to live?

The first ten years of my career were very much organized around avoiding failure, but my inadequacies were completely self-constructed. Nobody told me that I couldn’t do something; nobody told me that I couldn’t succeed; I had convinced myself and lived in that self-imposed reality. I think a lot of people do this. They self-sabotage and create all sorts of reasons for not doing things under the misguided assumption that, at some point, they might feel better about themselves and that will finally allow them to take that risk. I don’t think that ever happens. You have to push through it and do it as if you have no other choice—because you don’t. You just don’t.”

{…}

“I want very badly to make a difference with my life. I’d like to make a difference by contributing to the world conversation about design.”

{…}

If you could give a piece of advice to a young person starting out, what would you say?
“I would provide five bits of advice:

Do not be afraid to want a lot.

Things take a long time; practice patience.

Avoid compulsively making things worse.

Finish what you start.

Often people start out by thinking about all the things that they can’t do. Once you take that path, it’s very hard to get off of it. Shoot high and shoot often.

{…}

“I feel happier and more a part of the world when I feel connected to others through likeminded communities. I feel really, really happy being part of a design tribe.”

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