In one of my favorite videos of all time, Ira Glass talks about what it means to have your own work disappoint you, and how the only way to respond is to keep churning out more work. He talks about how even his own work stunk when he started.
For every creative matter there will be tension between what you aspire to do, and what you just made in front of you. Keep pushing on and churning out those ideas anyway. Close that gap by returning to your work.
This blog is one way I am trying to do that. Thanks for reading.
[Here is the first post I wrote back in the summer of 2013 when I was eighteen. Much has changed since then.]
There’s a flat pathway that separates the dorms in the International House. Aside from the manholes and sidewalk cracks, it’s perfect for honing your skating skills. I do it at night when the traffic is light, and I love it because I can stop and chat with whoever I please.
I’ve skated on ice before, but the concrete is foreign to me. Fall on the ice rink and I’ll slide until I hit the foam wall. Fall on concrete and I’ll have a red butt to remember it by. (Fall in front of a cutie in either arena and I can bask in sympathy).
The heel brake on the right boot provides reassurance. Knowing it’s there makes me feel confident to take on more risks and speed, even if the brake itself doesn’t actually work that well. Take it as a learning opportunity — the lack of a proper brake means you’ll have to discover better ways of slowing down.
A full week has gone by, and I could only go in a straight line. That is, until Armando shouts from the third-floor window: “Put your hip into it!”
So I did.
And wow, what a world of difference that makes. Instantly, too.
Do anything out in public and you are bound to get feedback. Which should you listen to, and which should you ignore? What role should familiarity play in such a decision?
Armando and I were strangers when he first popped his head through the window at 1 AM. And yet, without his advice, there’s a good chance I’d still be struggling to turn left and right.
The parsley plant in the kitchen was dying, and it was my fault. The instructions said to water it once a week, and not too much at once. I thought I had done that, but the stems were already wilting after two weeks.
“That’s not enough,” said my roommate. “You need to talk to the plant. You have to sing to it. Love it.”
Play Mozart for the plant and it’ll grow more than a plant without. Plants may not have emotions the same way a human may (tulips don’t get jealous if they see you water the daffodils more), but they still respond to nurturing environments like we do.
So I talk to the parsley plant — about my day and things like that (but only when we’re alone). My father warns me that people will think I am crazy when I talk to myself in the middle of the day.
Maybe they won’t if they see me talking to parsley.
I was scrolling down Facebook at 2 AM when I saw that two of my high school classmates just got engaged. Everyone knew they were high school sweethearts, but wow! I had not seen either of them since graduation. Funny how time passes by.
Hearts and smileys fill the comments section. It’ll only be a matter of time before someone starts posting embarrassing photos from those awkward teenage years.
Prof. Scott Klemmer on silence:
“When I first started teaching, I made a mistake that a lot of young teachers make. I would ask the class for a question and after 17 milliseconds when nobody had answered, I would jump in and offer the answer myself.
I trained the students that they didn’t need to be part of the class, that I would always answer every question. There was no reason to participate.
One of my colleagues [Jim Hollan] taught me to wait a little longer, and it’s amazing. Even in a quiet classroom before students are used to interacting — let a few seconds of silence happen, and people will start to chime in. The same is true in interviews. You may get a quick answer at first. Let some silence happen. After a few seconds, you’ll hear the second story.
And the second story is often a lot more interesting.”
The same is true for conversations with an old friend. Let there be a bit of silence, especially when the question you are asking requires that the other person be vulnerable (and that is a lot to ask for). And when there is silence, don’t use it as an opportunity to think of things for yourself to say — that is the opposite of listening and understanding the other person. Give the other person a chance to think and say what she wants to say before butting in with your own story.
Every once in a while I’ll bump into a new couple who’s obviously super into each other. They’re easy to spot — constantly giggling in each other’s company, and sharing inside jokes that nobody else in the room understands (and worse, they won’t bother to explain them! “Long story” they say). The more irritating ones may even say, “we finish each other’s sentences!” to show how cute they are together.
But why would you want to do that? I thought making assumptions breaks relationships!
One important caveat: there is an emphasis on a little bit of silence. Too much and the conversation thread will end. Too little and the conversation can devolve into a bout of verbal diarrhea.
Comfortable silences rise when both people trust that the other is just as invested in the relationship as they are. That doesn’t always happen, so I try to cherish it when it does.
Source: Lecture 2.2. "Interviewing". You can find the excerpt at the 10:50 mark in Klemmer's / UCSD's "Intro to Human-Computer Interaction Design" course on Coursera.org.
I was walking back from a late breakfast when I saw a father and son at the far end of the walkway practicing their penalty kicks between the trees. It’s the son’s turn to kick, and he steps backward like all the pros on TV.
Three seconds later the kid is on his ass and the ball hasn’t moved an inch. That’s what happens when you try to jump kick something that’s on the ground. Another ten seconds passed before he couldn’t hold the tears inside anymore.
Which hurts more? The pain of hitting your tailbone on the gravel, or the pain of feeling humiliated after missing a stationary ball? (and in front of your dad, too, when all you want is for him to feel proud of you)
I’m twenty now, but even I still feel like that kid. Miss the shot and disappoint yourself and your teammates, who wanted to see you succeed just as much as you did. Miss the metaphorical boat and imagine everyone going off in their separate, amazing directions — but without you.
Here’s something I tell myself: take the next shot. Take the next boat. It will not be the same as the one you missed, but if you keep your eyes open, you can still reach interesting places.
The father walked up and hugged his child. He didn’t say much else, and he didn’t need to.
I’ll see them doing the same next week anyway.
The medical profession drains people’s emotions, so the med students and teachers (the more sociable ones at least) cope by developing a morbid sense of humor. One professor said he loves to make comparisons with medical conditions and food.
“Cheesy necrosis” made him giggle. When was the last time he was able to use that?
From a class field trip to the Medical Education-Telemedecine (MET) Building in UCSD. Lots of cool (a.k.a. expensive) medical equipment there.
Two months ago, three fresh graduates from the cognitive science program came to speak to the design club at school. Along with conventional advice like “do more than just your classwork” and “make reading a regular habit”, here are three main points that still stick out to me.
Don’t follow the rules. (or: just ask)
Exceptions are made, and more often than you would expect. Success is not guaranteed, but you have nothing to lose from asking.
- Coursework: For UCSD’s cognitive science program, you must take a class in research methods before taking a class in distributed cognition. I wanted to take distributed cognition, but I haven’t taken the pre-requisite yet. I e-mailed the major counselor about it, and she let me in the same day (provided that I promise to take both classes eventually).
- TA’ing opportunities: One of the alumni just missed the GPA requirement required to be a teaching assistant. He went up and asked the professor anyway, because he had a lot to give to the class. He got in.
- Internship/work opportunities: Maybe the company will write that they are looking for someone who has 3+ years of design experience, but you have less than 1. Apply for the job anyway, and show what you can offer. You may not get the position you originally applied for, but perhaps there are other ways you can give to the project.
Disillusionment happens when someone follows all the rules (i.e. do your work, get good grades, do a couple of extra-curricular activities), but they still don’t get the results they want.
Be a better friend / work partner.
Many future opportunities will come through the students you meet and work with in college.
That’s not anything groundbreaking, but the alumni really hammered this in. That’s actually how some of the people got their jobs — one person was a hiring manager, the other was an applicant, and they both happened to work on the same project in the past, so one guy could vouch for the other.
GPA is irrelevant. Be a better friend instead.
Soft skills > hard skills
Technical skill is important, but soft skills like communication are even more so. As a designer, you’ll be integrating insights from other disciplines. How will you handle inevitable disagreements? Can you reach a compromise without compromising quality? And can you do this while being someone people can look forward to working with?
Special thanks to Kenna Hasson, Alan Tran, and Joshua Morris for the ideas.