insights

The Sabbatical that Continues to Give

My yellow boots that could.

My yellow boots that could.

I promised a post for what I would be doing when my Sabbatical was over and this is long overdue. For starters, I spent all of January at an artist residency in North Carolina which I will write extensively about later, but I'd like to announce that I am now working full-time for a small start-up in Chicago called DevMynd. Am I happy? Yes. Oh-so-happy. :) I'll write more on that in detail soon.

I haven't written for a while and to be fair, a lot has been going on. I have several posts coming up because I've had time to think, process, and also experience new things that I'd like to share. For those of you who read this, I want to thank you for all of your support and encouragement - and your patience. It really means the world to me that you're interested in the adventure I've been writing for myself, and I hope that I am able to write more about how I'm applying what I've learned during my sabbatical in my non-sabbatical life.

A few of the encouragements that have really floored me throughout this process are the amount of people who have shared with me how they were inspired to make changes in their own lives. To describe a few, a woman I had met in Detroit during my Design Residency told me that she left her job, cleaned out her space like I did, and is redirecting her life with the intention that she wants. Another friend shared that she was inspired to pursue another job where she cared more about the work that she would be doing. Another colleague shared that it inspired her to pursue a job that she had been wanting for quite a while - and that she got it, packed up her things, and left Chicago to follow her dreams.

It's strange for me to share these things with the internet because it feels unreal. Is it true that my actions were inspiring? I am utterly overwhelmed by the kind of responses I've been receiving and all I can say is Shine Theory! I don't shine if you don't shine ;) (If you don't know what that is, you can read about it in this post.)

I was recently asked to give a talk to an undergraduate design class at SAIC regarding my career and recent sabbatical. I gave the talk and reminisced about the past 6 months I had given myself to breathe, recalibrate, and refocus on what I was doing with my life and career. It was during this talk though that the intentions that I felt were manifesting within me really came to light. 

A student asked me, "So what exactly will be different when you go back to work?"

I thought about it and I let myself tap into the unspoken learnings and resolve I had within me. I answered by saying this: I now know that every single day, regardless of what I'm doing, is to be appreciated and met with a larger perspective of where I want to go. Yes - it will get hard at times. Yes - I can't really even predict what will change for me even in the next few months. Yes - I will miss freelance work and complete independence. But, I know how to appreciate work with a greater appreciation than I've ever experienced. I can choose my battles with a greater perspective that involves trust and sincerity. And most importantly, I can stay strong in my beliefs in any given situation - even if that means I need to re-pivot things again in order to stay grounded. I have resolved that these things are of utmost importance to me when it comes to my career and I plan on acting on them wholeheartedly.

I'm writing this with already almost 2 months of working in my new position, and I can safely say that all of the above is being applied in almost a daily basis. A lot of this has to do with the actual company I'm working with and, again, I promise to write more on those details soon. There are a lot of details.

I would like to share something, though, that a dear friend of mine in Detroit pointed out to me during my visit out there, the week before I began this position. I was sharing with him how excited I was to start working with this new team and that I'm happily getting out of bed with the curiosity of what will happen next. He said, 
 

"That's exactly what you wanted when you started your sabbatical. You wrote that in your first post."
- Adam Selzer


I had completely forgotten about my first post until he reminded me of it - as well as the fact that what I had been wanting to achieve was exactly what had come to fruition by taking this time of rest. Thank you, Adam, for reminding me that this leap of faith has accomplished what I had set out to do.

I'm ready for my next chapter.

 

The Notion of Home

Night scene at Malibu Beach.

Night scene at Malibu Beach.

I moved to Chicago 5 years ago to attend graduate school and I haven’t moved back to the place where I was born and raised just yet. Perhaps I never will. Part of me feels that if I move back, my adventure book is over and real life will have to settle in – as if real life hasn’t settled in yet. Ha. I don’t know why I feel this way but I do. In the meantime, I've filled my adventure book with many new experiences, people, discoveries, and memories - all of which I would never take back for anything in this world because it has made me who I am today, but I do ponder its value from time to time.

Needless to say, this word, "Home", has been on my mind.

For the first time in 5 years, I went back to California to just hang out. No graduations to attend, no Christmases to construct, no New Years Eve and Day to coordinate. I just went there to hang out – so I hung out.

Los Angeles Freeway where many spend their time if they are a resident of LA. (Of course, it is THE 10 - not just 10.)

Los Angeles Freeway where many spend their time if they are a resident of LA. (Of course, it is THE 10 - not just 10.)

I drove around my neighborhood, my high school, junior high school, elementary school, my play areas during my teens and early twenties, the very first apartment that housed me when I was birthed at Cedar Sinai, the place where I worked as a barista when the economy crashed, and all around Los Angeles. I still can’t grasp all of the emotions that flooded my time there but I will say this – I was comfortable but so out of place, all at the same time. I sometimes wonder if I will always feel this way about Los Angeles.

I was also able to catch up with friends – all of whom I have kept in touch with over the years but life trajectories have taken us in many different directions. Some expressed their feelings of being left behind and some even shared their feelings of wondering whether our relationship fit within the definition of ‘friend’ or ‘acquaintance'. I had encouragement from some, hurt feelings from others, but most of all, I was able to realize and see the evolvement of relationships which is at the core of what we as humans thrive on. Where I am right now with my relationships is different than what it was before – that means life has happened and there is joy in that fact. Where the relationship will go in the future is undetermined – and I must be ok with that as well. Maybe even excited with that fact.

My siblings and I spending time together in NorCal where my brother resides.

My siblings and I spending time together in NorCal where my brother resides.

I couldn't help but snap a photo of this gorgeous woman with San Francisco gracing her background.

I couldn't help but snap a photo of this gorgeous woman with San Francisco gracing her background.

My siblings and I at Twin Peaks viewing center.

My siblings and I at Twin Peaks viewing center.

Even as a nomad, your relationship with how you travel and experience the world evolves. This is a relationship with nature and environments. Even if you are someone who has never left their environment, your relationship with others as you age and encounter different life stages changes and grows you as a person. This is a relationship with your body and immediate surroundings. At the end of the day, it is always about relationships and how you interact and respond to happenings. We grow as humans as we interact with each other and things, recording new memories and recognizing our own patterns of similarities to draw us closer to others who share the same outlook on life.

This sabbatical has taught me to rediscover my roots and to really consider how I have evolved as a person – what my beliefs have been and are now, who I consider "close" in my life, and how much of my past will affect my future if I allow it to.

Beautiful tiles in Silverlake.

Beautiful tiles in Silverlake.

Bustling Intelligensia on Sunset.

Bustling Intelligensia on Sunset.

Lunch at my favorite place - Forage.

Lunch at my favorite place - Forage.

It’s hard to really understand where you come from, why you are the way you are, and to be self-aware if you don’t want to be – maybe even if you do – but I think it is important, as a human of this world, to know who you are so that you can contribute to the world and interact with others in a manner that is true and sincere.

If you look at the trajectory of people who are pursuing passion projects, quitting their day jobs, and taking that bold step into the abyss of the unknown, the count is high and will only get higher. Why is this? I wondered the same thing myself and after some thought, my conclusion is this. We are sick of it and want more for our lives. It is true that our generation is demanding, pretty egotistical, and generally big headed, but it is also true that our generation is more thoughtful, conscious of our environment, and willing to try because we want purpose and intention with what we do.

I commend people who have discovered and resolved to move forward with certain decisions from an early age. Sometimes you meet people in their twenties and they just have it figured out – or at least they seem like they do. I'm actually quite proud to be born in a generation who is unwilling to take no for an answer and to mine a path for themselves. Passion must prevail. Life must have intention and joy.

There's only one problem - that is of loneliness.

When you're that busy and passionate, you walk a line of hurting others in the process - and when you hurt enough people, you will be left alone - or worse, you run the risk of losing yourself. Consistency is a key ingredient in the formula for a healthy relationship and that can come in any shape or form. It just has to be consistent. Is it the happy face upon meeting every few months? Is it a weekly call just to check-in on how each person is doing? Or is it a daily text, 'Goodnight'? Everybody is busy and it requires discipline to keep relationships just like it requires discipline in mastering a medium. It can't be fun all the time but acknowledging that it's part of the formula is an understanding that I feel has finally made its way into my heart.

What I have discovered is that no matter how much the world can satiate your desire to experience new things and enjoy momentary bliss in a new setting, it is always another human who can actually absorb your energy as another human and connect with you in the context of vulnerability. This is no easy task, especially if you are a creative person who is consistently morphing as the creative spirits beckon you - and you, of course, must answer. Must.

Spending time with my adorable and spunky nieces.

Spending time with my adorable and spunky nieces.

So, the moral of the story is this: It really doesn't matter where you are (location wise). Treasure those who ground you (sounds so cliche but it is, nonetheless, true) and be consistent. Allow yourself to feel the heights of joy when new experiences and new people fall into your path. Select wisely. Change with the people you love and be willing to listen and understand. Discipline yourself to master your craft because it is a precious relationship to nurture, but know that the craft itself is not human.

This entry may seem really sappy and you may be wondering, "How does this relate to HCD?"

Well, I'm here to write that this, all of it - however way you want to see it, is how I am designing my life. For the years to follow, until I am able to take another sabbatical, the things I am learning right now will determine the decisions and behaviors of which I will be responsible for in the years to come. I'm creating rules and restrictions for myself to live within and finding intentional areas in which I can allow excessive freedom and creativity. I am researching my past and current experiences to find those insights I can base my future actions upon. I am writing down design opportunities for my life so that I can experience new things that are connected to everything I have experienced thus far. I am leaving room for the beautiful moments of life to occur because committing to restrictions brings a depth of knowing the mystery cloud that intrigues but is never understood by the ever wanderer.

How this will unfold is undetermined and only time will tell.

How will you design your life?

 

Detroit: Land of Potential

I use the words 'magic' and 'magical' a lot. Ask anyone who knows me - they are both some of my favorite words. Ever.

I've been thinking about these words though and I had a thought. It seems a bit insincere to describe something as magical – almost like a cop out. At times it can be misconstrued as lazy and/or non-descriptive. Often, one who is speculative will ask, “Well, what does that mean? Magic, how?” But there are those times when the feels seem to be coming from a mystical space, or when there really is no explanation for certain happenings. This is when, I believe, the term ‘magical,’ is and can be used appropriately. Ladies and gentlemen, Detroit is a magical place – and I will tell you why.

When you think about the 60’s and what an important time that was for our nation in terms of politics, fashion, design, race, drugs, literature, etc., I always wonder if we, too, are living in a time where 50 years down the line, history books will reference material from our decade and use it as a beacon to measure the make of many things. I think that in some spaces/industries, like that of our tech world, this thought has already come to fruition, but to measure the sheer amount of things that happened within the decade of the 60s would be impossible to compare the activity of what is available in 2015. The availability, desire, and the make isn’t quite there. Internationally, it isn’t quite there either. We aren’t suffering from a global famine or depression that clouded the experiences of many generations. You can literally get anything delivered to you within 2 days - or rather, 2 hours.

The reason I bring this up is because there is a city that almost captures the entire measure of possibility poised in the 60s and that city is… you guessed it – Detroit.

That’s a pretty bold thing to say, no? I agree. I wondered whether or not I should write such a thought that is gasp worthy. It’s like when my brother stated that the new Alabama Shakes soundtrack, 'Sound and Color,' was the best soundtrack of 2015. “Blasphemy.” I said, “You can’t just say stuff like that. Taylor Swift’s album, 1989, is damn good.” And then I heard it from beginning to end and decided that it really is pretty amazing. I hate it when I'm wrong. I'm such a sore loser.

Anyway, perhaps my experience in Detroit has skewed my vision of what I am about to say (and that is precisely why User Experience is so important), but I won’t make my UX notes until the very end of this post. I will say, however, that what I lived through in the two short weeks of my stay in Detroit was as blissful as fresh cotton candy.


There are 3 things: The physical city structure, the people, and the political climate.

An image of Corktown on a Sunday afternoon.

An image of Corktown on a Sunday afternoon.

1. The Physical City Structure

Right now, a city that was built for 3 million people is currently inhabited by 750,000. An urban landscape like that already calls for curiosity. The feeling of physical emptiness is something that I believe everyone should experience and although I don't think you should just tour Detroit, I encourage you to go and just sit - preferably by yourself. Feel the emptiness of a city that has been abandoned and begin to imagine what it was like and what it could be like. 

For me, a whirlwind of things came to mind. In one of my imaginations, I placed the magic of Motown and saw the hustle and bustle of well dressed people enjoying the pleasures of life without a care in the world. In another, I saw the important business meetings that were occurring within the automotive industry which drove America's great invention to the spotlight of almost every country's news stand around the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. also came to mind as I was able to more accurately place where the 'Walk to Freedom' speech rang to and from the streets of Detroit. Rosa Parks was there too - badass interventions and all.

But now it's empty. Everyone left. This, to me, is worse than actually building a city. It's like throwing away food - the act should be painful. So, if we were to think of a city as food, Detroit is a garden full of ingredients that policy makers, industry leaders, artists, activists, and the list goes on, can begin to cook a feast with - with unbound creativity. And if it all goes right, Detroit could be a model city that other cities in the United States could look to for advice. The key will be to thoroughly study the successes and mistakes of other cities in history and to conduct small prototype-like experiments on what might actually make a city in America better. The risk is this: It can either go really well, or it can go very poorly. There is no middle ground. 

 

Metropolis Bike Shop  in Corktown.

2. The People

Watching people is probably one of life's greatest gifts. No - not in the creepy way that some of you may have just interpreted it, but in the piecing together way of understanding a culture that can be then be described on paper from an anthropological perspective. Sheesh people. Come on. :) Side Note: I fundamentally believe this is why one must travel. It doesn't have to be to another country but even to neighboring towns - this not only brings self-awareness but also births inspiration.

During my experience in Detroit, I not only met a group of people who I can already call my extended family but from a community perspective, I experienced a lot of eye-contact and simple 'Hello's' from random strangers. I thought this was strange at first not only because of its sheer existence (I'm from Los Angeles where ignoring people is the norm) but these interactions had one thing in common compared to many other cities I have visited - and that is sincerity. What I noticed is that the scarcity of people in Detroit as well as the condition of the city of Detroit, has created a culture of human acknowledgement and small encounters that are just as connective as a 3 hour long chat with a friend with coffee in hand. What beauty, no?

I thought about why this behavior exists and what I have found is that the people of Detroit, those who have been born and raised there as well as those who have made it their home, are perhaps under a level of survival mode. I could hear silent voices whispering, "You must acknowledge one another. You must depend on each other. The others have left us and they aren't coming back. You are all we have." I could be totally wrong but I do believe that there is a level of truth to my analysis. When you're in survival mode you see extreme behavior which is something that Detroit is no stranger to. As much kindness I received from gentle strangers, there was just as must violence in the neighborhood next door. 

 

This image is from some steps of a home at  The Heidelberg Project .

This image is from some steps of a home at The Heidelberg Project.

3. The Political Climate

When I met a few of the people I was going to be working with for the first time, they educated me on several things that would prep me for my stay. One statement rang truer and stronger than others and it was this:

"If you're going to live in Detroit, you have to be willing to talk about Detroit. All the time." 
- Adam + Lena Selzer

I'd like to bring attention to this fact only because this is the kicker for how Detroit can and will change - and, quite frankly, the fact that everyone wants it to change. Politics as we know it is in shambles right now but when humans are presented with devastation, one of two things can happen. The ill-willed politicians can arrive and push an agenda that has a manipulative and underlying benefit for another population; or a community can rise up and write their own story if given the opportunity and the tools to do so. To the people, from the people. 

During my stay, Grace Lee Boggs passed away. I'm not quite sure how the community of Detroit felt about it only because I didn't hear a lot of people talk about it. I didn't have a TV so news reports weren't really spouting information to me about this either. I did have the internet though and there were several articles written about her physical and spiritual departure. What did this mean for Detroit? Something in the air was fishy and I feel as though her departure may have been a wake-up call for the city to use as inspiration for the future. Her writings on politics and new societies will be even more precious because of her death and perhaps the city will consider acting upon her wisdom and knowledge. Maybe Detroit needed her spirit to leave in order to become what she wanted it to be.

The fact that our U.S. government made an investment into the city of Detroit is reason enough to know that in the game of politics, all eyes are on Detroit. Who will make the first move? Who will be the leader of change? Who will be the villain in the story? Can Detroit actually become a great city again? I suppose time will tell.


Maybe this was a honeymoon stage of my relationship with Detroit. Perhaps there is so much more that I didn't see and this entry is absolutely invalid. What I do know, though, is that I am shaped by my experiences which are now shaping my thoughts and expectations about Detroit in a personal way. I cannot stress the fact that this is why UX is so critical to our lives. People make decisions based on what they know and have experienced in the past - as well as whether or not they feel safe enough to experience something new and different in the future. As a UX professional, what will you consider when you are designing your next experience? 

From what I have seen, there is so much potential for this city. The hardest part of something that has potential is that most of the time, the thing must meet its appropriate nurturers to correctly lead it up to where it can reach. On the flip side, the thing must recognize its nurturer and commit to struggle through the pain of growing into something it wants to be. It would be an atrocity to see Detroit go into shambles again especially when the potential is so high. America has never had a city that hasn't disappointed its citizens and the problem most likely exists within the larger government. The thing that I can't get out of my mind though is, "How has Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen achieved such greatness in their constructs of their environments? If they can do it, aren't there ways that we can? Why must we always be so reactive rather than proactive with our communities?"

Can HCD and its various forms help Detroit? If you'd ask me, I'd say, "Absolutely."


More visual TREATS:

What Is A Sabbatical?

I first heard of the word sabbatical in practice when I was at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, WI from a guy named Robert Zolna. He stated that his time period was 1 full year. Since he was in the same field of work that I am in, it sparked my interest and as I began to talk to him about his current commitment, I was even more intrigued at the state of peace he was in and how much he was enjoying his decision.

It made me think.
 

What exactly was he doing on a daily basis?
What was his goal? 
Was he lonely?
What made him take the step to do so?


So I looked it up. Being a book nerd, I naturally went to the dictionary first and this is what I found:

sab·bat·i·cal

səˈbadək(ə)l/
noun
1.  a leave often with pay granted to a college teacher for study or travel, traditionally every seventh year.
2. a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research, etc.
3. a break or change from a normal routine (as of employment)

adjective
1. of or relating to a sabbatical.
2. (archaic) of or appropriate to the sabbath.

 

Three things I gathered from this definition were: 

1) Every seven years of work
Reflecting back on my work life, I began to count and the years and it amounted to 7. Check. 

2) A break/change that can involve rest, travel, research, etc.
Good place to start thinking of structure and goals. I know I need to rest, I love to travel, and I'm always researching no matter what I'm doing. Perhaps more definitive structure will benefit non-structured time schedules. Ok, got it.

3) Related to the word 'sabbath'
I grew up in a very Jewish town and knowledge of religious meanings were prevalent. I know what keeping the sabbath is from a biblical perspective: A day of rest. A period of time to absorb solely for yourself to reflect on your surroundings. The folks in my town would lay back, attend a synagogue when the sun went down, and really take in the purpose of the day. So I concluded that what I needed to do was do nothing but rest and reflect with purpose. Check.

So then the question became, how long? To take a break for a year was probably not the best for me in my particular situation so I decided that 2-3 months would be a good time period and that I could gage from there whether or not I needed more time.  

But what goals would I be pursuing? 

I know that I love my industry and the mediums I have chosen for my art work so I decided that my goals would be the following:
1) What subject matter in UX/Service Design would I want to tackle next?
2) What project would inspire me to push my letterpress art further?

Through the next few months, I hope that I will be able to find the answers to these questions.