Exactly one month ago, I posted some lessons I learned by my 25th birthday. I’ve been reading lots of inspirational books and articles lately, so I wanted to keep the theme going with a few of my favorites. I’ll just post the links and my favorite quotes, but these articles are definitely worth reading in full. (Thanks to those who posted/sent these!)
Ten Things I Have Learned: Milton Glaser
A good lunchtime read is Milton Glaser’s lessons about living, working, and being human as spoken at the AIGA Talk in London. These are from a few years ago but every bit as relevant today. Here’s my favorite:
8. DOUBT IS BETTER THAN CERTAINTY.
Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a class in yoga where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believed that you had achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course we must know the difference between scepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins. And then in a very real way, solving any problem is more important than being right. There is a significant sense of self-righteousness in both the art and design world. Perhaps it begins at school. Art school often begins with the Ayn Rand model of the single personality resisting the ideas of the surrounding culture. The theory of the avant garde is that as an individual you can transform the world, which is true up to a point. One of the signs of a damaged ego is absolute certainty. Schools encourage the idea of not compromising and defending your work at all costs. Well, the issue at work is usually all about the nature of compromise. You just have to know what to compromise. Blind pursuit of your own ends which excludes the possibility that others may be right does not allow for the fact that in design we are always dealing with a triad – the client, the audience and you. Ideally, making everyone win through acts of accommodation is desirable. But self-righteousness is often the enemy. Self-righteousness and narcissism generally come out of some sort of childhood trauma, which we do not have to go into. It is a consistently difficult thing in human affairs. Some years ago I read a most remarkable thing about love, that also applies to the nature of co-existing with others. It was a quotation from Iris Murdoch in her obituary. It read ‘ Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.’ Isn’t that fantastic! The best insight on the subject of love that one can imagine.
How to Leave New York City
Every non-native New Yorker can relate to this post. We come to the most fantastic city in the world, expecting a life like Carrie Bradshaw or Blair Waldorf. Once you get here, you realize 2,000 square-foot rent controlled apartments are nowhere to be found and not everyone on the upper west side was born into a fashion empire that comes with a live-in personal assistant. And those glamorous jobs in the fashion and public relations industries don’t involve having weekly cocktails with celebrities on Chelsea rooftops. We are neither disappointed nor pleasantly surprised. New York is amazing. Not like the movies, but amazing nonetheless. But we come here to find ourselves – or at least establish an identity – and have lots of fun with lots of friends. In this way, New York always succeeds. But eventually, our rural roots creep in to pull us back to the suburbs where life becomes full-grown and “family” comes into focus. I still have a few good years left in me, but this article is a dead-on guide to getting back to the NJ suburbs.
See younger versions of you all over the city. 20-year-olds moving into their first apartment with their friends, carrying giant blue IKEA bags and purchasing a bed frame at Urban Outfitters. “I want to decorate this apartment, like, really cute,” they’ll say to each other. “I want it to feel comfortable and home-y, not a party house!” Their eyes are sparkling, they are always hungover, and they are not you. If you’re ever unsure about whether or not New York has changed you, just talk to someone who has only lived here for two years.
That’s what this is all about: change. It happens when you’re not even noticing and then all of a sudden BOOM! You find yourself wanting different things. That’s what time does to you though. it reveals new things about yourself each day. You can’t fight it. It’s useless. You’re just delaying the inevitable. People, places and things make sense to you until they don’t and when that happens, you have to get the hell out. People might think you’re crazy but it’s actually the opposite: you’re doing this to stay sane.
This one I found back when I was graduating college, so the meaning really hit home. J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement address is, like everything she writes, astounding. Unlike the graduation speeches I sat through, her words have meaning, her advice has purpose, and the speech and its truths will give you goosebumps. Apart from being my favorite writer, her intelligent insight delves into both success and failure, and how both have their benefits.
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
And finally, just to give you glimpse into what’s on my bookshelf and what my face is buried behind on my morning commute – I’ve been reading up on how to be more French. Yes, less American, more French. I remain as patriotic as ever – I love this country – but New York City can take its toll on your stress level and the French have gotten a few things right: maximum 35 hour work weeks by law, minimum 5 weeks vacation, and a cultural separation between what one does and who one is.
What have you read that’s inspired you lately?