Surprise! You’re Already Here!

Surprise! You’re Already Here!

This morning I had a few interesting insights, which I feel compelled to share:

Insight #1:

I work better if I document as I go. It is how I focus. I have been thinking that focus is some mystical internal state that I had to achieve as a form of enlightened awareness. Actually, that’s probably still a laudable goal, and I shouldn’t be so quick to toss Buddhism out with the bathwater, but HECK, why not work with what I got? WRITING ABOUT WHAT I DO is MY PROCESS.

Insight #2:

The kind of design I do “is what it is.” I shouldn’t worry about what I wish I could do. As I’ve written before, I’ve had a lot of trouble accepting the “designer” label for myself, because I can easily see where I fall short. I have very high expectations for Design, on the order of enlightenment again. That’s great, but I am going to start accepting that what comes out of me is what comes out. People seem to like it, now that they can see what it is through the work I’ve made publicly available. The work examples themselves form the basis of a “contract of understanding” now. I just need to be firm about what it is that I can do well. Which leads to the next insight…

Insight #3:

I’m never happy if I don’t have enough. But maybe I do. You know how there are some people who are financially very successful, but never are satisfied and always want more? I have been so glad that I didn’t fall into that category, displacing my happiness in the shallow pursuit of infinite wealth. But then I realized that for me…money has been replaced by skill acquisition. I’m just as guilty of displacing happiness because I “never have enough skill” and feel like I’m not measuring up to my potential. Well…that isn’t very enlightened or cool.

Distilling these insights to general principle:

  1. If you’ve ever been frustrated that you aren’t doing something quite right, take the advice I got from the TV a few nights ago: If you knew the answer, what would it be? Start with what you know. Use your existing processes. We’re conditioned to think that there’s the “right tool for the job”, not to use flashlights as hammers, or screwdrivers as crowbars, and that tends to carry over into our mental processes…there must be a correct way that isn’t the way I’m doing it. If there are no technical and physical constraints, and it’s not going to actually kill you if you’re wrong, then take your strongest asset and try to make the job fit. I liked what Phil Torrone said at SXSW this year, about their acquisition of a programmable laser etcher: When you have a laser…everything looks laserable. We laughed because we knew that wasn’t true, perhaps even imprudent, but joyful in that pure hacker way. But heck, if all you have is a laser and you like using it…why not apply it? I think that productive people may accept this without question.

  2. The phrase, “Be satisfied with what you have” has never sat well with me, because it’s often delivered in a dream-crushing manner. If you’re a dreamer and a schemer like me, that attitude is anathema to the very core of your personality. So let’s rephrase this in a more positive light: Live your life like a toy collector. Instead of fixating on the end of the journey—for me, that was being Award-Winning Super Designer—work on acquiring that next great piece that moves your collection of experiences and skills in the right direction. If you’ve ever collected anything, you know the joy of this process.


p>I guess the theme here is finding joy in processes that you can embrace and work with now, bootstrapping your way to greater productivity. This may seem obvious to most of you out there, but it’s something I have to constantly remind myself of because I’m impatient. Oh, so impatient.


  1. annie 17 years ago

    I think I’ve figured out why I like reading your blog so much. You’re about three steps ahead of me, so every time you post a new insight or realization it answers something I’ve been questioning (sometimes not even realizing I was questioning it until I see the answer.) I’m working on a design and I’ve been focusing on not have the “proper” tools or skills, instead of on the result I can have despite (or maybe because of?) those limitations. Your post today makes a lot of sense to me.


  2. Corrie 17 years ago

    So well-put. Your insight #3 is perhaps one I’m guilty of, as well, and it was a bit convicting to realize that!

    I also like your “live life like a toy collector” phrase. I think the problem with “be satisfied with what you have” is that it carries the connotation that you stop trying, stop growing, and that you shouldn’t expect any more. But being able to enjoy and live with what you already have, while still having potential to have more joy (by moving up to the next level, whatever that looks like for you), sounds like a life of contentment and gratitude without stagnation.

    I want that!!

  3. jennifer 17 years ago

    I’m with Annie. Your tip #1 is something I was just considering about five minutes before I read your post. I write to figure out what I think.

    Thank you David (and Google Documents, the home of all my documentation).

  4. Lea 17 years ago

    I’ve never been satisfied with “Be satisfied with what you have” phrase. I think, however, what people really MEAN with that is to never lose SIGHT of what you have, not necessarily just be satisfied. For example, I am always aware that I am living a far more comfortable and rich life than the majority of the world, but that doesn’t mean I will be complacent and not strive for more, for whatever “more” means for me. For whatever success means for me.

    BTW, I think you would be VERY interested in reading a book called “Overachievement” by John Eliot, PhD. I really like all the points he hits on there.

  5. Peter Flaschner 17 years ago

    Dave – you hit the nail on the head with this statement:

    “I guess the theme here is finding joy in processes that you can embrace and work with now….”

    That’s the essence of enlightenment right there. Be present for the process of doing. Just do that one thing, and you’ll find your peace and your happiness.

    Try this simple trick: feel your fingertips as you type. As you go through your day, remind yourself to feel your fingertips. It will bring you right back to the doing, and from there anything is possible.

  6. BradFitz 17 years ago

    Dude, I loved the last bit about living your life as a toy collector. Makes me think of my own ongoing battle with procrastination and my frustration of waiting for the “final” completion of something.

    I related this to the fine art of getting something big accomplished by completing a series of small chunks. Helps you keep focus on what you’re doing and appreciating what you’ve done as opposed to the huge intimidating volume of work that is not done yet.

    Keep starting, the finishing will take care of itself.


  7. Britt 17 years ago

    Bravo! Only people afraid to chase after their own dreams ever offer up the “be content” platitude, well, and grandmothers too for some reason. Contentment is over-rated, particularly when you are having a blast planning your next move to acquire your next treasure.

  8. Ka-Ying 17 years ago

    Your insights on this is especially true for industrial design students such as myself.  I can’t think of any one of my studio-mates who aren’t questioning themselves with the exact same thoughts.  Our studio unfortunately feeds and builds on the “measuring up” to our own high expectations and fellow colleagues.  This is especially damaging and often oppressive to our freedom to express our creativity, imagination and give open feedback that are absolutely nessesary in a design environment.  I love the “distilling” part of your insights, it reminded me that design is finding joy in the learning process and accepting your work as it is at the moment.  I like this kind of “declaration of freedom to design ” uplift in this post.  Thank you, Dave!