Shifting Direction Yet Again

I’ve been making a go of the “functional stationery designer” identity for a few months now, and in general I like it. However, I’ve been having the continuing feeling that the website focus (or perhaps my underlying intent) is still “wrong”. While I’m told that people still don’t have an idea of what I do, I’m sure that there IS a core to what I do; I just don’t know how to describe it. I am feeling that the single identity is limiting.

The original decision to focus on “Stationery Designer” as an identity was driven by a perceived need: People were confused on arriving at my website, and needed a simpler “handle” to help categorize me with respect to their own interests and needs. I thought the simpler handle was important because it would support the idea of making a living from selling things that I have personally designed. I still love that idea, and I still think it’s good to have a way that people can grasp you quickly, but it feels awfully impersonal and a little bit artificial.

I’d mentioned in my last Groundhog Day Resolutions Review that I feel like it’s 2005 all over again. That’s when I started this website, and perhaps it’s fitting that I’ve decided to reinstate the approach of “writing about what catches my eye.”

This is driven by two realizations about what I believe:

First, I’ve finally come to believe that my main joy in life is observing the “boom” that happens when a person’s cherished dream becomes something tangible. I love doing this for myself as well as seeing it happen to other people. I used to think that the mission for me would be that of a catalyst or guide. I no longer think this is the case; limiting my public expression to the “designer” or “stationery maker” filter would help me build a service-oriented identity, but I’m actually not a “full-service” kind of provider. I have a strong desire to let people figure out important insights by themselves. This comes from my belief that the really important insights are more powerful when the final shaky steps are taken alone. That’s a victory that I would never want to take away from anyone. I know that this is counter to the advice I was absorbing about “giving people the fish” from Chris Guillebeau’s 100 Dollar Startup book. I can build the stationery business along those lines so it is successful, but it’s not my personal desire.

Secondly, I believe there is great value in sharing our experiences with each other, so we know that we’re not alone in our endeavors. I’ve always done this, but it didn’t quite register until recently that I’ve been awfully serious about it. For the complete life-enhacing experience, I should be writing about stuff that excites and energizes me as well. I’ve not been doing this for fear of “diluting the focus” of the website and confusing people more. While this is a perfectly rational reason, it’s also pretty dumb. Why would I do something that prevents me from writing? I was reminded of this when listening to an old interview with Ray Bradbury, where he tells a childhood story of ripping up his Buck Rogers comic strip collection because his peers thought they were stupid:

“[…] a month later, I burst into tears and said to myself, ‘Why am I weeping?’ Who died?’ ” he said. “And the answer was me. I had allowed these fools to kill me and to kill the future.” From that time on, Bradbury said he would never listen to negative people again. “And I went back and collected the Buck Rogers comic strips and started to write about it,” he said. “And I became a writer.”

I’m not writing for a general audience. I am writing for people like you and me. It’s a small band of nerds, foodies, cat lovers, programmers, artists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who appreciate the freedom to pursue goals for the joy of being able to do it. For people like us, there is a universal appeal we find in stories where nutty people are trying to make the world a little more unpredictable and weird along the path to greatness. Something as fluffy as the pursuit of the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich, for example, reflects these desires in one mouth-watering package. Hybrid approaches! Novel perspectives! Discovering connections! Epic wins! The desire to absorb and remix these elements into our own lives is coded into our very DNA.

That’s what I miss from my 2005, and I want to bring that life back. I’m not exactly sure how this will play out, but sharing more of what’s tickling my mind is one way to create more points of engagement. If I don’t share my thoughts, how will people know that they’ve found a kindred spirit? How will new connections be forged otherwise? That’s what I’m talking about.