Am I a flake?
Since graduating college, a group of my friends and I have kept up a pretty regular video chat. We touch base every few months and update each other on our crazy new fad diets, our weird minimalism kicks, our moves, our jobs and our loves. As wonderful as it’s been to get to watch my friends lives evolve and grow as they come into their own, a small cranky part of me has always dreaded these calls.
As I watch my friend’s succeed in their fields, it’s hard to not feel like a bit of a flake … almost every time we chat I feel like I’ve just started some crazy new career.
First I wanted to be a therapist, and volunteered for CARES, an on-campus crisis hotline.
Next I was a researcher – a Neuroscience graduate who was dissecting fruit flies in the quest to cure cancer.
For a short time after that, I worked as a scientific illustrator, drawing feet for a living while I figured out my next step (get it? step? get it?).
That led into illustrating a children’s book about a steampunk girl and her robot friend living post-WWI and another about a bumble bee trapped on a NYC subway car.
After that I decided to start a business screen printing illustrations of vintage egg beaters or goats onto eco-friendly tea towels.
Finally (I thought) I found my way to graphic design, and I helped people who I believe in brand their dreams.
But now I’m at Ei, discovering, yet again, that the career I’d chosen probably isn’t the right one for me – I’m changing paths again, this time from graphic design to design research.
Looking at my life from the perspective of these calls, it’s hard not to cast myself as the flighty friend who’ll never pick one road and stick with it – a feckless flake.
That’s certainly one way of looking at it.
But as I work on an ethnography study at my current apprenticeship, it’s becoming easier to look at it all from a different angle.
As I listen to tapes of my interviews, I hear myself using active listening and mirroring word choices - techniques I’d picked up during my time at CARES.
While putting together my methods for this term’s study - I remember writing grant proposals during my time as a researcher and make sure to keep that level of rigor.
While looking at the various stakeholders and the often-contradictory forces involved in the community I’m examining, I’m so grateful for having had the chance to start businesses - small environments with limited variables that make it easy to see where systems might get out of whack.
And as I sit with interview subjects, trying to suss out what they’re really trying to communicate I can’t help but remember every client meeting I’ve ever had, where I tried to somehow see that picture they had in their head.
If I look at my story from this angle - it almost seems like all those steps were on purpose… part of some grander design. I definitely prefer this perspective. It’s a little easier to hold my head up as I tell people that “no, that business closed” and that “I don’t draw feet anymore, and that you should probably show a doctor that wart, not me” … but more importantly, I think that seeing how everything’s come together in the end will make it easier for me to believe that will keep happening in the future. Maybe next time I try to run down some completely random path I can trust that it’ll all work out in the end.
Michelle loves to help foster resilient communities through immersive research, emotionally connective data visualization and thoughtful branding. She’ll be using the Ei program to design her master’s in Design for Social Impact – she is interested not only in using her design chops for good, but specifically in how powerful design can be used to build forward-thinking communities – the kinds of communities that can prevent things like food insecurity, social injustice and inequality, and can survive calamity by supporting each other.