Category Archives: General Thoughts

This category is a catch-all for things that don’t adequately fall within the other categories on the site.

Who are you to write?

Facing the voices of fear.

I’ve been torn lately. Part of me wants to write more often, to branch out and speak up. The other part of me fears that I am too easily sucked into the narcissistic current that is pulling our Internet-fueled broadcast culture out to sea.

Writing offers a platform for vulnerability. By speaking up, by publishing my thoughts, I may let others know they aren’t alone in their experiences. The written word allows conversations to take place with people I’ve never met, relationships to form that geography prohibits. There’s immense good that comes from the Internet and the ease with which we can share our thoughts with others. I’ve experienced this firsthand and have been greatly encouraged, sometimes rescued, by the words posted by a stranger on the Internet.

But it’s also noisy here.

Everyone has a blog. Everyone has a Facebook page they update with the mundane details of their lives and links to other blog posts that reenforce their opinions or whatever made them laugh. I can barely keep up with my Twitter feed, short 140-character nuggets of information, hilarity or inspiration that I’m afraid to miss. We’re all clamoring to be heard, to be known. It’s like we’re collectively tugging at the shirt of an invisible parent, asking, “Do you notice me?”

By writing, am I hoping to be noticed? Will I be adding to the scramble for attention? Will I add to the noise? I hang back from jumping into the blogosphere (is that still a thing?), and ask myself, “Do I have anything worth saying?” Yes, we’re all valuable, we’re all worth listening to. But do I need to broadcast my thoughts? Is the internet the best place for these written monologues? How much energy should I put toward trying to write more for an unknown internet “audience” (I guess that’s you if you’re reading this!) versus spending more time and making myself more available for the friend who wants to get coffee?

We’re all pretty good at talking. Maybe I should listen more first?

That was what I was thinking initially when I started this post. Listening is a good thing and maybe I’ll write about that next. I had taken a break from editing this post and read in Jon Acuff’s book, “START”, and chapter 3 hit me between the eyes. I realized that this post started because I’m listening to the voices of fear, disguised in some sort of psuedo-modesty.

“Who are you to write?”

“What could you possibly have to contribute to the conversations?”

“Do you think you’re smarter than the people who have already had these discussions?”

So I’m going to post this. A toast to living without fear, to shutting the voices up. May you recognize your own voices and call them out for the lies they are. Start. (Thanks, Mr. Acuff.)

The Sensitive Man

“Real men don’t cry.”

Popular culture at large demands a sort of detached, impenetrable strength from its men. It applauds the “productive, confident, courageous, fierce and hard-working”—those admirable qualities tied to masculinity. Women get pegged with “delicate, sensitive, tender, emotional”, etc. Accepted psychology tells us men are task-oriented; women are relationship-oriented. There are general exceptions to the rules, but by and large, these are the patterns we see and the stereotypes we live within.

I have had a few stray conversations here and there, read an occasion article that lets me know this is not always the case, thankfully. I might be late to the party as culture expands its views on gender personality stereotypes, but in my experience, the change is happening way too slowly. I’m realizing that I’ve been drowning under the weight of these generalizations. I’m not saying I want to wear dresses (though, honestly, in the summer, that seems like it would be SO much cooler than pants… Scottish kilts anyone?), but I want to be able to be myself without feeling ashamed for having emotions, etc.

Too Sensitive

The other day, someone innocently joked that I was too sensitive, after I had apologized for something I shouldn’t have bothered apologizing for. No one had any idea, but it felt like getting kicked in the groin.

“You’re too sensitive.”

It rings with such a tone of accusation and contempt for me. I had to keep functioning, like I know how to do, but those 3 words continued to eat at me. Crafty little bastard of a phrase. If I let myself feel hurt by it, I made the accusation true. If I steeled myself against the sting, it required disengaging and choosing to bury my feelings and thoughts, slowly disappearing inside. Felt like a lose-lose situation. I think I’ve been caught in that tension for years. A girl said that to me a long time ago and it’s been haunting my life ever since. I didn’t realize it until now.

And the problem with that, and the way our culture views masculinity, is that I’ve had to hide the fact that I’ve been hurting, that I’m emotional and sensitive. That’s not “manly”. Writing this post, which I understand in theory as brave and vulnerable, feels like some sort of death sentence. Of exposing myself as weak and vulnerable. I know Brené Brown says “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage”, but it doesn’t feel courageous. It feels wimpy. Like I’m telling you to be careful with me, because I’m fragile. But that’s why I’m writing this, putting my chips all in, to hopefully begin to disarm those lies, heal the buried pain, and live more fully.

Confession

I am sensitive.

I have a lot of emotions that I don’t let show, because I’ve been ashamed to. I rely too heavily on my odd sense of humor to deflect attention and keep things comfortably on the surface, even though as an introvert, surfacey conversations drain me quickly. Small sacrifice to pay to keep from being labeled a sensitive baby, right? Unfortunately, wrong. Very wrong. I’ve been missing out on deeper friendships, honest conversations and opportunities for real compassion, because I was too afraid I’d be accused of being too sensitive. I don’t want to do that anymore.

I cry during movies and TV shows! When no one’s around, mind you. That’s because I’ve been too afraid of being “too sensitive”.

So here’s to stepping into the way I’m wired. Here’s to accepting myself, being kind to myself as Anne Lamott says. There will be a lot of uncomfortable blog posts soon, where I talk about my feelings, anxiety, depression, etc. It will probably get messy, but… I think life wasn’t meant to lived in fear.

Let’s watch a movie together. I’ll pick the movie; you bring the tissues. I’m going to need them.

No Shame

Trent Gillis asked the question on Twitter, When we lose our sense of shame and propriety, do we lose a sense of intimacy and depth?

In general, I’ve come to think of shame in the sense of honor versus shame. Both are estimations of value by a community based on a shared sense of ethics. If a community (or a person) has the power to shame me based on some action I’ve done, they also have the power to restore me to honor. I’m not getting into whether shame is a positive experience or not, because Brene Brown has written several books that incorporate way more research and insight into that topic. My understanding is that shame is a feeling experienced from an outside source, whereas guilt is a feeling, very similar in nature to shame, but coming from within (side note: guilt as a feeling is destructive, though guilt as a state is simply a reality. Did I break that window? Yes. Then I am guilty of that, regardless of how I feel. Whereas I can feel guilty about not attending someone’s party, though I in fact did nothing wrong. I digress!)

Since I think shame is ascribed to me by someone other than me, if we lose our sense of shame, I take that to mean that we don’t care what people think of us. We dehumanize and make irrelevant anyone’s opinion but our own. In doing so, to answer Trent’s question, I believe we do lose a sense of intimacy and depth. By ignoring those around us and what they may think (whether shame or honor), we cut ourselves off from intimacy because intimacy requires two active parties being vulnerable with each other with who they are.

Intimacy seems to say, “Here I am, warts and all. Know me, understand me, accept me, love me, and I will seek to do the same with you.”

Having no shame says, “Here I am. I don’t care what you think. I do what I want.”

And outside of the messy world of “other people” where grace and understanding and forgiveness and patience are necessary in order to create intimacy, this lack of shame and propriety create islands of individuals who have disregarded anyone’s opinion of their actions but their own. And if we refuse to let people affect our lives—actions, thoughts, motivations, etc—we automatically privatize our true selves, leaving only the shallow stuff “out there” to talk about, whether celebrity news, sports, gossip, TV, etc. 

Shame and propriety are in some way an acknowledgment that you (plural) matter to me. Losing that sensitivity removes the ability for us to connect on a deeper level.

Specializing Vs. Doing It All

After attending the Baltimore chapter of AIGA’s Converse event this week, there’s still a lot rolling around in my head. The topic of conversation for the round-table (which was actually a group of square tables pushed together in an L shape, ha!*) was about which was better or necessary: being a jack-of-all-trades or specializing in one area (whether it be a market/industry or a medium—like print, or trade show booths or mobile apps, etc.).

As a front-end web designer and developer (or whatever it is you call what I do these days), I believe the correct answer for an individual, as opposed to a business, is to be a jack-of-all-trades as much as you can.

I can’t speak as authoritatively about the world of print-based design. Yes, the mediums of the print world are varied and each brings its own challenge, but it is always known when the designer sets out to create something, whether that is a trade show booth backdrop, a direct mail piece or an annual report. That’s a luxury that we’ve taken for granted, I think.

Designing for the internet, however, that has become an ever-expanding beast. “Canvas” is nearly irrelevant at this point, as users will be interacting with our products on smartphones, tablets, huge monitors, smart-TVs, e-readers, game consoles… and that’s just right now. Smart-watches, augmented reality screens and audio-interfaces will quickly become part of the normal digital landscape and our job in this web industry will be trying to figure out how to best serve our and our clients’ content to the user in the most logical, usable and enjoyable way possible.

So, because of how quickly the web “medium” is expanding, I think there’s no way around it—we must dive in with both feet and be jacks (or jills) of all trades. It will soon no longer suffice to say you can build a mobile app for smartphones, because a client will want to make sure it can also work in a car’s in-dash display or on their smart-refrigerator display. If we don’t continue to push ourselves to learn these evolving technologies, we will become obsolete, just like a web developer who learned HTML tables and refuses to learn CSS and flexible, div-based layouts.

Now, the only caveat to that statement, is that it is also unrealistic to expect ourselves to become experts at all of these technologies and frameworks. You might become an expert at CSS3, but that will require you to understand HTML5 and browser- and mobile-compatibility, including some knowledge of Content Management Systems (and perhaps some basic PHP and Javascript skills). Beyond that, you’ll need to understand some human psychology and user-experience best practices, and maybe have some familiarity with analytics tools to help back up your research and make sound recommendations to your boss or clients. It is improbable you will have the time and mental strength to achieve mastery over all these elements. And by the time you master one piece, it could become obsolete with the launch of some new product or technology. That sounds daunting, I know. Unless you give yourself the space to make mistakes and be okay with not being an expert at everything, you’ll drown under the weight of trying to master this ever-changing digital landscape.

And that brings me to something I’m really starting to enjoy about this industry. Collaboration and sharing are strangely normal—even prized. Proprietary software has always had a bad rap, and it seems as though proprietary skills and workflows are garnering the same heat. The internet connects us in ways we couldn’t prior to its existence. That seems to fuel the creative energy and collaborative spirit amongst those of us actively creating websites and apps to facilitate those connections. What does that mean for this “specializing vs doing it all” question? It means that you aren’t alone. There’s a whole industry of people willing to share their knowledge, experience and time to help you keep growing and learning. If you don’t know something right away, there’s always going to be someone willing to help, or who knows someone who knows something and can help you connect with them.

So dive in! We’re all just figuring it out. Between follow creators, and learning sites like teamtreehouse.com and lynda.com, there are so many ways to connect and learn. It’s okay not to know everything! Just keep learning.

* This was a tiny pre-cursor to my lame, dry sense of humor and how that will inevitably sneak its way into this blog now and again.

As I Begin

Branding yourself or planning your own project is always so difficult, despite having the freedom of being the sole decision-maker!

It’s been weird thinking through how to begin this blog, because I always want to wrestle with all the planning and brainstorming that goes into the “why” of a project, rather just jumping into the “how” to get the project completed. Thinking through the goal of this blog, planning out the categories to use, determining which static pages will be worthwhile, let alone trying to come up with a compelling, interesting design, have all been strange processes to force myself to go through. It’s been a cool exercise! I’m trying to balance that, however, with the need to “ship”, as Seth Godin talks about. So I’ve decided that I’m going to let this blog be an iterative process as I design and build it out further.

This is a WordPress blog, obviously. I won’t bother outlining the process of setting up your own WordPress installation, as others on the internet have done a sufficient job of that.

For now, I’ve installed WordPress on this domain and established a few categories. Nothing major.

I’ll say that the hardest part of getting this off the ground was trying to think through what I wanted this blog to accomplish. And that illustrates what has always been the biggest hurdle in doing work for clients over the years. We do a lot of things in this industry without asking “why?” And without the “why?”, there’s no tangible way to know if you’re progressing toward a successful completion of a project, or just making more noise on the internet.

So my goal with this blog, and the criterion with which you can help me critique its effectiveness, is to share the knowledge I’ve learned over the years and the knowledge I’ll acquire as I continue shipping projects. I want to create a site worth bookmarking for folks looking to understand WHY we do what we do, before moving on to the HOW we do what we do.

Hope it’s helpful. Thanks for reading.