6 Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier

My senior year of high school we were told to write a letter to the incoming senior who would be taking our seat. Unlike most of the students in my class, I was really excited about this assignment in my last days of English class. I'm pretty sure I wrote at least three pages, mostly about how to win scholarships (that's how I paid my way through college). Maybe it's egotistical (and I hope it's not), but I really love figuring things out and sharing that knowledge with other people in similar positions. Last year, I wrote a post for andCulture about things I wish I'd learned in college. In the spirit of that post, I've figured out a few more things I wish I could have told myself earlier.

1. Don't wait for someone else to offer a handshake. Put yours out there.

At a recent AIGA event, I talked about this topic with a male colleague and he was really shocked. I told him that with men, shaking hands is typical not only in business situations, but also in casual situations and friendships. A man's handshake frequency is likely to be higher than a woman's. Since it's more common, it's less thought about—although I think men aren't always sure how to greet women when it comes to casual handshaking.

For women, we don't always have this handshaking relationship with others, men or women. In the U.S. at least, I find myself questioning the proper introduction and goodbye in non-business situations. With women I wonder if we're at the hugging stage. With men I try to guess if he's going to offer his hand first. It was very annoying.

I say "was" because at some point I decided I was tired of the uncertainty. So now, more often than not, I offer my hand first. Sometimes it catches people off-guard, but since it's a socially acceptable greeting, they recover quickly enough. And I feel more confident. So just offer your hand first.


2. Have a bucket list.

I did actually figure out this one early—I started my bucket list in high school. But what I thought might fizzle out after a month or two, turned out to be something I've added to and checked things off of for almost 10 years now. Maybe it's because checking things off is so satisfying, but my list has often given me the extra push I need to do something out of my comfort zone.

Sometimes it's simple (last month I went to a farm to milk a cow), sometimes it's frivolous (ride a tandem bicycle, which I got to do courtesy of Keas) and sometimes its downright unlikely (buying the house I grew up in is on the list). But having the list helps me remember to do things for the sake of wanting to experience them.


3. Look for opportunities to agree.

Even when you disagree with someone, pay attention to what you do agree on. If you can start a debate at a point of genuine agreement, you're more likely to have a healthy conversation rather than an ugly fight. The point is not to be right—it's to keep the conversation flowing toward the best possible outcome.

More than that, constant disagreement becomes a general sense of negativity, and it's downright depressing. You won't accomplish your best work if you're constantly thinking about what's wrong or bad about something or someone. Which brings me to my next point...


4. Stop complaining. Look for opportunities to do something good.

It is far too easy to complain about work, especially if you work in client services. There will always be something to be dissatisfied about, and you can choose whether to spend energy on anger and bitching.

My Dad always told me, if you don't like something, change it. You will feel better and go further if you instead choose to focus on exploiting opportunities instead of tolerating inadequacies. It's harder, but it's better.


5. Persistence and discipline matter.

The stories we read are highlights—a Fast Company article or a profile in GOOD magazine—that inspire us. They focus on turning points in someone's story, but most of life is not a eureka moment. Most moments are not revelations.

The "3 months later" that you don't see a moment of in a movie? That's when all the uncomfortable and exhausting effort happened, and it's not like a Rocky montage. Or rather, our constant efforts don't get nicely packaged into snapshots with Survivor music in the background, making 3 chin-ups look exciting when really, by chin-up 32, you want to take a nap.


6. Don't trust your ego.

Especially when you work in the design industry or anything online, you will be tempted to fight for your ego. Don't do it. Until you're willing to be wrong, you'll never be right.

I really can't stress this enough: there's a big difference between being confident in your abilities and being blind to better responses to a problem. If you're not willing to admit that maybe you don't know it all or have all the answers or all the best ideas, you won't seek out the information and inspiration you need to create something great. You must be willing to ignore your first great idea and push yourself to something better.


As a bonus item, I'd also advise everyone to turn to Buzzfeed Animals if they're having a tough day, because how can you possibly feel defeated when you're looking at corgis?


The Facebook Fast

Screenshot of Facebook deactivation Almost a month ago, I got the notion in my head to find out what life would be like without Facebook. I signed up in 2006, and while I was no longer at my peak use, Facebook had become integrated in my life in other ways. I wanted to find out how dependent my online life was on Facebook. Here's what I discovered.

  • Social login: I use Facebook for social sign-on for a number of apps and websites. Losing this functionality was one of my biggest concerns, but as it turns out, I don't depend on it nearly as much as I thought I did. Most sites allowed me to use my Twitter account to sign in, so dropping Facebook didn't mean losing social sign-on.
  • Information: Facebook provides a quick way for me to look up information I should really already know, like my roommate's birthday or how to properly spell my new niece's name. I can do it on the spot without anyone being the wiser. I do miss that.
  • Relationships: To be perfectly honest, the only pictures and milestones I miss having Facebook for are of my niece and nephew, and not having Facebook available at all times makes it more difficult to show off their cuteness on the fly. Okay, I also miss sharing cat videos with friends (they don't seem worthy of an email). What I don't miss, however, is life-bragging™ of people I went to high school with, or the constant political banter the election season and the wake of a tragic shooting in Connecticut. Instead, I get to just have real conversations with people about these important topics. People with whom I have an actual relationship of substance I talk with in person, on the phone, or (gasp!) write letters.
  • Advertising: One positive of Facebook is it provides small local businesses with a free online presence that doesn't look horrid. Deactivating my Facebook account didn't mean I couldn't access basic information like hours through Facebook, but it did mean I couldn't offer my support through Facebook likes. On the other hand, now I don't have to deal with a skewed feed telling me about all my friends liking Walmart, and that's pretty great.

Ultimately, leaving Facebook hasn't had nearly the withdrawal effect I expected, which is great. I left the app on my phone to find out how much time I mindlessly used it, and after about a week, the habit drastically reduced. I'm happy it's been that easy to let go of a false sense of connection in favor of fostering more meaningful ones.

A Response to "Universal Design IRL" (and ensuing commentary)

Earlier this week, Sara Wachter-Boettcher (editor-in-chief of industry darling A List Apart) wrote a poignant article about the importance of diversity in our industry and the challenges we still face to achieve that ideal. There was a lot of debate surrounding her assertions, and I'd contend that a large chunk of it completely sidestepped her real points.

The Clash

I was lured into a Twitter debate by this statement from Andy Rutledge (who seems to have blocked me in some way since our banter is now "protected;" luckily I took a screenshot of the conversation prior to the block so I can accurately quote both of us):

Newsflash: It's not 1830. Women and minorities are fully capable of fending for themselves. Apologists expose themselves as today's bigots.

I responded with a tweet that, in retrospect, could be construed as snarky but actually wasn't mean to be:

So thousands of years of power imbalance doesn't affect the present?

The point I was trying to make was that while yes, we are privileged to now live in a time and place that doesn't automatically discount people's abilities based on race or gender a majority of the time, the reality is that our culture at large hasn't entirely caught up with this ideal (and it won't for a while because change takes time).

The world we live in was, for most of history, built by and for white men.

I'm a fiercely independent woman, and I've done nothing but fight to support myself without help (particularly government help) since high school. So I wanted to hit him when he gave this ad hominem response to my question about the impact of history:

No. Welcome to the present. Walk on your own two legs. No one can do it for you. If they try, hit them.


Common Ground?

Here's a confession: not that long ago, I would've agreed with Mr. Rutledge's perspective.

I was raised by parents who didn't teach me that people often explicitly or implicitly look at women differently when it comes to abilities (that was fun to deal with first-hand working in a small Texas town). I grew up believing that if you work hard, your efforts are rewarded.

The reality is, I've discovered from experience, the world doesn't work that way all the time. I wish it was a simple/straightforward as Mr. Rutledge makes it out to be, I really do. I've just experienced too much evidence to the contrary. And personally I'd rather be part of creating a solution than part of feeding the problem.

Instead of focusing on points of disagreement, let's pull out where we probably ultimately agree: women are just as capable as men. Take a moment to appreciate that agreement.

Done? Great.


The Resolution

I think the first step to getting closer to our shared ideal is acknowledging that we're not there yet. It is okay to not be there yet because we are moving in the right direction and we've got to give up being so defensive about our faults.

Here's where I think my opinions and experiences clash with those like Mr. Rutledge. For some reason (and this is an assumption of course), it feels like some readers took the article as some kind of admonition for diversity to be obligatory or even government-imposed (leftover political angst?). I can see how that would spark a lot of resentful feelings. In general, I'm not often in favor of forcing behaviors.

But I don't think that was Ms. Wachter-Boettcher's point. I think she intended to offer a more organic reflection on values and how we express those values to push us to get the most out of industry events.

In fact, when you return to the original article, that seems to be precisely what she's getting at (and what the discussion has sadly gotten away from). I'd contend that her calls to action boil down to two things:

  • Be a decent human being and don't tolerate inappropriate behavior by your peers, especially toward those who aren't traditionally part of your group.
  • Find ways to welcome people who can bring fresh insight into the industry because it will make us better.

What she's not saying? She's not saying white men are the enemy or aren't valuable. She's not saying to include minority groups out of obligation or pity. She's not saying that she always gets it right.

Instead of getting caught up in political philosophy, why can't we dig into the meat of what she's challenging us to accomplish in order to make our industry stronger? Personally, I'm growing leaps and bounds as an individual with the efforts of groups like Girl Develop It (women teaching women how to code). And guess what? I don't have to argue with anyone about it.