Something good can work
About a year ago I wrote about “falling off the map” after two years of putting my heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into my work. Since returning home, I have reconnected with the same non-profit while also writing for a magazine and working on volunteer projects. Now, with some perspective, I feel I am closer to realizing what I am meant to do.
First, I have to say that I am lucky to have found meaningful work as a young professional. Spending my days at an advocacy has made me feel as though I am part of something greater. Typing letters, writing reports, preparing for meetings, running around at events, exchanging ideas with co-workers, connecting with communities—all of it matters. There is nothing that can replace the feeling of waking up in the morning and being certain about making a difference.
But it is only now that I can speak about this again with affection. While I learned how to act purposefully and with perseverance in those first two years, there was overwhelming pressure to create impact as one of only ten or twelve people in the organization. I lost evenings, weekends, and holidays to “the bigger picture” thinking that I could do more by spending every waking moment at work. Of course, it could only end in tears…and a one-way ticket out of the country.
When I came back from my gap year, I thought I was sure of what I wanted: a fun and easy nine-to-five with decent pay. This quickly turned into a series of projects that didn’t require me to show up at an office every day. In the past twelve months, I have worked on three books, put together more than fifteen events, and written endlessly. It has been a wild and thrilling ride not knowing what comes next, but in my heart I feel it is time to respond more seriously to the pull of my life’s purpose.
In his book Long Walk to Freedom Nelson Mandela wrote: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” Slowly and recently returning to the advocacy, I have found that there are still mountains of work to be done. This comes as no surprise to me. I have always taken this as an indication that what we do is relevant, helpful, and inspiring and that people expect wonderful and important things from us. What has changed is how I deal with the pressure of making a difference.
Now I know that letting go is part of being love with something. Stepping away from my desk for a quick coffee, leaving the laptop at the office when the workday ends, or taking a holiday—these are also things that matter. The band Mumford and Sons said it best in the song The Cave which recommends coming up for air to mend a broken mind. Taking time to “live my life as it’s meant to be”—out in the world, in the company of family and friends, and in search of my best and most authentic self—has allowed me to return to my work with fresh eyes, a ready heart, and newfound appreciation each day.
There are stretches of time when the chemistry is undeniable. After all, finding flow is a result of doing work that is perfectly matched to my ideas and ideals. I am only too happy to lose myself in such moments, knowing that they can only lead to good things and that I can regain my bearing when the dust settles.
Perhaps one of the most difficult lessons I have had to learn is the connection between love and truth in the workplace. According to the children’s author Wilma Yeo “to be dishonest is to be unkind” and I agree. I’d like to think that finding work that I care about has turned me into an honest person, able to admit when I am wrong or when I have reached my limit, and most importantly, to speak the truth when it matters. More than being nervous, sounding silly, or making mistakes, what I am afraid of is losing the opportunity to influence the survival of an organization that has added to my life in more ways than I can count or ever hope to deserve. Of course, when I offer suggestions or bring up issues I try to choose my words with care and speak with patience. “To be unkind,” Yeo continues, “is to be dishonest to yourself and to your art.”
If this is the way I approach my work, it is because I have already taken the time to fall in love with its complexities and to understand its imperfections. Past the honeymoon stage, it is now a matter of giving what I can without losing sight of who I am and what else I can accomplish. I have made my peace with past difficulties without forgetting the lessons I have had to learn the hard way. Something good can work if you know how to let go.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I come back to this quote by the novelist Terry Pratchett. In his book A Hat Full of Sky he writes, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
Discipline, quality vs. quantity, and the power of “intellectual elegance” – remembering the great Massimo Vignelli, who died on Monday.
"Inspired by Stefan Sagmeister’s project "Things I Have Learned" and the many professional and personal experiences and turmoil in the first year since my graduation from the Zagreb School of Design I created a series of minimalist typographic posters illustrating the simple maxims and thoughts I had come to realise.
My first personal exhibition, featuring the posters, was opened on the 24th of January at the Boonika Gallery in Zagreb. The following are the posters, the exhibition visuals and images from the making-of.”
Designer and visual artist based in Zagreb, Croatia. He is also one of the founders of Rational International, a creative communications collective.
"…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again."