“Designer” is my self-appointed title. No one gave it to me. I did not purchase it from a university. I did not receive it from an employer. Nor was it bestowed on me from some design guru. So far, it is the only word that adequately describes my sense of vocation.
My school teachers wouldn’t have been surprised that I’d be called a Designer, but would likely be puzzled by my path getting there. Some prophesied I’d be an Artist or a Teacher. Others were confident I’d hold a title in the English profession (I always thought they were confusing me for another student). Coming out of high school I was convinced I’d eventually be called an Architect (a dream I haven’t let go of quite yet). My high school guidance councillor suggested I’d be an Engineer instead. More job security I guess. I certainly proved her wrong. Needless to say, the path to my current title has been long and winding. I’ve tried on many different titles along the way:
Newspaper boy. A role I took very seriously and worked diligently at, and yet was never compensated for. Lesson: never trust adults.
Leisure Department Sales Associate. I compulsively kept my aisles neat and orderly. The land of toys and hockey sticks was my kingdom.
Parks & Recreation Maintenance Worker. My affinity for straight lines and freshly cut grass served me well in this role. I learned the therapeutic value of working in nature and how fast a golf cart can really go.
Pizza Maker. Symmetrical. Balanced. My pizzas were art. My art was under appreciated by the establishment.
Engineering Student. The title given to young people who are highly skilled at procrastination, multi-variable calculus, consuming copious amounts of energy drinks, and capable of writing final exams on zero sleep.
Field & Lab Technician. Fancy name for someone who collects dirt, weighs dirt, filters dirt, and occasionally tastes said dirt. All science. Very little art involved.
Project Engineer. A title my engineering degree failed to prepare me for and so Google and a grouchy old foreman became my true teachers.
Frontline Homeless Shelter Staff. Didn’t see that one coming did you. Somewhere between eating lab dirt and experiencing the real-life version of Office Space, I had an epiphany that I did not want to be an engineer. Never did. Quitting engineering didn’t make sense to most people around me, but somewhere deep down I knew this move was the start of living my own life.
Intensive Case Manager. This role changed everything for me. Exposure to human suffering, the nature of addiction, and the systematic failings of government and non-profit organizations drove me to dive deep into the worlds of psychology, philosophy, and the design of human services. I learned humans need purpose, place and belonging in order to thrive.
Program Manager. I learned that I am not a manager. The idea of being given a box and tasked to keep the box tidy, for me, is the definition of suffocating boredom. I learned that I am a true problem solver, and before that, a maker. I’m much more interested in breaking free from the status-quo and creating something new.
Tutor. Engineering did impart some useful mindsets and skills - namely, curiosity and a love for science and math. I’m not particularly gifted in either subject, but I discovered their usefulness in the process of designing and making things, and that gave me confidence to figure out any problem I encounter. This is the lesson I tried to pass along to my students. It was while playing tutor that I had the idea for what has become Make Good.
Student. Probably the most accurate title to define my perpetual state of being and one I will hold on to for the rest of my life.
My resume of titles is lengthy and diverse. I can’t imagine it any other way. With each title and role I discovered new parts of myself. Learned how my creativity is most freely expressed. I picked up useful information and insight on how the world works and what it means to be human. Most importantly, each title gave me something to push against and force me to answer the questions of what I really wanted to be, who I really wanted to be, and what I wanted to make with my life. I am still figuring that out.
I now hold all titles loosely. They can only ever define a part of me. And they’re mostly just useful for dinner parties and those awkward family get-togethers where you need to pretend you have your life figured out. But then again, who really has it figured out?
Perhaps that’s why I’ve gravitated to the world of design; an arena full of people trying to figure it out. Using all the tools, skills, and bits of wisdom they can collect in order to find expression and form to the thing that’s emerging within and around them. People who aren’t satisfied with the way things are but are endlessly fascinated by the way things are. People who aren’t afraid to tackle a problem incomprehensibly bigger than themselves. People who aren’t fearful of failing because failing is just an opportunity to grow and learn something new. People who know if they don’t make something and share it with the world, they will explode and die.
So, yes, I’m a Designer. Until that title can no longer communicate who I am becoming, I will wear it proudly. I will take it’s role seriously but with a grin, knowing I’m still trying to figure it all out.
What are the titles you've held in the past and how have they informed where you are today?
Are there one or two in particular that offered transformative lessons and insights into your own creative path?
Feel free to share below.