Colleen Miller

contriving a purpose . graphic + interaction design

Fail, Fix, Chill, Repeat

Posted June 26th by sysadmin in Thoughts

I used to believe that getting to true happiness was about working hard, building up a big stock of success, then sitting back to enjoy it. Since arriving in New York ten years ago, a big step itself for most anyone coming from a life lived elsewhere, I’ve redrawn my map with some bold strokes in an attempt to forge a considered path seeking the sometimes-elusive happiness and fulfillment that always seemed close, but not close enough. The catalyst for coming to New York was my husband’s acceptance to graduate school, the very program I longed to be accepted to. He was much more organized, got his stuff together and applied first! We built our careers and our life by accompanying each other through our individual and shared goals. We started a design business, bought a home (wait, did we really do that just to paint our own walls and get a dog?), then personally, I added all sorts of activities to practice my every desire to learn things like cooking and coding and foreign languages. Soon we chose again to endure graduate school, this time my own acceptance, to pivot and reinvigorate my design career. I had high hopes of making a more significant contribution to our business. It was a test in all things taxing but exhilarating to a young couple.

Graduation was the big exhale that allowed me to look around and enjoy everything we had accomplished both individually and together, and I was happy. But In the blink of an eye, my life as I loved it was ending, my marriage had collapsed unexpectedly, I was pregnant and swimming in a sea of confusion, indecision, and closures. There was one thing kept me moving forward—the physically tiny but emotionally gargantuan new beginning—the life of my daughter.

I have the incredible honor of being privy to these firsthand experiences of a brand-new human. In just one and a half years, everything has twisted, again, in proportion. Big things grew small while little things take on momentous proportion. Everything that mattered before shifts, some things remain crucial while others take a distant back seat. Changes like this require you to reconsider your goals, location, and more importantly, your every moral pillar. Was the app I was working on so important when I was told my unborn child might be born with Downs Syndrome? It is, when I consider what kind of support I can truly provide. Are temper tantrums so important when a friend loses her baby after trying for over a decade? They are, when they help build the compassion I need to be a better friend and listener. A tiny person’s very potential is a new lens for seeing every aspect of life and makes the fragile demands of balance even more complicated.

So, what does any of this have to do with being a designer? My career remains an integral part of my life. While the members of my family are my very first priority, our health and well-being is the underlying reason why I do the office thing—because I can provide what we need while fulfilling my own interests of working creatively to build useful things. This new phase, with a tiny orange-haired lady looking up to me to learn how to live, gives me great hope for blending work and family, and a whole new perspective that translates to my career as an interaction designer. Every morning she stops at a manhole cover, and exclaims “circle!” Then a 3-inch curb provides endless enjoyment—of all the things to play with, she wants to spend time on a curb? How could someone have so much fun climbing up and down a block of concrete? Before her, I often scoffed at the idea of simplifying, of minimizing, of anything being less than just how I want it. Something I may have deemed as insufficient or incomplete is perceived as perfect and full of wonder in my daughter’s eyes. She helps me see life and appreciate simplicity in a very inspiring way.

I’m coming around to the idea of giving something a try even when I know it’s not awesome yet. At work, we call it MVP (Minimum Viable Product). We practice Agile development to ship progress incrementally. I struggle hard with this concept. I either work too hard and too long on something that may or may not be working, or I procrastinate long enough until I really have no choice but to bounce ideas off of my peers for help. Now the whole idea of iterating progressively takes shape from these learnings, using nothing more than essential features to grasp a vision and test its effectiveness. I’m constantly learning from the simple tests of watching another human learn. Hindsight could and should tell you if something is wrong. Making things better is all in how you deal with the fixes.

Everyone has superpowers and mine include a very patient understanding of many different perspectives, rolling with any punches that come my way, and fierce loyalty. I’m counting on these along with new skills to keep on creating the world I want to live in. We’re in the process of rebuilding the broken marriage, fixing things that needed reworking. The experience of profound loss and betrayal allowed me to discover what I most treasure, and how to adapt when I have no control. I’ll never again operate under the illusion that everything is just as it should be, or that nothing I’m working on is good enough. Because even when something’s working you’ve got to put in the effort for maintenance and growth. Looking backward is helpful for the sake of wisdom but only in moving forward, failing, observing, and fixing—can I create the “new beginnings” essential to nurturing happiness—a welcome, constant, beautiful cycle of them.

Part of Write On!, a writing club started by a group of friends.
Theme one: Beginnings. Continue reading posts from Tina, Prachi, Tom and Tony.


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