Compassion in Tough Conversations

Recently, I was talking with a person who knew exactly how to press my buttons. We were talking back and forth about something big in the news — a heated conversation — when the topic shifted. Suddenly, I started hearing things about me: I had made bad choices, I had done the "wrong" thing, and I had disappointed people. I was now in an argument, and I was the one who felt attacked.

What do you do when you're under attack? My first instinct was to defend myself. I felt blood flowing through me at a faster rate; fight or flight was kicking in. Adrenaline was powering me through this. I couldn't just leave the conversation so I had to stay.

And I unleashed. I was angry. Everything I heard from the other person wasn't true or, at least, wasn't as I intended. But my actions were being twisted and changed into something far worse, something malicious, and something hurtful. Parts of me chimed in, “But... that's not me! That's not. I'm not a hurtful person! You're wrong!” Lots of defense. Lots of shielding.

The conversation was messy and did not end well. Both of us walked away at the end of it feeling hurt and angry. It did parts of us a world of good to vent and complain and attack like that, but other parts of us were left on the sidelines. We just couldn't be present in those moments. Right?

The illusion

This very driven and heated conversation stirred up our emotions and the bits of both of us that we had each been sitting on for a good long time. Heightened emotions and heightened actions. And yet, compassion and empathy were out the door in this case. Make no mistake: these are really hard instances in which one can practice these things but it is not impossible.

Setting aside our ego and our defenses in order to listen and be compassionate with that person can open the door to greater understanding, care, and connectedness. And yeah, yeah, it's something that I know, but in those moments? Way harder to tap on that. So much of me wanted to respond in kind... and I chose to do so. Of course, it's normal to be angry and pissed and upset in the moment. But we need to keep our ears open and working and present, and truly listen, even when a part of us saying, “Noooooooooo!”

How we respond is a choice. It always is, even when it feels like we have little say in the matter.


Dig this post? Come see me speak at WebVisions Chicago on September 26th! Tickets are available, and code MCALEER gets you 20% off. Register today.

The Qualitative Self

In July, I ran a tremendous amount (for me). I ran the most miles ever in a month, the most miles outside in a month, and the longest distance I ever ran in a month. It was fantastic. At the end of July I felt amazing. I felt great. I felt proud of what my body could do. I had spent some time scheduling out when I would run, and also kept it a little loose so if I missed a day, I would do it the next day.

After my great July, I decided to take a break. "I'll give myself a week," I said. A week went by, and hot weather returned. "I don't want to run in the heat," I told myself (which has always been true, and I don't have a treadmill.) Soon, I looked at the calendar and it was the end of August. I had not run for an entire month.

I noticed that I felt really bad about this, like I had done something wrong. I wasn't noticing how my body felt through not moving as much; rather, I was noticing how my mind interpreted my actions. I felt guilty, bad, and shamed about it. And then other parts of me chimed in and soon, I had put myself into a bad place with exercise again: feeling that I needed to do it… or else!

About that relationship

I started running about 4 years ago. Part of what has fueled this path is the fact that I've been tracking my runs with Nike+. It's a fantastic app, and it has definitely kept me encouraged along the way. I've felt stronger and better because of it, and I know I feel really good when I look at my numbers at the end of the run and make a few comments on my progress.

But in recent weeks, I realized something: all of this tracking, all of this quantitative work, had taken a lot of the fun out of running for me. I started to see it more as a chore and more as a thing that I had to do and, well, I tend to not enjoy things I have to do as much. (Working on that.)

It put me in a difficult place because, here I was, feeling really good about my own physical activity and my body. And yet, any time I wasn't running I started to feel bad about my physical activity and my body. Any time! And that's a lot of times. I got in my own head, as they say.

The new approach

I'm not walking away completely from the idea of tracking my runs. But I'm trying something new during September: I'm running on a very loose schedule and I'm not tracking my runs.

Yep. I'm not tracking them. Nothing goes in the Nike+ app. I listen to music, and that's it.

Based on my runs so far, I've noticed something: I feel way less pressure. It feels more spur-of-the-moment, and I notice that the guilt component is falling away. I notice that I do enjoy the runs a little bit more. I'm not tracking distance, pace, time, or any of that. When I feel I'm done, I'm done. And I work to forgive myself if my internal critic says, "YEAH BUT YOU RAN A 5K AT THE END OF JULY! GO GO GO!" When I'm done, I'm done, and when I can push myself, I will push myself.

It's a new aspect to the relationship, in other words: rediscovering the fun in it, and not just relying on the numbers to tell me I'm enjoying it.

I trust there will be a time when I track things again; I'm still strongly considering doing a "real" 5K in November. And at that point, yeah, I'll want to focus on improving things a bit more. But for now, just enjoying physical activity is a healthy place for me to be.

May Contain Editorial Content

I love podcasts so much that I started one. And I'm also terribly picky about UX and UI, as you can imagine, so I was excited to give Marco Arment's Overcast a whirl. Downcast was my mainstay: its feature set was fine but it was just... kinda... ugly.

Overcast offers a free version, and one can pay $5 to unlock a number of features. The features include things like a smart equalizer and downloads over cellular. And like most podcast players, if you're new to the genre (or just looking for something new), it offers a directory. Overcast offers both a straight A-Z searchable directory as well as a curated selection of programs, called a “Starter Kit”. The curated selection is what I want to talk about.

The Starter Kit is broken up into categories. As I was scrolling through these lists, I noticed something: there was a severe lack of gender diversity in almost every category.

I was curious if it was just me or not. So I went into each section and identified any hosts or co-hosts whose names are traditionally female, and verified those that were socially associated with either gender. If a description did not include any names, I chose to count it as not having female hosts or co-hosts. Here's where things netted out as of August 27, 2014.

  • In the comedy section, there are 9 podcasts, and 1 with a female co-host (Helen Zaltzman).
  • In the tech section, there are 10 podcasts, and 1 with a female cohost (Gina Trapani).
  • In the stories & variety section, there are 7 podcasts, and 1 with a female host (Ophira Eisenberg).
  • In the public radio section, there are 8 podcasts, and 1 with a regular female host (Terry Gross). Notably, some shows such as BBC Newshour have rotating hosts of all genders, and some shows in this section routinely feature contributions from women.
  • In the pop culture section, there are 7 podcasts, and 1 with female co-hosts (Claudia Dolph and Audrey Kearns).
  • In the philosophy section, there are 8 podcasts, and 1 with a female host (Krista Tippett).
  • In movies & TV section, there are 9 podcasts, and 2 with female hosts (the Verity! podcast with Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts; Erika Ensign once again, on the Babylon 5 podcast).
  • In the games section, there are 8 podcasts, and 1 with a female cohost (Emily V. Gordon).
  • In the business section, there are 8 podcasts, and none with female hosts.
  • In the turns out section, there are 8 podcasts, and none with female hosts.
  • In the politics section, there are 6 podcasts, and 3 with female cohosts (Emily Bazelon, Brooke Gladstone, and Arianna Huffington).
  • In the health section, there are 9 podcasts, and 2 with female hosts (Jillian Michaels and Monica Reinagel).
  • In the Apple development section, there are 8 podcasts, and none with female hosts.
  • In the Relay.fm section, which is a podcast network, there are 5 podcasts, and none with female hosts.

Note: after I initially wrote this in early August, the “retired greats” section (with 6 podcasts and no female hosts) was removed and replaced by Relay.fm. 

So, out of 108 distinct podcasts (2 Relay.fm shows are listed in two places), only 14 feature women in a regular host or co-host capacity. The Verity! podcast has the largest roster, with 6 female co-hosts (and all talking about Doctor Who? I subscribed.) This is a disappointing number.

The Obligation

Overcast written by a prominent person in the Apple dev community - Marco Arment, in this case. I also couldn't help but think about Vesper, the note-taking app headed up by John Gruber, also prominent in the Apple dev community. With these two apps, at least, there is a common ground: they have editorial points of view.

All apps entail design decisions, but for users they've typically been confined to the feature set or aesthetics. Vesper didn't have syncing for quite a while, and some people were quite upset by that. Overcast can be criticized for its feature set or its pricing model, but since Overcast includes editorial content in the form of this podcast directory, it can also be criticized for its podcast selection.

The main issue here is: is Overcast obligated to present a diverse list of podcasts? I say yes. Here's why.

The directory screen opens up as soon as you hit the “add” icon to subscribe to something new. Thus, lots of podcast show art shows up right away. It's visual, it looks great, and it has a prominent position. It has a lot of power. Thus, it blows the opportunity to expose people to ideas and shows that they might not have otherwise heard. A lot of these podcasts do sound like they could just be Marco's favorites - there's a lot of Apple nerdery and so forth. That starts to feel insular.

Most importantly, a Starter Kit or directory is a natural tool to help with that insular nature. As I was noticing this problem, I also took a look at my own list of subscriptions - it was all white (!), and mostly men. So where would I turn to next, logically? The built in directory! And yet the tool let me down there.

I must note that searching, which is a feature in Overcast, does help with this a bit - doing a search for “women” or “black” brings up quite a few podcasts from people of color and women - but this is something I must actively seek out. The directory can help and should help, particularly given this app is written by a fellow white guy.

Notably, I tweeted @overcastfm about the origin of this list but did not receive a response. I also contacted Downcast, and was informed that their directory is sourced straight from the iTunes RSS feeds.

Making this Better

So, how can this be addressed?

One thing I must point out is that it's quite possible that the podcasting community writ large is white male biased. I haven't seen any research on that yet so, if you're aware of any, do let me know. If it's true, that doesn't excuse an app like Overcast from promoting and encouraging diversity amongst its user base.

The most visible and supportive idea is to seek out more diverse podcasts from Overcast users and feature them in the directory. This is good for Overcast and the podcasters too. For Overcast, it starts to shift the editorial voice to one of discovery and diversity instead of (arguably) insularity. For the podcasters, they get a bigger audience (so Squarespace will pay more for ads!)

Another way is to not have a Starter Kit at all. This feels like a miss, but it's also an option.Without a directory, no one is steered in any direction. Notably, the directory also makes assumptions about its users - like that they'll be interested in Apple development podcasts. This may or may not be accurate of the population as a whole.

One other idea: smarter categories. Something more customized would be great; Overcast could learn that I give a shit about women's rights and start recommending great podcasts for that.

Finally, the nature of placement in the Starter Kit is unclear; Relay.fm is an entire podcast network and has its own entire category. So another option is to offer paid placement and then get a diverse podcast category in the app that way.

Cloudy

I criticize Overcast because I think the app is good. It's not great, but it's good. I haven't been compelled to pay $5 for the full feature set, and a lot of that is actually due to this editorial decision - not the missing features. But that's the risk with apps that have more of a voice than just a feature set: some people may love it, and others may not.

It Might Hurt a Bit

On the past couple of episodes of Designing Yourself, Whitney and I have discussed some great stuff - how we handle stress, and how we recharge ourselves. The great thing about these discussions is that they've provided context and perspective for the work I've been doing on myself over the past few years.

Let me be direct: I have spent a lot of time being "busy" in an effort to avoid dealing with feelings, identity, relationships, and a shitload of other things. Collectively I feel like we have made the notion of being busy too simple to attain and boy, there is a part of me that feeds on that. I can always catch up on Twitter, watch a complete series of a TV show, and plug away at that never ending to do list. But what does that all mean? What does it get me? When does the well-organized person organize in some downtime?

Now, downtime is something I define differently than you do. Sometimes downtime includes zoning out reading blogs or shopping for clothes. Sometimes it means lots of activity with my family, and sometimes it means being very alone. Often, it's an independent thing though - breathing, slowing down, and being observant of the world instead of my busy-ness.

Without downtime and work on the self, I experience profound avoidance. Gang, it's hard to work on emotions and relationships and intentions. It is extremely emotional. I have had lifelong assumptions about myself challenged, and moving from a place of observation to action can be downright terrifying. But it is also profoundly freeing. It is both. And that's where, historically, I have walked away from the challenge.

I've walked away because it's beyond logic and beyond my brain, which has been a driving force for a significant part of my life. I've walked away because I don't know how to do it. No one told me how to best manage this stuff, or not manage it, and just... be with it. Be with myself, be me in those moments. There's no manual. And even then, it delves into the very definitions and notions of who I am. Not trivial, ultra challenging, huge stuff.

I've put some ideas around this. and will be sharing these tools at WebVisions. It may be great for you, or it may not, but it's working for me. I sincerely hope that you can find something that works for you, no matter who you are, in what I share.

Because what I've discovered, nearly by accident, is that my imperfect and wonderful brain can only take me up to a precipice of fear. It's a combination of all my parts, and my support system, that can truly push me through it.

Onward.

Growing Up Digital: Raising Tech-Savvy Kids

My son first used an iPad about 2 years ago, when he was 2 1/2. He was fascinated by the thing but, more impressively, he figured out the interface within a matter of days. Soon he scaled that knowledge up to apps, calling people (via phone and FaceTime), sending texts, and playing Angry Birds. He enjoyed using the camera and timer apps almost more than anything else, though: these acted as a view into his world and understanding what was happening around him.

Last year I met Elysse Zarek via Twitter, and we finally had the chance to meet (and enjoy tacos together!) earlier this year at SXSW. Elysse is the project manager and producer at Bloom Digital, a Toronto-based startup that promotes healthy childhoods. Their first app, Long Story, is an episodic game targeted at teens. It explores dating, gender, bullying, and all of the incredibly complicated stuff of growing up. It is a great game.

I got to talking with Elysse and her coworkers about technology and kids and how different it is for us, as parents, than it was for our parents. Most importantly we yearned for something beyond the whole, "How much screen time is 'too much'?" debate. It was frustrating, because there are bigger issues to explore around how this aspect of parenting changes you, too. For example: if you set up your kid with a Twitter account, when do you hand it over to them? Can she delete all of your "cute" tweets about things she said at the age of 3, or 4, or 5? How do you introduce the positive aspects of tech? In essence, how do you design your life to support a healthy relationship with technology for you and your children?

Elysse and I are proud to share our SXSW proposal with you. Our talk, Growing Up Digital: Raising Tech-Savvy Kids, will explore these topics in depth. Here's our SlideShare about it.

You'll be hearing more about this talk during the SXSW 2015 voting period, which ends on September 6.

But most importantly, if you'd like to see us at SXSW 2015, then you should vote for this talk right now. We hope to see you in Austin!

Beats Control

This is a post in a series evaluating streaming music services. Have a peek at Me & Music, and cold Rdio.

I'll be honest with you: I had used Beats a bit prior to their acquisition by Apple. But once Apple bought them, I thought I'd give them another go. I was also simply interested in using different things day-to-day just to gain other perspectives.

Beats is better than I remember. It's excellent for music discovery - probably the best discovery experience I've had since Pandora 11 years ago -  but it is missing a couple of features I care about. It's delightful enough to use and has so much personality that I'm very tempted to use it anyway and just forgo the rdio features I really want.

The Sentence

Easy to love.

Easy to love.

By far, the best thing about Beats is The Sentence. It's a Mad Libs for your music, basically. I can choose a sentence like, "I'm in the car and feel like chilling out with myself to vintage soul & funk." This works way, way better than I expected.

I had come to rely on the simple love/hate ratings of rdio and Spotify, but felt they weren't really doing anything. Beats offers that too. But instead of a radio devoted to an artist or genre, The Sentence is the main way into a radio-like interface. (There are other ways, and they're pretty good too.) With this entry point and the love/hate, I feel like Beats actually kind of understands my musical tastes. This, despite having almost few items in my collection (never bothered) and going solely on ratings and an initial "tell us what genres and artists you like" with one of the most awkward UIs in the world.

The Sentence has introduced me to loads of deep cuts and songs I just haven't heard before. Whereas with rdio, it's gotten so good at predicting me that it just doesn't surprise me anymore on radio stations - even "Paul FM". Beats definitely tries more. Sometimes it misses, but sometimes it introduces me to artists I've never heard before - like Quadron. And then it's all worth it.

One nice touch to note: one rainy morning I started The Sentence, and each of the first five songs had "rain" in their title and/or in their choruses. I don't know how they did that or if it was just a coincidence, but damn, it was a nice touch. It at least gives the impression that there's a person out there on the other end.

Not everything is amazing with The Sentence. It's got a somewhat fidgety UI. The "blanks" for the Mad Libs are limited. And, I can't just save a Sentence for later use. Despite all this I love it anyway.

Silence in the Library

Well hey, at least the pause button is big.

Well hey, at least the pause button is big.

When it comes to using my library of music, Beats foists a good-but-not-great UI and listening experience on me. This is the area where Beats could do a lot better.

It gets simple management right. There's the ability to download tracks for offline use. I can love and hate songs and tracks. I can follow artists (meh). I can add things to a playlist. The interface carries over the "voice" of The Sentence and discovery features. This is polarizing. On the one hand, it's nice to see a different approach to the Now Playing screen. On the other hand, you can't see the album art easily, so too bad. You can see that most of the controls are as expected and stylized. Even though I have grown quite accustomed to seeing album art and only album art on the play screen, this is surprisingly functional.

Overall library management in Beats is nothing to write home about. I prefer to sort by artist, and I can do that. Each album and song is readily available to play and shuffle. It's table stakes.

Not Present

Beats falls down on a number of little, annoying things and a couple of great big things. First, the little stuff:

  • The music isn't equalized across songs. Some tracks will be VERY VERY LOUD and others whisper quiet. I thought we solved this years ago?
  • There's no way to pivot from an artist or song to a radio filled with recommendations based on your selection. (I see this as a philosophical choice, but I still miss it.)

But here's what keeps me from just using Beats all the time: the lack of a play queue, the fact that almost no one I know uses it, and on everything but a phone the experience is pretty shitty.

Let's talk play queue: this is elementary stuff. I should easily be able to line up a few tracks together and then tell the thing to go. I shouldn't have to bring in a playlist construct for this. rdio does this perfectly: you press a song, a menu pops up, you choose "Play Later". Done. It's perfect. In lieu of having a play queue, I didn't bother making playlists or anything of the sort; I simply listened to more music via The Sentence, or album tracks sequentially.

I rarely use the social features of rdio or Spotify, but I missed having something like that here. "Following" people on Beats is a part of the social aspect but it seems half-baked. And when doing a search against the people I follow on Twitter, not very many came up as options to follow; this isn't the case on rdio. (Clearly, I run with an rdio crowd.)

Let's talk about something that rdio gets right that I feel is so, so important: its seamlessness.

I can start a song on my phone, pause it, and then hop over to my computer and finish it. Or, I can control the phone remotely from the computer. This is glorious and is exactly how a streaming service should work for me. It's about the music, not the device; it transcends the technology.

Beats doesn't offer this. Worse, its player options on non-phone platforms out and out suck. The laptop version is a Flash-based (!) web player (!) that doesn't allow you access to your library (wha?) And, the iPad version is straddled with the same limitations. It's almost the opposite of rdio: the seams are showing. Beats is a phone-only service.

To get around this, I'd usually just forego control of Beats on my Mac or iPad. Inconvenient.

Missing Persons

When August rolled around, I concluded my time without rdio and signed up for the service once again. And you know, I missed using Beats right away.

A few weeks prior I dipped into rdio just to check if something was there, and its interface stood in stark contrast to Beats. rdio is clean, simple, and beautiful (even with its flaws). Beats, by contrast, was more brash, helpful, and opinionated. The color choices, the language in the apps, the interactions... these all contribute to an app's personality. And frankly, Beats just makes me feel cooler. rdio feels more perfunctory by comparison: if I was going to build a streaming service and hire a good designer, I would expect to build rdio. Beats is what would happen if I hired a great designer who really understood her subject (music!) better than I did.

Beats is simply more interesting. Despite its missing features, despite its terrible non-phone clients, despite its bugs, Beats got me more excited about finding new music than rdio almost ever has. That's all worth something to me, and even though I'm back with rdio for August, I'm not sure if I'll still be with it come September.

Cold rdio

This summer I chose to use other streaming music services in lieu of rdio, my favorite forever and ever. I wanted to do this mostly to see how good the other options were, and if I was really getting the best service for me.

Writing comparisons like this is hard. I don't want to book into checkboxland, where I'm just comparing features. On the other hand I've been let down by other comparisons that throw their hands up at the end and say, "Well, that's it! You pick one!" With that in mind, here's where I'm coming from.

How I Listen to Music

I listen to music daily. I listen to a mixture of music and podcasts during my lengthy work commute. I listen to music during my runs. I listen to music when I'm folding laundry and doing chores. And lots of times I listen to music, of course, when working at a computer. So for me, being able to access music on multiple platforms (iPhone, iPad, Mac) is a requirement. 

I like to think that I have a collection of music available anywhere, anytime. In short, if I think of a song I'd love to be able to type it in and play it without delay. I'd also like to have a body of songs and artists as "mine", so a collection or library is a must.

My listening habits gravitate towards either entire albums, or a bunch of random songs. For the latter, I enjoy having radio options - particularly if they provide all the controls I expect (including jumping to a previous song). I also really love a queue, because I might think of a dozen or so songs I'll want to listen to in a row, and then play them all.

When I'm listening to radio stations, I really want a mixture of stuff I know and stuff that I will like. Thus, a service needs to start to learn and understand not just what I like but why I like it, too. Plus it has to surprise me! Throw in something left-of-field because I'm okay with that.

Social features aren't important to me, but seeing what my friends and colleagues are listening to (like rdio offers) is fine.

I expect everything reasonable except The Beatles to be available, and I also know some artists won't put their new stuff on streaming networks. For them, I prefer to buy MP3s direct so they get the most profit.

When I started this experiment, I decided to try Beats Music for two reasons: 1, a lower price than rdio when purchased annually - and discounted at Target; 2, I had used Spotify a few years back and hated it. However, I chose to add Spotify to the rotation as well and give it another go. Note that I used the paid subscriptions for each of these services and not the free, ad-driven ones when available.

While I didn't tell myself I'd never use rdio during this experiment, I essentially didn't.

Cutting to the chase

rdio is the best. Yes, it offers the features and library I want but most importantly, it's a pleasure to use.

In spite of its significant flaws, Beats is my second favorite and a very close contender. The Sentence is far and away the best music discovery tool I've seen on these services, and the whole thing has a distinct personality.

Spotify is, well, fine but it's not for me. It feels perfunctory. It's improved a lot since I last used it, but using it largely felt like using nothing to me - in a not-good way.

What you should get

Now the hard part. I know what I should get. Between these three services, what should you get?

If you care about social features or want the biggest service, just get Spotify. If you want the best all-around service, try rdio and Beats.

Next up

In future posts, I'll break down each of these services and talk about what worked and didn't work for me.

Me & Music

This summer I chose to try out Beats Music and Spotify in lieu of rdio, my streaming service of choice. I'm brewing up a massive, 495-page comparison post that you all will love to pour over. But in the interim, I thought it was worth noting how I feel about music without taking up 494 of those pages.

The first song I truly remember loving in my life was "Copacabana" by Barry Manilow, because my mom was a huge Fanilow. (Yep.) Another song from the far reaches of my memory that I really loved was "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson, and of course, its video. For most of my childhood, my music consumption was a steady stream of the oldies station from my mom's car radio. 

Once 6th grade rolled around, though, I started to shift over to contemporary pop music - and, simultaneously, really fell in love with The Monkees. My mainstay was Chicago's B96, and I taped songs off of the radio incessantly. Sometimes, as was the case with "Ice Ice Baby", I recorded the song multiple times on multiple tapes from the radio. (That song landed hard.)

The Door Opens

I drifted and stayed in the whole contemporary pop and classic rock world until I found R.E.M. in 1991. "Man on the Moon" was the hook. It surely wasn't the first R.E.M. song I had ever heard, but it was the one I played over and over until I wore out the CD. It was the first music I chose to really love: I was deep into R.E.M., and rec.music.rem was my online home at the time.

The important thing about my exposure to R.E.M. was that it got me really interested in music in general: I started to explore other artists, aided by the booming alternative music scene at the time. I went to my first concert: James, at the Vic. I broke bread with Tim Booth, the band's singer (really!) 

At this time my high school pals and I started playing music together. I picked up a guitar and taught myself how to play. I borrowed books from the library and studied them, but mostly grabbed tabs off of USENET and Gopher (YES) and started to learn chord formations. I distinctly remember trying to play "So. Central Rain" and being overwhelmed instantly. "Oh, he changes chords that quickly?"

I kept practicing, though, and became competent with open chords. I started writing my own songs, but rarely played them for anyone else. I kept them in a big Word file called "Original Songs and Lyrics". I hope I still have that file on a floppy somewhere, but there's one song - "Mistaken" - that I wrote 22 years ago and have memorized.

It's also worth noting that Loadstar, the fabled disk magazine, exposed me to lots of new genres of music I would have never have heard otherwise - like ragtime. Totally got into Sousa for a long time.

Back to the Mc

Over time, though, I started to rediscover the songs I had enjoyed in my childhood, or those that had seeped into my head through repeated listenings. Some of them I loved, some I hated, but the mix of oldies and early MTV and other random sources ended up being more influential than I had thought. It forms a basis for the stuff I like now.

I really like catchy songs, but my tolerance for mainstream pop is limited; power pop is a favorite genre of mine. I don't believe in guilty pleasures - everyone likes what they like. I will defend most of The Monkees' music as solid, well-constructed pop songs. I'm excited to find new music, and since I primarily use streaming services that's mostly where I look for new music. I generally don't like country music (but can appreciate it) and electronica wears thin on me. I find that I really, really love 70s funk. I can listen to "One Night in Bangkok" and "Simple Song" anytime.

Today, I still play guitar with my son, and I sing pretty regularly too. I listen to music every day. And I admit, I'm still blown away by the fact that I can pretty much think of a song, type it into my phone, and listen to it on demand. That's amazing.

The people in the header image, by the way, are the great Sara Watkins, Luke Bulla, and Glen Phillips from their 2007 Various & Sundry tour. Front row seats. Fucking amazing.

 

Found out

On Friday my friends Amy Silvers and Lori Widelitz-Cavallucci spoke at Madison+ UX on Imposter Syndrome. (This was also the talk they presented at IA Summit, and you can see the summary here.) Watching and listening to their talk over the web kicked up my own feelings on this matter.

In short, for years I waited for the other shoe to drop and to be found out as a fraud. Years. Even when I was a young, good programmer, a part of me held on to a fear that one day someone would basically shoot holes in whatever I was doing, and as a result I would feel incredibly humiliated and embarrassed.

During that time, there was a direct impact on the way I worked. It might not have been so noticeable in the darkroom or in the code, but the part of me that was a vocal critic and on alert for being called out was always present. It was always there. As a result of this, I rarely spoke about my work - and promoted it even less. That's because there were enough parts of me saying, "This isn't all that good." It might have truly been good stuff, and to be honest, probably was! But I had a hard time recognizing that and an even harder time taking a compliment. (I mean, people were complimenting me on my work? My internal barometer on that was just way off!) This is also part of the reason I preferred to work by myself for so very long.

But I've had to adjust

Good design work is people-focused, whether it's research or life design or aesthetic design. And that means it's far more open to criticism - but it's also far more open to connection and appreciation, as well. The risk is higher and the reward is higher too.

The biggest things that I've had to account for are my own self-confidence (which is only emerging due to intense work on the self) and my experience.

My experience is something I can now count on, and it appeals mostly to my brain and not so much to my heart. It's relatively easy for me to justify design decisions based on decades of work, including what works well and what doesn't. I say this not to brag (my ego will chime in momentarily!) but I say this as a point of fact: when you work in a field for a very long time, you simply start to see the broad patterns and gain that understanding. I considered it to be table stakes when it came to myself, instead of giving it the true honor it deserves. (It was hard work!)

But the self-confidence is the much, much harder piece. It has required sustained, intense focus on my self, identifying who I am, and being able to even get to a place where I see my work having value and being worthwhile - even to myself.

For instance, it is only within the past 6 months that I have been able to hear a compliment from someone about my work, take a moment, absorb it, and thank them instead of doing the knee-jerk "thanks!" response. I would do the latter because it was polite (brain-focused, other person-focused, society-focused) and not really do what I needed to do to truly hear the other person and take that in (me-focused).

In addition, working on Designing Yourself has given me ample opportunity to promote this great thing I'm doing. On the one hand, it may look easy to post a tweet saying that the show is great. On the other hand, it stirred up a lot of conflict in me. I was overly concerned about appearing too self-promotional, too selfish, too... lots of things that I saw as negative. That, in turn, would make me more vulnerable.

But as my work has continued to get closer and closer to me (less of an abstract), this vulnerability goes part and parcel with it. I can't hide behind code when I'm on stage talking about my experiences. It leaves me totally open. And that's where I want to be because that's where I need to be. Even if someone in the audience, or someone online, thinks I'm a total fraud.