Working Title

August 4, 2023 6 min read

I don’t know what I’m doing.

I didn’t know what I was doing when I chose to study design in college, but I always loved art and wanted to be able to find a job and the years of coursework were challenging and great fun.

I didn’t know what I was doing when an interactive agency took me on as their first employee, but I cleared the bare minimum and eventually contributed in ways that greased and re-shaped the work.

I didn’t know what I was doing when I left that job to run my own little operation, but in the following decade I met a lot of great people, did some good work, and learned a lot about building internet-shaped things with and for people. Also running a business.

I didn’t know what I was doing when I left that to try being a technical writer, but I brought some old skills to a new sort of thing and learned a lot about working with people on a product in a way that’s more visible from the outside.

I don’t know what I’m doing now, but this is an old place and a new place at the same time.

I’m a tremendous over-thinker, and yet my best moves have been from a place of not knowing and trying anyway.

I’m excited and scared, and I recognize this as a good thing.

Excited because I’ve learned a lot, I have a stronger-than-ever sense of what I’m good at, and an eagerness to learn more new things and help people and champion details that are so often neglected. Scared because I won’t live forever, and what if I spend the rest of my time searching and never find a place I can pour myself into and thrive?

There are so many things!

The mound of internet I once stood on is a mountain range now. But you can write jokes for a living, or stories, or fly planes or detail cars or find a thing people care about and make YouTube videos about it.

I think we all experience it: the more I do and see, the more I realize I will not do or see. I try more things and add to a staggering list of not-expertise.

It’s similarly bittersweet being inspired by people that seem to have found their groove. That ideal place where their head seems to be steeped in what they love. They help people from a place of balance and grace, with firm footing that allows them to pull others up. From a space that’s theirs, in a clearly-defined but welcoming and unguarded way. I want that.

This may sound like a kind of defeatism, but it’s not. It’s the scared part.

The excited part comes from active patience.

Often, our most intense discomfort is what precedes and necessitates thinking in a way we have never conceived of before. That new awareness creates possibilities that would never exist had we not been forced to learn something new.
— Brianna Wiest

Of all people, Donald Rumsfeld gave me “unknown unknowns,” a name for the things that exist beyond realization.

I have a distinct hope, regardless of how reasonable it is, that I’m not looking for a place as much as creating one I haven’t imagined yet. Finding that place is an active process of doing and listening:

I don’t put off to tomorrow doing what I must do right now to find out what my secret self needs, wants, desires with all its heart and then it speaks and I have enough brains to get out of the way and listen.
— Ray Bradbury

I’m doing what I can to listen.

Starting most mornings with a long walk. Limiting caffeine and alcohol and doing whatever I can to improve my sleep, since my full brain is so much more capable than the frazzled, sputtering one. Journaling a lot. Writing a lot, and publishing some of it. Reading even more. Following people, subscribing to RSS feeds, reaching out. Doing things out of curiosity. Helping people where I can. Putting as much care into how I do things as what I end up doing.

Someone gave me the gift of the word “spuddle,” a wonderful term for making much of nothing. I know I spuddle. I worry that I’m too often spuddling.

I was told by another person, someone I admire who read me very well, that I care too much. I struggled with that and refuse to accept caring less as the answer. I will be present and intentional about whatever occupies most of my waking hours.

I will not regret caring intensely and weirdly about what I do, spuddling or not.

I am betting my only life on it.

I recently had a routine health checkup with a new doctor. He asked what I did for a living and my answer was a word salad that ended with “so self-employed, I guess.”

I mentioned my admiration for Charles and Ray Eames to someone a few weeks ago, and revisiting some of their lives and work bolstered my hope:

The running joke remained that Charles was an architect who never finished architecture school, while Ray was a painter who never painted. In reality, every space was a canvas for Ray. While she took Charles’s projects beyond the limitations of black and white, he brought a constant stream of ideas to her work.

I wandered through design influences when a quote from Dieter Rams struck me:

My heart belongs to the details. I actually always found them to be more important than the big picture. Nothing works without details. They are everything, the baseline of quality.

I keep trying to write about my fascination with details, how the details tell the story of someone or something in a way that can’t be faked. I have yet to articulate this in a satisfying way.

I have no idea how it might all come together, but not knowing has always been the precursor to something important. I’ll keep caring weirdly about details and hope they end up being the right ones.