I’ve been meaning to write this post for about a month!
And now that it’s finally happening, I don’t know what to write. So, maybe I’ll start with a list. A list of things I’ve done since grad school ended on May 10, 2012. Here goes:
- cleaned the apartment
- traveled to China
- bought my grandparents an iPad
- escaped the city with a Zipcar
- reconnected with friends
- said goodbye to friends
- started a new job
- started apartment hunting
- started writing morning pages
- made felt foxes
- cooked dinner
- discovered new restaurants
- walked all over Manhattan
- watched every documentary on dogs and chickens on Netflix
- bought new clothing
- picnicked in Central Park
It’s funny, reading back over this list, I can’t help but feel a real sense of pride and accomplishment. More so than I had felt when walking off stage after presenting my thesis to an audience of 200.
That’s a bit odd, isn’t it? Shouldn’t I have been thrilled to finally complete my Master’s Degree, and in front of so many people to boot? But in truth, what I felt was mostly relief. Not so much a sense of achievement, as just a big, deep, foundational exhalation of stale worries. And I remember thinking: Now that I’m free, I can finally face a real challenge for a change.
Don’t get me wrong, grad school was a challenge. It was spectacularly hard, both professionally and personally. Through it all, I learned a lot of visceral lessons about what it means to be a good designer, teammate, friend and human being. But up until the very end, grad school was still fourteen people, in an intimate studio, hunkered over our daily studently concerns.
Our challenges were great, but they were limited in scope. We could fall, but we couldn’t really fall that hard. We had the support of our peers, of our professionally exalted teachers, amd of the indomitable Liz Danzico herself. And strangely, in that environment, I felt myself becoming a little complacent. Despite all the high expectations and lofty goals, I was coasting. Through all the desktop battles and reverberating waves of stress, I developed an inertia of sorts: I just had to work all the time, and everything would be cool. And so I did.
When you lose a sense of rhythm like that, when night blurs into day with only one thing on your mind (thesis-thesis-thesisthesisthesis), it is very easy to lose sight of the very reason you’re doing all that work. You just do it because you have to.
Now, a month and a half into life without degree requirements, I have rhythm again. Ups and downs, fasts and slows, left turns and right turns. I have a long list of things to try and people to catch up with, and the power to make those things happen or not happen. I have responsibility, real responsibility, for what happens next in my life, even if it’s just a matter of dinner tonight. And that, as it turns out, is the real challenge I was waiting for.
Sure, those things seem inconsequential compared to the usual, societally visible concerns like career-building or family-starting or home-buying, but I suspect that they are more than worthy of our deepest considerations. I’m realizing more and more that it’s little things that shape us into who we are. The hours we keep, the routes we walk to work, the places we choose to go on weekends, the people we share dinner with, even the speed at which we eat…
Fortunately, life now affords a wealth of opportunities for considering these little matters. And I intend to take full advantage of them. After all, in grad school I was only designing a thesis.
And now, I’m designing a life.
Let’s DO this!