Evolving In a Rigid World

I don’t believe in reincarnation, but lately I’ve found myself wishing I did.

Think of the pressure it would relieve! I could dedicate this entire life to design, knowing I could still return as a chef in life #2. That rockstar dream could be offloaded to life #3. I wouldn’t even need this dumb blog. That could be the focus of life #4.

The dark side of getting good at something is that your brain starts to box you in. You worked so hard and put in so much time that you could never dream of giving it up.

I’ve been dragging a piano all over the country for the past ten years for this very reason. I took lessons for a decade and was a decent player. At one point I could sight-read Schubert and Debussy. These days not so much.

A piano collecting dust

Every time a move is on the horizon I debate whether to bring the piano and keep the dream alive or simply accept that my journey has led me down a different path. Is the piano’s presence a pleasant reminder of a skill I once possessed? Or is it a shadow of a path uncharted?

Many days I have similar feelings about design. It’s this thing that’s central to who I am and how I think, but it also feels like this giant monolith blocking out the sun. I’m still unsure whether design will be with me for my entire journey or just a chapter.

A thing that keeps me going is thinking back to the early days when design and code were really hard. So many revisions. So many Google searches. So many StackOverflows and hours lost because of a single missing semicolon.

These days, when I have an idea, the path from concept to reality is often quite short. I’ve already done the learning, now all I need to do is execute. Truly, what a joy!

I’ll always be someone who wants to do a lot of things and be a lot of things. My worst fear might actually be that I someday become one-dimensional, unable to talk in any depth about anything aside from JavaScript and design systems.

So far I guess my primary line of defense has been dragging around this silly piano.

Given limited time on this planet, our options are typically to pursue breadth or depth. Some people skew in one direction and others find a happy medium in between.

The tricky part is that our society is setup to reward depth. You get the job based on the work you’ve done, not the work you aspire to do. You get paid more based on your years of experience, not your eclectic knowledge. People are always more highly compensated if their experience is constrained to a specific and economically desirable niche.

No one gets a stipend to rediscover their passion at age 52 (a big problem I won’t get into now).

A thing I try to remind myself is that there is beauty in breadth and in depth and they’re probably both made more beautiful because of each other.

When I feel like there is no time, I remember we make time for the things that matter most.