At the beginning of 2016, I got a letter from myself sent a year prior (via futureme.org). In the letter, I mused about how well things were going and what good stuff I could expect in the year ahead. I was dead wrong, embarrassingly wrong.
In the letter I included a link to a cute animal video, anticipating that the video would go viral. The view count would be a quaint demonstration of time’s passage. While the video does have many millions more hits than when I sent the letter, the more salient thing is the content.
In 2015, I was that little kitten, willingly jumping into an inviting situation only to end up in way over my head, with no clear way out and no useful help in sight.
2016 was my year of getting out and recovering.
Unpublished Businessweek photo of me at the Green-wood crematory. Photo by Daniel Shea.
What I Did in 2016
- Closed down Sextantworks
- Got an MA in Design Research, Writing and Criticism
- Conducted research into transformative social experiences
- Advised a variety of VR projects, including a d-school funded project and an Oculus sponsored lab
- Joined Orbital
- Accepted to NEW INC as a Researcher-in-Residence
- Pitched in with the Alicia Keys Black Ball
- Taught a graduate seminar at VCU
- Participate in the School for Creative Activism
- Participated in the Steering Committee of SFPC
- Started at SYPartners as a Senior Designer
- press: Businessweek, Hyperallergic
- talks: Businessweek, IDEO, and littleBits
- Advised and orchestrated surprise things and important gathering for loved ones
1. Closed Sextantworks
Sextantworks closed down in mid-2016. My co-founder N.D. Austin and I started doing projects just for fun after stumbling upon an abandoned honeymoon resort in 2012. Our creative chemistry was always killer, but the interpersonal dynamic was tumultuous at best. By December of 2015, it was evident to me that we needed to bring things to a close. It took several months to wrap up existing commitments and wind down internal structures. The process wasn’t fun, but I am glad to lay the whole thing to rest. I feel like we missed an opportunity to create a thoughtful, cathartic funerary experience for ourselves and our community, but mourning is a long process. The right time may present itself yet.
I think of lessons from last year’s review, about the shift from feeling like I was on the roller coaster called life to feeling like I am steering a big ship. Closing down Sextantworks was an intensive steering maneuver against years of momentum and powerful ocean currents.
Despite the ups and downs, I look back on the experience with pride. To create a wild, original creative practice as half of a potent but combustible duo is the stuff of legends. So, great! Been there, done that. What’s next?
2. Designing Sex Death And Survival
For the first half of the year, I dedicated myself to graduate thesis work. I looked into the design of transformative social experiences by comparing sex parties, funerals, and wilderness trips. The thesis research evolved very intuitively. It was scary to give myself over to the process, but I love the results in the end. You can read more about my grad school experience here.
My willingness to follow my intuition in the face of personal fears and institutional friction was again very much informed by the last annual review, where I observed that diving into something with full abandon produced less negative emotional residue that holding myself back. I’m really delighted with the results, and I look forward to sharing it publicly, hopefully soon. I’m lucky to have the support of NEW INC to polish off my research.
3. Professional Pivot
When I finished my masters, I had to choose between pursuing my own practice or join a company. I got a lot of encouragement to stay independent, but every time I was faced with an opportunity to support that trajectory, a deep part of me would groan an urgent and resounding “noooooo!” After being independent or running my own design practices for 7 years, some part of me was tired to the core.
Informed by a trick I developed at Sextantworks, I boiled down what I would want from a job into four crisps qualities; Leadership, Challenge, Compensation, and Structure. Many scoffed at my list, purporting that I could not possibly find all these qualities in a single employer. I am happy to say that after an exhaustive search, I committed to the position of Senior Designer at SYPartners, a company that helps organizations transform at the individual and system-wide level.
Orbital was my secret to navigating the transition. Orbital is a community of enterprising folks on Manhattan’s lower east side who all believe that the success of a project (or an individual for that matter) depends on access to networks. Orbital has a discrete reputation for nurturing people through professional transitions thanks to the supportive, mellow vibe and tight-knit community. Having a place to operate out was integral during my transition from Sextantworks and grad school to SYPartners.
Uncanny Insight from My Reviews
Anyone who knows me well is familiar with my detailed and somewhat obsessive personal review process. On a regular basis, I follow a series of steps to get current on all my matters, and then I answer self-reflection questions that cumulatively make for a powerful look at my thought process and personal evolution (or lack there of in some cases…).
IN 2016, I added a question to my weekly review asking what my shadow side wants. Everyone has a shadow side. It’s the darker, primitive, self-preservation minded part of you. Feelings like domination, vengeance, greed, and envy reside there. Being explicit with myself about what my shadow side wants helped me channel that energy in a mindful, kind way in the short term. I was surprised to see that in the long term though, my shadow side consistently wins out. Over the course of months, it gets what it wants! This was not what I anticipated at all when adding the question to my reviews…
My intuition seems to have a shorter trajectory than my shadow side. (I also have a question in my reviews asking what my intuition tells me.) I lose when I try to project my intuitive feelings into specific wishful thinking about the future. And I also lose when I let my shadow side control my action in the immediate, freeing the full force of its agenda upon the situation in front of me. I win with my intuition when I follow the hunch in the present without specific rationalizations and longer range hopes. And when do I win with my shadow side? Well, all I know is there are deeper waters to explore there than I thought.
Finally, in a vague way, I wonder about my attentiveness to timing. Steering a big ship take more precise timing that swimming against the current.
A More Comfortable Start
After 2015, where I ended up in foreign territory with far too many little ducklings ganging up on me, 2016 ended comfortably on home turf with affectionate and welcome guests.
My intention for the year ahead is to get better at taking a complement.