The John Starling Interview, Part II

As I mentioned in a previos blog post, I met with John Starling of Smith Content and the result of the interview had me thinking more about myself than John, the subject of the interview for the AIGA Baltimore blog.

In that post, I came in looking for intel on his process and what came from that was his explaining his process by having an easy conversation over a couple coffees and a process of self-examination, on which he invited me.

The rest of what came from that was not so much design worthy as it is life-direction worthy, so I’m not putting that on the AIGA Blog. It’ll be here for folks to read. Perhaps more than I want folks to know, but there’s little harm in the truth.

He started by sincerely asking “What do you want out of life?” This question is ubiquitous, in that we all ask it in some form or another, yet few are prepared to really answer. I am among those many with un-specifically defined. I sat for some time wondering what exactly do I really want out of life. While I attribute this question to John, it’s quite the axiom that if one cannot define what it is verbally, they really do not know what it is (a quote I’ve heard goes back as far as Aristotle).

As it turns out, being present to the work I take seriously means a lot to me. Non-portfolio clients and work never bothered me as a good chunk of work falls short of presentation work. What bothers me is to go a month or two and to have no project that helped me grow as a designer or a person. Digging down, I had to connect with the cycling experience I had in 2004 – 2005.

In 2004, I began cycling a lot more after quitting softball. I had a recreational ride I did and I felt pretty good about myself. In spired by Lance Armstrong’s dominance of the TdF, I was out there like a good chunk of the cycling scene, doing my thing.  That year I entered the Jones Falls Valley Time Trial.

The Time Trial which went from the Jones Falls exit on Interstate 83 took riders on a 15 kilometer course downtown and back.

The 2004 year, I rode the race and I finished in a time of 31:24 seconds. Best time of the day was something like 24 minutes. I was personally shocked to know how far from the top of the leaderboard I was. Not only was I shocked, I  actually became depressed about it. The thing that shook me from that depression was the idea that something that I wanted to excel in this badly meant I needed to do it every day, instead of assuming that since I had some ability, that meant I should congratulate myself. At the time I could dedicate time each day to become better. So, I did.

The next year, I decreased my time to under 25 minutes. Not the best by a bunch but I felt content in that I had actually delivered a result that was indicative of my ability.

Similarly, John’s encouragement connected with the fairly simple matrix of what you want, what you need to get there and lower the barriers between the two. In fact, his only question in talking to me about my sense of value in design (I’ll remind you that my sense—even as a kid—was that I didn’t belong in the design/art world) is “Is your best good enough?”

Assuming the affirmative, means that I deserve the process, including the work that helps to create a successful practice, with less trepidation. Much like many things in life, knowing is not enough, living the thought process is important.

Without going headlong into the sports analogies, I would argue that some teams and individuals win, because they develop the realistic expectation through an affirmative process that they should win and this is the only delta value that separates them from their competitor.

I learned that value of work on the bike in 2005 and it’s a process of remembering that through the work and thought that anything is truly possible. One might ask, well you weren’t number 1, so how is that a happy ending? I might be inclined to agree. But I’m not. Reading Seth Godin and parenthetically quoting John’s webinar “growth at this level doesn’t come from addition, it comes from subtraction.”

It’s the limiting belief or it’s the other things in our life that get in the way from success.

What the work taught me was the more work you put in, the more it informed me. This photo reminds of me the daily work that I put in over the course of that year and since in wokring to be a better cyclist.

Bellona Hill

I felt it if I took two days off. It helped me gain knowledge and confidence from engaging in that process and it’s that sensitivity that I need to maintain career-wise.

Cycling is just a hobby—an intense one for me—which at one point meant about a two-hour commitment for a chunk of the last decade, but that did not make me a professional and accepting that there are people better than me at time-trialing was a part of knowing that it’s not my full-time job, etc.

(Though, on a physical, once, the doctor did once ask what I did: I said “I’m a designer.” He rebutted: “No, what do you do?” I told him I ride every day to which he said, he could tell and wished more of his patients did. Ithink of that as the best advertisement for a healthy active life.)

The process of excellence isn’t about being the best, it’s about being my best in the thing I deem important. It’s that front-loaded process of deciding that the positive outcome is worth the process.

Being a more focused designer is about my ability to connect with this set of concepts and beliefs that empower or disempower my current process.



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