Infest the Waters: A Blog About Design, Life and Making Stuff


The Woods

Something hasn’t felt quite right for the last several weeks.  Life has felt especially hard, which I know is difficult to believe for those of you who subscribe to the notion that there’s “Wittchen Good Fortune.”  (I know you’re out there.)  But really, it’s been like the universe has been conspiring to make things trickier than usual.  I don’t expect things to be easy–in fact, I often find myself falling prey to the spurious notion that if it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing (see also: why I went to engineering school)–but I do believe that if things become too hard, they may not be meant to be.  (It’s a weird dichotomy of thought, I know.)  I’ve been having trouble focusing and motivating myself to do almost anything, and several initiatives I’m involved in seem to be going through rough patches.  I feel like I haven’t been doing enough, and then I’m not entirely sure what I should be doing.  I’ve been feeling paralyzed by the fact that I have so many projects that I want to start, but only a small handful of them offer an immediate financial benefit.  In short, I’ve been lost.

It all came to a head last week when I did something supremely stupid–I deleted my website.  (Yes, this one.)  It’s a long, technical and boring story how I did it, but for someone who self-identifies as being meticulous and careful, it was a real blow to my ego.  Right in front of me was the electronic manifestation of how I’d been feeling but couldn’t put a finger on.  Not only was I metaphorically lost, but now a big part of my electronic life was literally, well, lost.  I wanted to throw up.

I’ve gone through these directionless periods before, and almost always there’s a little signpost along the way that tells me that I need to do something different.  The signpost usually comes in the form of doing something that’s uncharacteristic for me–something that challenges one of my own internal stories.  You know the stories–the ones we tell ourselves about who we are, who we’re supposed to be and how we’re supposed to feel and act.  Sometimes those stories are helpful guides for how to live our lives and other times they’re just…stories.

For example, one of my stories revolves around being a person who works on problems that have a greater purpose, like making our world more sustainable.  But sometimes all I feel like I really want to do with my life is make things, whether or not they serve any greater purpose beyond giving me joy.  I have trouble reconciling the latter inclination with the story of myself as an intelligent, well-educated woman who should be using her talents to make the world better.  That lack of reconciliation is what fundamentally causes me discomfort and challenges my direction and sometimes, my core.  It can be excruciating, as often the hard work of personal growth is. And sometimes it’s hard to know what to change or even that it’s time to take action if everything is mostly fine, like it’s been for me.  I’ve been bumping along for the most part doing a bunch of things that I enjoy doing, but I’m not always sure I’m making any progress.  (Progress towards what is another question, but for now, let’s just leave it at an intangible “progress.”  You know, the kind of thing that falls in the “I’ll know it when I see it” category.)  That’s when the signpost comes in handy, and I’m pretty sure deleting my website was that signpost.  It said, “Now.  Now is the time for change.”

Perhaps because it’s been five years since I launched my sustainability consultancy, iSpring, with my mom, I have been thinking more than usual about the balance of my life.  As far as sustainability goes, on my darker days, I feel like Sisyphus rolling the sustainability ball up Mt. Corporate Apathy, convinced that all anyone wants to do is talk about sustainability with little action, and we’re all headed off the environmental cliff.  On my more optimistic days, I remember how many people (and organizations) still don’t understand what sustainability is all about and think about how much opportunity that presents to do good, meaningful work.

The problem I think I’m working through presently is that I’m not sure what I want that work to look like.  Consulting, by nature, doesn’t really produce much work product (unless you count final reports and countless e-mails), and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last several years, it’s that I like work product.  I like being able to point to things and say, “I made that.”  But what am I going to make?  Most of the things I make have little relation to sustainability (unless you count the things I make out of reclaimed materials).  I could shift the balance to being a maker, but how do I reconcile that with my desire to do something bigger, something more meaningful?  It’s tough.

There are parts of all of this that I know I have direct control over.  Since I know I like to make things, I can continue to acquire the skills that allow me to make new things–perhaps things I haven’t made before.  I’ve been learning some new programming languages in the hopes that I may start being able to build apps, and maybe they’ll even be sustainability-related apps.  That’s one part.  The other part is seeking out opportunities to put myself in situations where I can try new things that might fit better with how I want to balance my life.  For example, this Saturday I plan to attend the launch of the Department of Making + Doing, a facility in Philly that’s going to be devoted to the confluence of science, technology, engineering, art, and math, or STEAM, as they like to call it, adding art to the STEM acronym, which is all the rage in education-land these days.  I’m not exactly sure what it’ll be like, but it seems like a good fit with things that I’m excited and passionate about, and maybe there will be a way for me to get involved.

I’ve always felt strongly that it’s okay to not have a clear direction, but it is important to keep moving.  For the last several weeks (and maybe even months), I’ve felt stuck.  And when I feel stuck, that’s when I start to feel lost.  But thanks to my unfortunate website incident–my signpost that told me it was time to get unstuck–I feel like I’m moving again.  I don’t yet know exactly where I’m headed, but I’m taking those first few tentative steps in a new direction.  It’s frightening and exhilarating all at once, and I’m certain I will be enticed to take some side paths along the way that ultimately lead nowhere.  I may still be wandering for a while longer, but at least I’m no longer lost.

Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.

Addendum: For those of you who are wondering, recreating the website ended up not being as excruciating as I was anticipating, largely thanks to Google cache. (And Ben’s suggestion to check Google cache before I flushed my head down the toilet.  Thanks, Ben.)  Thankfully, every page of my site was still available in Google’s cache, and while I had to recreate each individual page in WordPress, at least I didn’t have to recreate all the content.  You may notice that I haven’t gotten all the blog posts back up again.  I anticipate that will be an ongoing process for the next several weeks.

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