“You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.”

Author Anna Quindlen wrote,

“There are thousands of people out there with the same degree you have; when you get a job, there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.

People don’t talk about the soul very much anymore. It’s so much easier to write a résumé than to craft a spirit. But a résumé is cold comfort on a winter night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you’ve gotten back the chest X ray and it doesn’t look so good, or when the doctor writes “prognosis, poor.”

… You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.”

When I started studying the lives of people I look up to– understanding how they created their works, I reached the same conclusion as Anna Quindlen wrote: These people have experiences in their lives or hobbies that they had applied to their works. Basically, their works are amazing because they put their souls into it. Not just their work.

  • Architect Arakawa, one of the designers of Reversible Destiny Lofts, believed that architecture can prevent death if we immerse our bodies in a challenging environment (such as the Reversible Destiny Lofts) on a regular basis. Arakawa, actually, studied medicine during his college years before he went to study architecture.
  • Former mayor Edi Rama of Tirana in Albania organized a crew of painters to paint the whole city in an attempt to save the then, “dead city”. Tirana in Albania was once voted as one of the worst cities in Europe but that changed when buildings in the city were painted in vibrant colors that Edi Rama chose himself. Edi Rama was an artist by training. This is maybe why he had the idea of painting the city. Even though there were no police patrolling even before the painting initiative, residents reported that they felt safe out in the streets. People stopped throwing trash on the streets. Business owners took off metal grates from their shop windows. Five years after the initiative, businesses in Tirana tripled. This would not happen if Edi Rama did not apply his art skills in his work.
  • In 1989, the Shinkansen Bullet train in Japan was loud as it comes out of a tunnel that it causes inconvenience to residential areas. The problem was solved because of Eiji Nakatsu, the general manager of the technical team and a bird watcher. Mr. Nakatsu’s knowledge of birds helped the team is looking for solutions on how they could make the train, travel quieter after passing through a tunnel. This video by Vox explains how the Shinkansen Bullet train parts mimic birds:
  • Illusionist Andrew Evans is a product designer at IDEO, integrating wonder into everyday experiences like commuting and shopping. He had obtained a magic kit as a present when he was a kid. Eventually, he started reading books about magic, worked at a magic shop, and performed at birthday parties of kids. He attended Brown University, its library had one of the biggest collections of books about magic worldwide. Currently, he still performs magic shows.
  • Ted Geisel aka Dr. Seuss had spent his entire childhood at Fairfield Street. When he was a kid, he frequented the local library, zoo (where his dad works), and the local park. Parades are also frequent at Fairfield street which he usually anticipated. Dr. Seuss credited his experiences in Fairfield street for everything that he had created.

All of the people I mentioned above have something in common: their work is not all who they are. They had souls, hobbies, and past experiences; and their works reflected it. This is the part where ‘Be Yourself’ comes in. They had integrated their hobbies and past experiences into their work. Hence, now, I continue to immerse myself in my hobbies even if some of them are totally unrelated to the professional job title that society expects me to obtain after I graduate. Somehow, along the line, I will learn to integrate my hobbies into designing experiences, places, and products for people.

This is also to say to people, who got comments from other people to stop what you love doing because it is totally unrelated to the degree-related work that they think you should get once you graduate, do not stop. Everything from the books you read, movies you watched, the projects you created, places you go to- makes up who you are. Our works today is a result of what we consume.


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