“Copycats finish last in the human race. Staying glued to safes too prude to take a Buddha break.” —Del tha Funky HomosapienTweet It!
How did I get here? I pondered, standing at my desk surrounded by future gadgets and some of the most brilliant minds I’ve had the opportunity to share a snack kitchen with. A year ago, I didn’t know Google X even existed. Now, I was working there. This should be the height of my career, I thought, but I felt dissatisfied. Let me explain.
In 2012, I moved to San Francisco from Delhi. I had been working with a company called Quicksand and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the intersection of design and social impact. When Silicon Valley called, it was with a similar proposition—friends had cofounded a small startup design studio/co-working space/insert-other-tech-hype-
Google was hard for me from the beginning. How had I gone from studio designer for brands to in-house UX designer? Social impact to product design? I felt the foundations of my career had been dismantled overnight. But, while one aspect of life ebbed, another flowed. I found yoga and time for reflection via hiking, camping, and running. What’s obvious now took me about a year to discover then; I wasn’t passionate about the work I was doing. I started to depend on the moments outside of 9–5 to fulfill me. I also discovered that I hadn’t been happy before either, as an anal-retentive workaholic. I never took enough time to evaluate where I was, what my work meant, or what bending over backwards was actually accomplishing for me.
My time at Google was trying, but vital. I learned that life isn’t a pyramid. There isn’t a height, a pinnacle, that one can eventually reach and be completely contented. We aren’t building a Wonder that one day we can point behind a glass wall at and say, “See!? That’s me. My life!” Life is a river. The product of your life is ever-present, it’s you now—it needs constant maintenance and evaluation—not a perfect eventuality or past. Before, I was on the banks working to build a career. Then, I was suddenly ripped downstream and found myself completely under the surface. While I clawed at rocks, living only in the moment, I became blind to the current. Now, I seem to have found purpose in a vessel called the balance, my zone.
I never took enough time to evaluate where I was, what my work meant, or what bending over backwards was actually accomplishing for me.Tweet It!
Four months ago, I gave notice to my team at Google that I had taken a project with the non-profit Mama Hope. I would create a documentary project about their partnerships in East Africa called Under the Tree. I’m writing this from Budondo, Uganda where I’m staying with a family who’s building a clinic. Suubi Health Center's services are offered at cost, for Budondo residents and anyone who comes through the door (if you can’t make it to the door, they have a motorcycle ambulance). Exploring how design and storytelling can assist Mama Hope, a small organization making huge impact through collaborations like with Suubi, is something I find compelling. However, the time I travel between projects, meet new people, eat new food, and write this is also necessary. To evaluate now and acknowledge fear for what’s next. What does today bring? What will the project look like? What will I do when I go back to San Francisco?
It’s okay to question where you are, look for greener pastures, or daydream about what seems like an absurd future, as long as you make peace with that inevitability. I don't ever want to be satisfied, to ever not be worried. When that stops, so too has the river.
Be like the water, my friend: flow with it.
Ryan LeCluyse is a graphic designer and photographer who wants to help better the world around him. He has worked for Google, Pentagram and TIME. His favorite vegetable is kale. No, wait, beetroot.
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