Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Hearing the Voice That Matters

I just spent one of the more rewarding hours in my studio that I can remember in a long while. I spent it working with encaustic, but in the way I prefer--a way that no one recommends and no one teaches. It's not in any book I've seen, or in any workshop description. I've tried all kinds of techniques in encaustic and gotten frustrated with most of them. Maybe it's a lack of practice or expertise, but I think there's more to it.

I think I got stuck listening to all the other voices out there and forgot to hear my own.

I know what I like to do. Why don't I do it?

I wrote the above months and months ago and saved it as a draft. I was planning to write about how the only voice that matters is your Inner Cheerleader, the one who knows you and knows your heart and loves you no matter what. I was going to explain how you might not know your Inner Cheerleader, and how you could get him or her into a better position to give you help along the way. Because really, we all do know what we want, we just have so many other competing voices in our heads  ("it's not practical," "you're not good enough," "people will just make fun of you," "that won't ever make any money," "people like you don't do things like that," "that's NOT how anyone else does it") that we have trouble hearing the fact that what we were doing made us happy.

Sounds great, right? I'm sure it would have been a huge help to the 4.3 regular readers of this blog.

But then those other voices got on top of me, and suddenly nothing in my world seemed right.

I was headhunted (!) for this awesome job. With an awesome company, and awesome people. And when I went in for the interviews, they thought I was awesome too. Cool, they said. Quirky. We like you. In the job I had at the time, I had been consistently criticized by my manager because I didn't act like him, didn't dress the way he wanted me to, didn't talk to people the way he thought I should, didn't play the game he thought we were in. My poor Inner Cheerleader was getting the crap kicked out of her on a daily basis, and all those things were so counter to my nature that when I got a chance to go elsewhere for more money to place where they LIKED what I was bringing to the table, I jumped at it.

I kind of missed the part where it was the same job, which I didn't really love anyway. I thought, "more money will make this work."

It didn't.

I was only about a month ago that I began reading some of my old blog posts, from back around 2008. I was writing about art, about theory, about people and experiences. I was bright and engaged and focused and fun, intellectual and curious.

And then I looked at some of my more recent blog posts and found they were about myself, or my process, or some other thing that had very little crossover to other people. I was dull and disjointed, dispirited, simplistic.

And then I realized the truth. My job was all grind, process, and difficult conversations. There was not the slightest shred of creativity anywhere in it. There was no real learning in it, and no meaningful engagement -- at least, there was no engagement in it that was meaningful to me. My job was making me dull and stupid. My intellect was withering. My creativity was starving. My Inner Cheerleader was in intensive care and barely whispering. One day, I said out loud to myself, "I want my life back."

I wish I could say I had been smart/clever/strong enough to have left on my own; I didn't. The folks at my company were ahead of me in terms of realizing the job was not going to be a fit for me over the long term. So here I am. I have my life back. My time is my own. My world has opened back up, and I'm trying to make good use of it, but I'm anxious about money and survival and all that stuff. I have figured out (with the help of an amazing career coach; our relationship isn't formal yet but as soon as it is I'll clue you in as to who she is and where you can find her) that I need to stop thinking of my profession as WORK, as the Thing I'll Have to Do Until I Drop Dead Because I'll Never Have Enough Money to Retire and instead find the Thing I Never Want to Stop Doing Because I Love It So Much.

I feel at little energized about the future. A little excited. OK, more than a little, but it's hard to go full-out when you're this far of the safety net. You know what I mean.

I can hear my Inner Cheerleader again, very faintly. She's weak, but she's out of ICU and I just heard her say "yay."

Monday, March 31, 2014's usability fail

Some of the 4.2 faithful readers of this blog know that, in my other life, I do stuff with web sites. Build 'em, plan 'em, project manage 'em. I've done a little bit of everything with web sites, actually, including strategy development, visual design, information architecture, site-building, programming, all that kind of stuff.

I've been trying to buy health insurance for the better part of the day, and technical problems aside (like we didn't expect those), one of the most bothersome things about the website is the complete inattention to UX. There are convoluted instructions, conflicting information, vague "help," inconsistent labeling, on and on  and on. I'm told that my email address will be my  user name when I log into my account, but the email address does not for some reason get me into the account, and at that point I'm told the information I've entered is invalid. I try to change my password, and receive the promised email link to instruct me how to do so, but following that link leads to a page that simply says the operation can't be completed. I attempt to see if there is some problem with my user name, but when I click "recover user name," the page asks me for the email address I signed up with ... which, if I'm remembering correctly, actually IS my username, and then after I type it in, it promises to send an email letting me know how to "recover" my user name ... which never arrives. Subsequent attempts to log into my account result in a screen that says the account is blocked or disabled and provide a number to call ... a number that goes directly to a recording informing me that there is a "high volume" of calls and telling me to call back later. Awesome.

The biggest problem with all this is of course that the website is clearly on the fritz again. But that could have been mitigated by some sensible UX decisions. Clear directions, any kind of opportunity to leave at least the impression that a concern or complaint could be articulated to someone who could hear it, that efforts to resolve problems independently would not automatically lead to other problems ... so many opportunities, all of them blown.

UX is not rocket science. Good usability is common sense. Apparently, though, common sense has been in short supply in the development of