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Chinese Food Goals

September 03 2008 – 01:11pm

Chinese foodSometimes we have goals, and when we finally achieve them, we just aren’t satisfied. This can be caused by having those goals for the wrong reasons. Are these things that we truly want for ourselves, or has someone told us this is what we wanted? If you’re lucky enough to achieve the goal, but fail to feel a lasting feeling of fulfillment, maybe you can save yourself from cooking up more Sweet and Sour Chicken dishes in your life.

The Egg Roll of My Life

The world of Graphic Design, especially when you are a student, is like the movie, Best in Show: it’s a little subculture of people, to whom one mundane subject is of ultimate importance. Celebrities are created in this little world, to the point where you will eventually hear someone say “can you believe we’re in the same room as [insert name that 99.9% of the population is unfamiliar with].” This phenomenon of course surrounds every interest from Alpaca grooming to Zamboni driving, which is what makes the movie so relatable and interesting. 

Kid celebrating

When you’re in Design school, you’re taught that anyone who has had a piece in the publication, Communication Arts is one of these celebrities. Getting into this magazine is apparently the ultimate thing you could aspire to do, if not only in your career, then perhaps in your entire life. I drank the Kool Aid on this one, and thus aspired to achieve this goal, and regarded any individual or firm who graced the pages of this magazine with the utmost respect. I flipped through the pages, practically memorizing the name of every firm and designer in the cities that I imagined moving to after graduation. Oh, if only I could get a job at one of these impossibly awesome firms, my dreams would come true. Surely each of these designers is constantly surrounded by a cloud of gold dust and diamond dragonflies.

But after graduation, my dream didn’t come true. I had made a pilgrimage around the country, visiting the cities in which these untouchables worked, and even managed to meet with some of them. Much to my surprise, they weren’t 50 feet tall, and weren’t followed around by servants that fed them grapes and fanned them with palm leaves. They looked at my portfolio, said kind words, then politely blamed the 2002 economy for not hiring me.

I didn’t have the guts, the money, nor the connections to move to one of these cities and gamble on finding a job, so I put my tail between my legs and went back to the cornfields of Nebraska. But my luck didn’t change there. A couple months prior, I had been on my second interview with the agency of my dreams, and now I was being told by firms that I quite honestly thought sucked that they weren’t interested. To make matters worse, at the time there wasn’t a single Communication Arts winning firm in the whole city of Omaha. I was stuck in a virtual Graphic Design wasteland, and my dream of learning how to be a famous designer, from a famous designer, was dead.

So I “settled” for the best I could do. An architecture firm was looking to hire their first Graphic Designer, and they decided on me. I wasn’t going to study underneath a famous designer, but at least I was going to call the shots to a certain degree. Plus, I had a job now, so in the conservative Omaha minds of the people in my life, I was finally a worthy human being.

Within two years, my dream came true. A brochure I had done – my very first real print job – got into Communication Arts. It was astonishing to receive that glorious e-mail that announced this achievement. Surely now my life would change dramatically – I would probably be thrown a ticker tape parade. Or at least my phone would ring with young designers nervously calling me for my guidance the way I had done to the glitterati when I was in school. Maybe one of those 50 foot giants would call me up and beg me to come work for him, and get me out of this wasteland. The awesome talent that I was sure I had – but that nobody had recognized until now – had finally been acknowledged. Now I should be happy.

kitten jumping for toy

It wasn’t long until the excitement wore off. There was no ticker tape parade. No new job offers. No calls from young designers wanting to work for me. The architects I worked with, who knew a thing or two about the importance of awards, nodded graciously as I pointed at the gold-stamped award that I had hung on my grey tweed cubicle wall. My non-designer family and friends tried vainly to share my enthusiasm with me, once I was done explaining what an awesome thing I had done. But I didn’t feel full. How could this be? I was a famous designer now. What I had achieved was monumental. Maybe this award was just a fluke. Or worse yet, maybe I had been fooled into thinking that this was something to aspire to. Maybe other designers didn’t consider this to be the Holy Grail of design.

A Moment of Clarity in My Cloudy Egg-Drop Soup

But it turned out some did – and it wasn’t my twisted perception of this goal that had been the problem. My moment of clarity came when I was organizing an awards show for the local AIGA chapter. We were having drinks with the judges of the competition, on a beautiful September day on the patio of Mr. Toad’s, under old Oak trees in Omaha’s historic Old Market District. The subject of Communication Arts came up, and one of the judges gushed “that is the one thing that you work to achieve in your entire life: to. get. into. Communication. Arts.”

I think I went deaf for a few seconds after hearing that. I hadn’t been fooled. I was a fool. A fool surrounded by fools, dreaming of becoming an even bigger fool. The other people on the patio laughing and enjoying their afternoon beers, the babies being rolled by in strollers, all of the people oblivious to what the hell Communication Arts was, were going in slow motion. Did this person say life? Or career? I honestly don’t remember, but what difference did it make. We had flown this famous person in from another country. I still don’t know, but I assume they had been in Communication Arts. I had been in Communication Arts, but to this person I was just some peon somewhere in middle America. 

That was when I realized that this was a dream I had chased for all the wrong reasons. Until that moment, I wanted to win more Communication Arts awards. To someday start a super rad firm and wallpaper the walls with said awards. To hire interns to scan photos 18 hours a day for no reward other than putting my name on their résumé. To fly around the world to speak about the awesome work I did for the stupid clients, and all of the sweet awards I had won from doing that awesome work, and to sell a book featuring the awesome work, and the words explaining the awesomeness of said work. To design graphs that looked like amoebas, and take pictures of plastic figurines, to put in annual reports that made shareholders call up The Company and say “what the fuck are you doing with our money!? Oh, a famous designer designed this? Awesome!

This person must have said “life,” because I suddenly thought about mine. Winning that award hadn’t done anything for anyone other than myself. I hadn’t solved any problems, or helped anyone, or inspired anyone to do anything for anyone. Why had I even wanted to achieve this? Because someone told me it was an awesome thing to achieve. Someone who lives in a world where regular people tell regular people that they are awesome, and more regular people tell those people they are awesome, and those people think to themselves “I am awesome,” and tell those original people, and the people after those people, “here is how to be awesome,” and then those people nod their heads and say “he is awesome. I hope I can work for his awesome firm, and be awesome like him” and they do so for a few years and then think to themselves “why am I not awesome yet? I have worked for this awesome person, wiped their awesome ass with my sweat-drenched design school diploma, and their aura of awesomeness has failed to permeate my young, soft, naive skin.” Someone who was told the same thing by another person who had marinaded in the salty oceans of said world for a little bit longer.

Peeking Inside Your Fortune Cookie

If I could do it all over again, would I change a thing? No way. This is one of the many times in my life that I pursued a dream or a goal, only to find out that it was something I either didn’t want, or wanted for the wrong reasons. Even though I now recognize that Goals Are Bananas, I’m sure I’ve yet to pursue a few more Chinese Food Goals in my lifetime; but that knowledge has prevented me from wasting my energy on things that clearly weren’t going to make me happy. Some would call me a quitter, but if I had stuck with some prior goal, I’d currently be a professional Bowler – and c’mon, do I need to explain why I wouldn’t change a thing?

The world is constantly telling us there are things we need to strive for. We need to get a higher-paying job. We need to go back to school. We need to buy our girlfriend a really huge diamond. Recognizing when achieving something isn’t going to make you feel fulfilled is a skill that can maximize your health, wealth, and happiness. Has there been something in your life that you strove for and achieved, only to discover it didn’t make you that happy after all?


Chinese food photo by joeandsarah. Celebrating kid by charliehey. Jumping cat by raindog.

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This post is filed under Creative Productivity, Life Hacks, Sustainability.