11 August 2017

Storytelling matters: my afternoon with Debbie Millman


Who is Debbie Millman?

Debbie is a writer, educator, artist, brand consultant and host of the radio show Design matters.
Tim Ferris introduced me to Debbie Millman. Through a podcast, obviously, not in person. However I did get the chance to see Debbie in person. She talked about "How to design your creative life".
Her story wasn't new to me. So my interest was more around how she will present as opposed to what I will learn. I did take away a few things from the talk. Being a beautiful generous person, I am sharing them with you. Side note: only a very tired version of myself would say such nice things about me.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Here's the thing about me: I've always only knew what I didn't want to be. At 5, I didn't want to be a doctor, because I hated the penicillin shots I was given when I fell ill. At 25, I didn't want to work in a bank although it was part of the majors I studied in faculty. After excluding these 2, I'm left with pretty much EVERYTHING. And Debbie Millman says "Everything" is the best answer she ever heard for this question. That was comforting since, at 37, I still don't know what I would like to be when I grow up. Or is it that at 37 you are only left with the slightly changed question: What do you want to be when you grow old? The grow part remains, and growing is the only thing that matters after all.


What were you drawing when you were 8?

I wish I knew. It could help me figure out the answer for question 1. Debbie was drawing Lays potato chips logo at 8. No wander she became such an expert in branding and design. With no specific answers to life's biggest questions I stay open to possibilities.

How to design your creative life

Debbie shared her success story which, in most parts, is a long series of rejections. How did she handle that? Briefly put, one has to choose what she wants to die of: regret or heartbreak? It was only natural that her first advice was "Keep trying".

Here's some more advice on "How to design your creative life":
  • Anything worthwhile takes a long time. Expect that.
  • Busy is a decision. Make time!
  • Confidence is overrated. Be courageous and do it now.
  • Aim for a lot.
  • Learn how to code.
  • Stories can change lives with the support of great design. Like the Pink Pussy Hat at Woman's March. Or the hashtag #blacklivesmatter.
  • Show your work, despite your fears. Even great artists have fears."Barbra Streisand, singing in front of more than a hundred thousand people in Central Park, one night in 1967, repeatedly forgot her lyrics. For twenty-seven years thereafter, she refused to perform live except at charity concerts." I can't go on, "The New Yorker".
  • Work hard (80 hours per week).

I went home with one of Debbie's posters courtesy of Unicredit Bank, and this incredible exercise on my mind. This day, 10 years from now, what is the day like for you? Dream without any fear. Write like your life depends on it. Because IT does.


In the end it is all about the choices we make. "We can talk about making a difference or we can make a difference. Or we can do both". That's how Debbie wraps up all Design matters podcasts.

Who has a story about you?

A story a day keeps the doctor away!

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