I’m no Jan Chipchase, traveling to the far reaches of earth to discover unknown user behaviors. But over the years I’ve worked with midwives in Uganda, HIV/AIDS rights activists in Seattle, humanities scholars in Holland, research oncologists in Basel, and Finnish kids wanting to travel to learn a language - so I know a bit about interviewing different types of people with vastly different life experiences from mine.
As UX researchers and designers it’s important that we know how to parachute into situations in which we’re unfamiliar. At the pharma company Novartis I’d interview scientists with deep expertise, and I’d have to quickly become familiar with their workplace jargon so that they could speak freely and get to the bottom of what I was actually trying to discover.
In project teams, a ‘subject matter expert’ served as the critical bridge between scientific knowledge and design. These experts explained complex scientific information to the tech and design teams. Before most interviews, I’d sit with this expert and go through the words and concepts I’d expect to hear during the interview.
When parachuting in, it’s important that we take the vocabulary of the person we’re researching. If you stop the conversation and ask them to clarify too much, then they might adopt the same mindset as a kindergarten teacher would with their kids. Or they might never get to the “meat” of what you’re trying to discover because they think it would be too complex.
To design meaningful products, I had to make sure that the scientists were speaking on a similar level with me as their colleagues. That they felt free to tell me exactly about their workflows and their pain-points, without my lack of knowledge getting in the way.
But it’s not only expertise I’ve learned how to navigate, but also when a person I’m interviewing is vastly different from me in terms of ordinary life experiences. For example, when I interview 10 year olds, I have to “parachute in” to their mindset, their way of thinking. Help make them comfortable very fast. One of the ways I do this is by asking about their best friends, hobbies, music tastes, or favorite weekend activities. After they tell you, even if it’s totally unrelated to your research, I’ve found it opens them up to a more productive interview experience.
To navigate effectively into other people’s worlds is a very important skill. Prepare for what you might encounter, use their vocabulary, and make people as comfortable as possible, so you can bring their stories back into designing meaningful products.
I fit my life into a dream.
All of it
As it walks its own little
through the murky world
My thumping heart
to the call
through the fog
an endless yet marvelous
of gray – disguising
the way ahead
and I smile
because my thumping heart
a heightened awareness
a brightly lit feeling
that something is
waiting for me.
In early July I asked myself: what activates me? What makes me truly passionate about the work that I do? And as I considered this question over the following months I finally came to the conclusion: I love asking questions, I really enjoy finding out about people’s lives, and I get great satisfaction from putting user insights into product.
Over the past two years at EF I’ve been the primary researcher on all of our projects, as we’ve had no dedicated UX Researcher. Before EF I was working as a designer in the research division of Novartis with also no dedicated researcher. So doing research - contextual inquiry, workshops, interviews, surveys, etc - was always an absolute critical part of my work. But I never thought I would do it full time, until I presented some research findings I did last April and then again in early August that convinced me - and senior leadership in my team - that this is the direction I should head.
But WTF, Matti? You’re a designer, you love pixels, you love code, you love color and typography and flows. Yes I do! I still do. But I also love writing interview scripts, conducting fieldwork, designing surveys, asking hard questions. I love diving deep into the questions, and being surprised by what people tell me. I love communicating findings to the creative and engineering teams, and getting them excited about asking questions and pursuing their own research.
So where am I headed, what I am doing? I’m becoming more of a UX Researcher*.
If you have a similar experience of pivoting from one discipline to another - or if you’re just plain antidiscipline, I’d love to connect.
- Take off those headphones. Be a part of the world.
- Connect with your friends and family. You have very little time with them left.
- Sing your heart out. Your voice is good enough.
- Walk slower and listen. To breathe and feel the ground beneath your feet.
- Taste your food. It's entering your body, becoming a part of you.
- Sleep. You never get enough on any other days.
- Meditate. Find peace with yourself and your world.
- Pray with your community. You soul rejoices with G!d when you do.
Last weekend I read an interview with Shawn Sprockett in the Techies Project where he was asked: “What is really exciting to you about your work? What are things you’re super proud of, what are things that really activate you right now?”
If I were to answer this very quickly, I’d say that it was exciting that my work involves transforming lives through travel and education. But this is a very expected, somewhat drinkin’-the-koolaid response. I just finished a long, drawn-out, somewhat arduous project and am wanting to dig a little bit deeper into what “activates” me.
If I go into my past, the work that I was most excited by involved stories of people finding themselves in this world, and how technology can facilitate that process. Perhaps it started with my experience as a bullied 12 year old gay boy in the Midwest finding support online. And from there, finding a way to travel to Germany via my online Filipino penpal. And then later, the projects that I worked on in college, such as designing a medical device for Ugandan midwives, or HIV disclosure service, certaintly “activated” my passions for the impact that design can have on people’s everyday lives.
I must press forward toward what activates me, what makes my soul come alive. As I wrote yesterday, we should remain close to what matters most to us, close to our heart, close to who we are. Same with passions and interests - they don’t only come from looking outside, but from looking within.
"People are accustomed to look at the heavens and to wonder what happens there. It would be better if they would look within themselves, to see what happens there." - Kotzker Rebbe
As a 6 or 7 year old, I remember one of my relatives pointing at a burning campfire and saying: “If you’re not a good boy, you’ll burn in there forever.” I used to think G!d was a mean, punishing power. That if I cussed or didn’t honor my parents or wore shorts above the knee (seriously!) I’d burn in hell for eternity. This made me have a very frightened view of G!d, and kept religion at a distance.
As I grew older and became more confident, I realized I could have a new relationship with this power, a relationship that I would help me to become a better - “higher” - version of myself.
But it didn’t come easily. I had to deal with false notions of right and wrong. I had to reframe G!d and my relationship with Them. I had to become comfortable with my own truth, in how I see the world and what I feel most spriritually comfortable with.
But how to break through? How can we shed our preconceived notions of G!d and arrive at a version that speaks to us, that is in line with our hearts? Part of it is growing up and being comfortable with yourself - that your adult beliefs are as valid as your parents were at the age you’re right now.
Another part is through practice, such as praying or meditation and creating the space for silence, a space for just being. It also begins with affirming what we believe through how we live, how we treat others, and how we take action to make a better world.
A dear friend and former Trader Joe’s colleague was brutally murdered in her home last Sunday. Lita was not only one of the kindest people one would ever meet, but she was also a fighter for social justice and equality.
The fact that she died is one thing, but the brutal way in which she died begs me to ask: why her? Why would anyone want to do such a violent act towards another human being, much less Lita?
On this past Shabbat Rabbi Angela Buchdahl spoke about gun violence in America. She said she couldn’t believe in a G!d who would choose in a mass shooting which kids would live and which ones would die. In the same way, I can’t believe in a G!d who would pick Lita to die, so young, so full of kindness and life. It just doesn’t work like that.
I believe in the G!d that brought Lita’s impact on other people into this world. “Remember to keep it kind,” Lita would say. During this past week, there has been a massive outpouring of love for Lita, for her life and her work. G!d exists with these people; the presence appears when Lita’s friends come together and ask: “Why?” When we shed tears for Lita. When we donate money to help pay for her funeral costs.
HaShem exists in the acts that come from us, the actions that work against violence, against evil. To work to make this world a more loving, kinder world.
It’s been years since I heard Lita’s laugh, saw her smile. But my memories of her play in my head. Please, let her death be a reminder to keep working, keep building to make this a better, kinder world.תיקון עולם
Repair the world, it’s on us
Not belonging is a familiar feeling, almost as it crawled into my crib while I was a baby and has stayed with me since. Small town Missouri until I was 17. Then Lippstadt, Germany. Tacoma, Washington. Seattle. Zürich. Never have I lived in a place where I’ve felt truly me, where I felt where my soul could thrive. But I’ve felt it.
I felt my soul come alive when I was 17 visiting Lyon. Passing through Amsterdam throughout the past ten years. Visiting New York just a month ago. It’s as if in a past life I lived in those cities, like my soul was reacquainting itself. So… why do I continue living in a place where I don’t feel I belong? For many years I’ve thought I would. But because of jobs or relationships I didn’t think it was possible.
But at the same time, I think it’s wrong to think a certain place can make me feel whole. I have to recognize the wonderful what I have - the skills I’m learning in my job, my apartment, safety, health. True belonging comes from within.
I’ve lived many years not doing things because I thought I was going to not be living there much longer. Not buying furniture, not making friends, not engaging hobbies. That was a mistake. To feel fully alive, I have to live in the now. Because now is all that matters. Now is all I have.
Not belonging is a perception, not a fact. We have to remain vigilant about the stories we tell ourselves, and whether if they are helping us or hurting us, in the now.
I just started reading Pirkei Avot; a book focused on Jewish ethics. The maxim to “build a fence around the Torah” resonates with me most so far. The Rabbis interpreted this to mean to keep the essence of the laws intact even with modern demands. But to me, “build a fence” means to keep what’s sacred, sacred. To honor and love the Torah is to build a fence around it, to hold it up as extraordinary. And when you protect it, you understand it better. It becomes a part of you, and you learn how to incorporate it into your own life.
But don’t only build a fence around the Torah. Protect all that matters to you. Your passions, peace of mind, and your ability to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. Your potential to learn and grow and become a better human being. Don’t let social media or the news or stupid habits or complacency get in the way of your ability to make the most out of your own life. Develop your boundaries. Keep what’s sacred, sacred - build a fence around what matters most.
2017 was a difficult, but encouraging year. I realized that I was depressed and needed to do something about it. I began going to therapy and in December I moved to my own apartment - my first apartment of my own - and have just begun to feel what it’s like to be independent.
I’ve never lived alone. After graduating high school I moved with my best friend Sarah to Tacoma, then to Seattle. In Seattle I moved in with my partner who I have been living with up until December (a little more than nine years). It’s so strange to have my own place - where I can play loud music in the mornings and go to bed whenever I want (even as early as 9pm). Where I can decorate however I want, and cook whatever I want. Read books and watch movies whenever I want.
Moving isn’t everything but at least it’s something. Moving is action, and action means that something - whether good or bad - is happening. I had to take action to shake myself out of the depressive slumber I’ve been in for so long. To feel what it means to be alive, to be me again.
Six months ago I stopped drinking alcohol. I still remember the moment: I was on a ski trip in the Swiss Alps with a group of my friends and it was well past 5am. They were still up partying while I was in bed, trying to sleep. That week I had just read a book called This Naked Mind about the effects of alcohol, and realized what it was making me into a person I didn’t want to be. Alcohol was not my friend.
To be clear: my life was never out of control with booze - I would have at most two beers every weekday night, and a bit more on the weekends. But it was my brain that was out of control. The quiet, everyday cravings - the wanting. Alcohol seemed to be controlling my mind, to be taking away my ability to concentrate and focus completely on myself and what I wanted to accomplish in life.
After quitting I’ve realized how more patient I’ve become, allowing me to be more open toward learning about myself and others. It opens up new pathways in how to think that I couldn’t quite access through the haze of booze. It allows me more time to feel alive in my own body, to feel physically healthy and fit.
Quitting drinking hasn’t made my life perfect, at all. It sucks to be left out of invites because friends think that I wouldn’t be interested. It’s lame when people don’t feel comfortable with their own drinking so they push a drink in my face. And yes, sometimes I do miss how easy it seems to be to go out, have fun, and be social.
But ultimately - is it worth it? No. I’m not under any delusion that alcohol actually helps me have more fun; and when I came to terms with that - that I can still tell jokes and laugh and dance - I actually had more fun. I’m happier, and more free. The reality of my life is raw, and beautiful, and I’m capturing it all real time.
Quitting alcohol allowed me to think, to evaluate, to understand. It unleashed clarity, where I could scan the contours of this messy brain, dive deep into its inner workings and see how these workings were affecting how I wanted to pursue life. How I wanted my own story to turn out - not the story mixed in with a controlling, harmful substance.
And the story still unfolds…
Several months after my friend Daniel died, I was preoccupied with whether I would also die young. Accidents notwithstanding, I was practically raised on fast food, one of my parent’s smoked, and I was a frequent sunbed goer in my late teens. Do any of these things constitute death? No, but still my mind wondered.
Last December my dear Angelique unexpectedly passed away, and the question arrived again: am I next? But I have to remember who Daniel and Angelique were - they died young yes, but they were so full of life while alive. They lived incredible lives, even in the short time span they were here. And so, it does a disservice to my life to raise this question.
But allow me to just answer it: Matti: you will die young. Perhaps at 32, 40, 60, or even as old as 90. As long as you keep learning, keep growing, keep meeting great people, keep taking care of your health, keep loving your G!d, keep immersing yourself in life - you will surely die young.
This is a promise I’ll work to keep.
For a long time I’ve held a vision in my head, of my spirit traveling through space. This vision would come to me at the most random of moments: while at the gym, in the shower, or just before bed. ‘What does this mean?’ I used to wonder. I don’t yet know, exactly, but I do know that I’ve traveled far in my life; further than I could have ever imagined.
Who was I? That 14 year old Missourian gay kid planning to move to LA as soon as he turned 18. That 18 year old who so desperately wanted to move to NYC, but instead ended up moving to Tacoma, Washington. That 26 year old who moved to Amsterdam and met his best friend. That 28 year old who moved to Zürich. But this is more than just changing cities. To be in transit is more about a mindset, like Marcel Proust once wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”
When I read journals I wrote when I was 16, 17 - I barely recognize myself. Like many at that age I was stupid and naive. But I was also incredibly brave. I willed myself out of bad situations, bad circumstances. I knew that there was always something greater than a minimum wage job at the Tacoma Mall. I knew there was a light down the tunnel somewhere.
So, this vision I have. I’m not quite sure what it is but it comes to me, of me traversing through space. Through darkness and sometimes through light. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t exactly know what I am doing, where I’m going. But I do know that as long as I keep going, I will be all right.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anaïs Nin
Growing up there were two sections of the local bookstore I felt afraid to be caught in: the LGBTQ section and the Judaism section. I was raised in a family of Christian fundamentalists, and the mere interest in being gay or Jewish was unthinkable - as if the moment I was caught with one of these books I’d be sent to hell.
But something brought me back to those sections. Time and time again, I’d return and discover truths that felt right to me.
Fast forward almost twenty years, and I have been in a relationship with my Jewish partner for nine years and I’ve decided to become a part of the Jewish people. Let’s be clear: acknowledging one’s sexuality and becoming Jewish are two very different things, but both involve a change in identity, a change in how we present ourselves to the outside world.
I am not converting to Judaism for my partner, as he’s never been particularly interested in the religious aspects of Judaism - this is my decision alone.
In the beginning of my relationship I was surprised when I discovered my partner was Jewish. I hid my books on Judaism from him. Too ashamed to tell him I had an interest, Judaism was his culture, his ethnicity, his family history, that I had no right to claim as my own. But I deeply craved a relationship with G!d through this sacred lens.
I kept finding myself - in London and Amsterdam and Berlin and Zürich and Paris and Krakow and Cape Town and Florence and Rome and New York City - browsing through the Judaism section in bookstores and visiting Jewish sites and museums. But it still never translated into something that I believed I could do for myself - I didn’t have the strength, the confidence. Until I took a flight from New York to Zürich last February.
I was on a flight with a group of Jews traveling to Tel Aviv through Zürich. Across from me sat a man reading a book in Hebrew, and while watching him something within me clicked - I don’t know what it was, but a strong feeling toward something. The indescribable feeling arose within me, something of what I knew was so strongly inside was now bubbling over the surface of my life.
After landing in Zürich, I began the task of approaching the G!d that existed all along. I just had to acknowledge the existence within; had to build the confidence to say “Yes” to myself, before I could fully acknowledge what was living in my soul.
“People first, then money, then things,” Suze Orman used to say on her television show. This is a phrase I kept repeating to myself when I booked a flight for my mom to come to Europe. After the flights, train tickets, hotel bookings, and upcoming dinner reservations, I couldn’t help thinking: “This is going to be expensive. I am not used to spending money like this.”
Don’t get me wrong. I have a good salary, I can afford it. But the poor college student won’t leave, who still yells at me for spending over $40 on a book. But as soon as my mom came - this worrying about the cost almost completely disappeared.
Because she was here, in my home, at my work, in my Roman neighborhood. She was here, on the Venice canals, in Paris. I watched her every moment, looking at her eyes, watching her dazzled at what she was seeing.
Like a small child, she took it all in. Like a sponge, learning about the world. She was discovering.
“What a gift!” I thought. “What a glorious gift!” To give her the chance to see a part of the world she never would have otherwise.
My mom lives in the Midwest. After working at the same company for 27 years, she recently went back to school and became a nurse at 54 years old. Now she spends her work weeks from 7pm to 7am in one of the most dangerous parts of the city, taking care of the poor and minorities; people who’ve lived very hard lives.
Of course, my mom and I have a complicated relationship. She gave birth to a boy who would one day carve out his very own life - make his own choices, struggle to become who he really was. At a young age I rejected a lot of what was handed me by the world I was born into. Rejected the “default” sexuality that was not my own, the predetermined religion that was not my own, the city where I didn’t belong.
But my mom and I are bounded. By simply love - she’s my mom. So, to take her to Zürich, Lucerne, Rome, Venice, and Paris. Small drops in the bucket of a rich life that she gave me so readily, so lovingly and happily. A mom is a mom is a mom is a mom - I can never pay her back for what she’s given.
And I am still thinking about her face, her expression as we went to Colosseum or took a boat through the Venice canals or walked under the shade of the Eiffel Tower. The wonder in her eyes; an immeasurable gift.
I am sorry for neglecting you for so long. I moved to Europe, got a regular 9-5 job that paid well, and became almost hopelessly complacent. I have recently awakened to the fact that time is passing me by, and I have a responsibility to make the world better. For myself, my family, my friends, and my world.
How can I best serve you, social justice?1. By paying attention. I know I shouldn’t only read the New York Times, Politico, and Huffington Post. There’s a lot more to read out there, including Democracy Now!
2. By remembering who I am. I have long been passionate about animal and women’s rights. Also, as a gay man, I owe it to my community to serve the LGBTQ+ community.
3. By taking action. Fighting for a better world doesn’t only mean being angry about how things are, but doing something about it. I want to participate in protests, donate more money, and write about the injustice I see in the world. Lately I have been following Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz on his Valley Beit Midrash channel, and his passion for social justice, animal rights, LGBTQ rights, and religious pluralism inspires me.
4. Take care of yourself. If you are unhealthy or working too much, you can’t be effective at helping others. Focus on having a balanced diet, exercising, and meditating for a more even-keeled mind. The world is a crazy place, and you should act as a stabilizing force within it.
Tikkun olam - it’s on us.
I’ve kept a regular journal since 2001, when I went on an exchange to Germany as a high school student. I still have scraps of paper from as far back as 1994 - when I was ten years old - that tell me about the kind of person I was, what I felt, who I loved, hated, and how I thought about life. But what happens when we fall silent? When we stop writing? Does time just disappear, life just flow right past us?
That’s how I’ve felt about the past eight months since I’ve written in here. Like time is just escaping. But I need to write, I need to share and connect with people. But what has led me to not do that?
It’s not being busy (we’re all busy all the time), it’s not for lack of interest (writing is in my heart), and it’s not because I love doing other things more (except design comes close). It’s something I can’t describe, and should it matter? No. Passion is timeless, as is art. We should just create, because that’s what our job is to do.
In these past eight months I got a new job. I traveled to South Africa. Traveled to Amsterdam, New York, London, Kansas City. Took weekly Dutch classes. I stopped drinking. I found something magical within myself - which I will share with you, when it’s time. So, this writing continues. To figure out what I am doing, what is happening, to stay true to myself - I need to write.
There’s a peculiar feeling when saying goodbye to someone for the last time. I felt it the last time I saw my grandpa, the last time I saw one of my former colleagues, and with strangers I meet, connect with like they’re old friends, and then suddenly depart from. While none of these events can be equated, the same eeriness persists.
What is it? This feeling… with a glint in your eye wishing them good health, the very best, and hoping that someday you might meet again. But somewhere deep inside, knowing it will not happen. At least in this world.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly consuming content. With one quick swipe on our phone we read what other people are watching, hearing, and creating. But how much of that content are you creating? How much of that content has been shaped and shifted by your mind, your own hands? And how much of that has a deep, meaningful, and lasting effect on your life?
Few people are strategic with how they consume, rather - whatever appears in their inbox or newsfeed is what they digest. And the people creating the content are shaping thoughts and feelings, both within your mind and society at large.
To take an extreme example, Ann Coulter is creating. She publishes book after book after book of Republican far-right wing beliefs. Although her views are absurd, she is the one setting the tone on the news, in interviews, and to a large extent, in many parts of American society. Why? Because at a very basic level, she’s consistently creating.
To create content gives you some power, because you can shape what other people think. How other people think. Even if people disagree with you, they are doing so as a reaction to what you’re making.
And this is not about tangible creations, only. There’s so much within ourselves to discover, to become, to create. But constantly consuming content gets in the way of this work. It obstructs us from pursuing the art within our own lives. It stops us from making our own futures.
If you want to shape your own life and art, consume less. Create more.
I’ve struggled with this concept in the past, both as a designer and writer. The concept of “creative threshold”, or when the right time is to share your work. To show what you’re doing on a personal project.
Most of us don’t have the resources to do endless iterations or have a thorough, professional analysis done on our creative work. But we have to get it out to the world to show what we’ve done. When is the right time? When do we know we’ve reached the point where we can show our work?
Ultimately, it comes down to the questions you’re trying to answer, and the end goal you have in mind.
So, if we want to show more work, then what do we have to do?
1. Get used to it
Pushing ‘Publish’ consistently makes you get used to getting out there, showing your work. Even if it’s not perfect, showing your work often can make you less sensitive to criticism and more importantly, allow others to get to know you and your craft.
How are people supposed to get into your work if you’re a ghost, behind a thick veneer of coldness, or self-doubt? Your dedication and passion is impressive, and you need to get it out there. Show your work often. Publish, publish, publish. This builds a certain power, a fortitude - and through this you can move your art forward into the world.
Ask for feedback, ask for help, for resources. This can sometimes be so hard, but if we’re going to get better, and show work we need to ask the people around us to help.
No one can become successful alone. And you need to get used to asking for others for advice, for help, to simply look at your work or to talk. To move your work forward.
But what if you’re a painter and don’t know any other painters? Or any other writers? Or any other interior designers? Then use social media like Instagram or Twitter, or go to art stores/schools, bookstores, poetry readings, home decorating shops, - any which way, get out there. Ask for help. You’ll need it.
3. Use grit
Grit is the least understood, but most powerful weapon in pursuing one’s art. But to produce work regularly doesn’t come easy. One must set a schedule, and stick with it, and not allow the outside world to become a threat to the ideas and imagination and plans you have within.
Television shows, the news, social media, the phone, certain relationships - all of these can be devastating to your craft, your work. You need to get a handle on them and understand how they’re affecting your craft.
Be conscientious about how you spend your time by using ad-blockers on your browser or putting your phone in the other room. Do whatever you can to continue. Because sometimes brute force alone can take you to the next level.
So… what are you waiting for? Get to work. And then show us.
For a great book on this topic, check out Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work”
Yesterday a woman on my street tried committing suicide by jumping off of her balcony. She screamed “Why why why why why?” in German while police stood down below, figuring out what to do. My neighbors were doing the same thing as I: wondering, will she jump?
I got off my balcony and went into the kitchen and ate some chocolate. Curious, I went back to the balcony and the screaming had stopped. She had jumped, and on the ground was a bright light, and medics surrounding her body. And then I heard her screaming again. Almost the same, but now a little hurt. Screaming what? I wasn’t sure. But she lied there, on the ground. And I went back to the kitchen and finished my chocolate with a shaking jaw.
What if we fashioned our entire lives so that our art, health, and happiness blossom?
I wake up each morning at 5:45. By seven I head out the door, get on the train, and go to work. I usually get back home in the evening between 7 and 7:30, rarely later. I have a four-hour daily commute and if you see me on the train I’m doing one of three things: writing, reading, or designing.
There’s phenomenal power in my daily routine. I am able, without thinking, to improve on my passions just by making them daily habits. I’m able to become a better writer and designer because I focus on these two areas on my daily ride.
But this is only the train ride. What about the hours of sleep I get each night? Or the food I eat? Or the people I talk to on a regular basis? The relationships that I keep on an ongoing basis? How can I maximize the healthier aspects of each moment of my life? There are many aspects of our lives that we can better understand, and isolate in order to improve them. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, each day before lunch my friend has a reminder go off on his phone that tells him to ‘Eat healthy!’. Keeping a diary of how many hours you sleep each night, and how you feel each morning (and perhaps why) might also help to improve your sleep.
But making long-lasting changes in the way you live takes courage. Great power is needed to instill a inner strength that propels one forward, that doesn’t allow unhealthy habits or routines sabotage the potential that lies within. You just have to find this power, and it can only come from yourself. Meditation, writing in a journal, or seeing a therapist helps.
Last night I walked into the gym and was shocked: it was packed at a time when it’s normally empty. Then I remembered: “Oh yeah, it’s 2015 and everyone made their new year’s resolution to get fit.” Although I usually roll my eyes at new years resolutions, this year I made my own: I am going to work on slowing down.
Throughout high school and into my 20s and college years, I was running, running, and running. Even after I had started my first 9 - 5 “real job” I was working early in the mornings until the evenings. But last July when I hit 30 something changed.
I looked around, and realized that I wasn’t really enjoying life. I wasn’t really enjoying my surroundings, or feeling grateful for all that I have (and I have a lot to be grateful for). I wasn’t connecting with people, or making good, solid friendships. I was focused on the next project, the next thing to do, the next goal to achieve. But I wasn’t paying attention to what I have already achieved, and the family and friends I already have.
So, although I’m sorta rolling my eyes while typing this, my goal for 2015 is to slow the fuck down. To connect with people. To enjoy life and feel gratitude for the relationships I have. Because, at the end of life, good relationships are the most important things we have. It’s not a career, or money, or awards, or degrees. The most important thing in life is looking into another person’s eyes and feeling love for them, and having a connection with them.
Recently I told one of my former professors that one of my regrets from my time in college was that I didn’t slow down, didn’t truly connect with others. Yes, I was involved in successful design projects and did well academically. But when I look back at that time of running, running, running, I feel sad. Because I remember that young guy who was struggling to get ahead, fighting to raise his stature in life, all the while missing the life that he was surrounded with.
I’m changing this. People and relationships first. Everything else, after.
Why don’t you say something? Why don’t you share something?
Events in recent weeks has led me back to this blank page, to write about what I know and don’t know. An unacknowledged but deeply felt fear that I’ve had, for not being perfect, for not writing things the right way, for not showing you the most pixel-perfect designs, the fear that I am somehow lesser than what I have in my mind.
This, has kept me from sharing. From saying: “Hello world, here I am, here are my writings, here are my designs. Let’s connect, let’s share - together”. And I’m sick of being quiet, of not saying things or showing things for fear of being wrong. Well, I am wrong sometimes, or dammit, much of the time. That’s part of being human. Being imperfect is human, it’s natural.
And it’s true: the work we show should be good, or we should strive as much to make it as good as possible. But don’t let that striving keep you from expressing yourself. Saying how you feel, or trying to get an idea out.
Seeing my friend Mike play last week in Zürich and Lausanne, reading Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, following @kseniaanake, and other things (like meditating) has gave me new confidence and energy to just go for it.
So, I’m going to smile and be imperfect. Be bold. This is what I’m telling myself now, to smile and be bold.
I turned around as soon as he started mooning a group of schoolchildren.
I couldn’t take it. Daniel was just too much to handle. I began walking ahead of him, increasing the distance between us. But two minutes later, he jumped on me in hysterical fits. “No, no — don’t be angry! Please! I love you.” Typical Daniel. One moment doing something completely egregious. The next, confessing his love and affection for you.
For every bad thing Daniel did, there was an equal amount of love, kindness, generosity, and affection he gave to everyone he knew. He would do anything and everything to make his friends happy, giving all he had and asking for nothing in return.
It pains me to write this in the past tense, but maybe someday this will become normal: his heart stopped beating on January 23, 2012, 23:29 Holland time. His death is impossible to accept, like an unfathomable reality I cannot comprehend.
When I discovered his heart would stop beating at any moment, I first went to the gym. It seemed like the only thing to do. “Just follow the schedule, Matti. Follow the damn schedule,” I told myself. And I did. I went to the gym and began running. But I had to stop. I couldn’t continue. It was as if someone or something was placing a white sheet over everything — all of the treadmills, weights, exercise machines, and my own ability to think. I had to do something else, but I didn’t know what to do — my best friend was dying.
Crazy. Lovable. Intense. Genuine. Impulsive. Creative. Attention-seeking. Sweet. There’s so many ways to describe Daniel.
We first met at a bar in Amsterdam called Prik. Daniel approached me because he thought I was 17 years old. After later discovering I was in fact 26, Daniel said: “The bar must have been very dark.” Shortly after meeting, Daniel introduced me to the rest of his friends. All of his friends were normal, unlike him. What a surprise! They didn’t sit on strangers’ laps, sing a show tune loudly at a random moment, or order four bottles of wine without having any money. His friends were level-headed and responsible.
We were all fascinated by his energy — an enormous ball of spectacular energy that made you his audience by virtue of proximity to him. Even at 5 am, after a long night of dancing and drinking — he would be bouncing off the walls while the rest of us could barely open our droopy eyes.
Most of Daniel’s life was an adventure in which every moment was seized.
On his 33rd (and last) birthday, Daniel smashed my face into his birthday cake. I grabbed a handful of cake and Daniel began running. I caught up to him in the next room and spread the white frosting in his hair like it was hair gel. The night before his birthday, Daniel took his glass of red wine and poured it over a friend’s head. On another friend’s white couch.
However, Daniel was not always causing trouble. He was one of the sweetest and the most intimate persons I have ever met — always hugging me, holding my hand, and wanting to cuddle on the couch. Intimacy was extremely important for Daniel, and whether you liked it or not you were going to be continually touched while he was around you.
Daniel’s level of intimacy made me initially uncomfortable, most likely because my dad is a former Marine. I was raised to believe intimacy between two male friends is socially unacceptable. However, Daniel forced me to become more intimate, as he did with the rest of his friends. How I appreciated those hugs! Those kisses! Those moments we had snuggling on the couch! How I would do anything to have those intimate moments again!
But it is not to be. He is now dead.
He had an epileptic attack on January 20th. I knew Daniel had had epilepsy. Vaguely. He must have told me he had it at some point or another. But I never thought an epileptic attack would kill him — cause him to not breathe and have a heart attack, and make him brain dead.
Daniel was a friend who danced, sung, twirled you around and around in circles, and told random people your dick size (or his best estimate of your dick size). Daniel detested boredom and mediocrity, and was focused solely on doing what he wanted.
“It’s Daniel’s world,” we used to say. “We just live in it.”
For many, like me, giving Daniel the spotlight was no problem. I loved his crazy personality and his infectious zest for life. For others, he caused a visceral reaction that had the person looking for the nearest exit away from him. “Daniel is Daniel,” we used to say.
Now we try to say: “Daniel was Daniel.”
The night after Daniel died, I had a dream that he suddenly woke up in his hospital bed and said, “I was just kidding guys! The joke is on you!” After I woke up, I broke down crying because I realized it was a dream. I actually expected Daniel to do this, because it would be so typical for Daniel to do.
Sometimes, I daydream that Daniel is going to come around the corner, and begin laughing at me like I am a complete idiot for thinking he was dead. Daniel’s seismic personality makes it unbelievable that he really is gone, forever.
He was not ready to die. Daniel was taken with his soul shrieking: “No no no no no no no!” Now everyone who loved him is crying: “No no no no no no no!” His death has been too much to handle, and all who love and loved him are coming to grips with a reality that is impossible to swallow.
A beautiful and raucous life, taken from us. No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no…