I go for a walk every morning before starting work. I do so, unfailingly. My own private audience with nature, with the many trees on the way, the flocks of newborn birds chirping in excitement, and the sun as it slowly rises in the horizon. In silence, coffee in hand, in attention.
I do many things, I always have. Drawing is one of them. I have drawn as a way to document my world for years, if not even my entire life, but have done so somewhat in secret. Not out of shame, but, because it doesn't fit into a neat story together with code, design, and my many other curiosities.
But, as of late, I've been practicing giving up control of my story and instead let it unfold as it wants to. Like Jobs said at Stanford in 2005, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.
I make big drawings with thick sharpies, I also make a mean investor pitch deck, I'm currently learning how computers are built all the way down to the lower levels of transistors and boolean logic, I design decent brands, I've read most of Carl Jung's books, and in my job I synthesize products into stories.
These are my dots...
It’s when we take our perspective to higher grounds in an attempt to see ahead that things get more abstracted and complicated. But, down below with the bugs, it all tends to be a lot simpler.
There’s usually a next step encoded in our minds in the form of an intuition or a hunch. Maybe there's a couple, but I venture to say one is usually the optimal. We draw the head, then the neck, then the torso, then the arms, then the hands, and little by little we make a human. We write the helper method, then the other method, then the outer method, and line by line, we write a program.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen to life, as I know it, if I lived only from that small and intimate space of knowing. No grandeur, no being this or that type of person, just a continuous dialogue between the inner and outer self. What’s the next step… and after that, what’s the step after that?
Hunch by hunch, on I’d go, like the beatle making its way up the mountain.
I feel like a liar when I tell people I'm a designer. Correction: not because I'm not a designer or not good at it — I am — but because it's not an accurate expression of what I do. My coming of age into the workforce was defined by a white MacBook and internet access. Like many, I learned a ton of digital tools and emulated from worldly people who pieced themselves together in unique ways. The result is that I've become a minotaur of sorts: head of a bull, arms of a designer, hands of a coder, heart of a communicator.
When I start a job, no one can quite define what I do. Two months in, I'm deep in the company story, writing pitch decks for sales, re-designing the brand and building our corporate website from scratch. I'm not an exception here, some of my friends are in a similar predicament.
My value is clearer at the intersection of my digital skills. I'm a better communicators when I design the messaging, a better entrepreneur when I code the product, a better actor when I also write the material. The magic seems to happen at the margins.
Bylines, profiles, and Medium posts, pressure us to be someone. But my impression is that we're all in a perpetual search for our calling. and, as we explore, gain new skills that end up informing what we do for a living. When I level with people and, to paraphrase Judd Appatow, tell them I'm figuring it out and patching it up to make it look like I have a clue, that's when I get the most interesting responses.
Turns out there's a polymath inside each one of us.
That's the paradox of the whole thing! We're told to find a niche and specialize. But the truth is that there's a kaleidoscope of ideas, pursuits, aspirations, and a good dose of weirdness hidden behind our bylines.
It was as if a balloon inflated in my throat. I clenched my abdomen, squinted my eyes, and jutted my jaw forward—all in an attempt to wring out the words on the page. Nothing came. My classmates looked at me perplexedly.
My mom tells me it started in kindergarten, but it’s that memory from a reading assignment in fifth grade that stands out for me. I remember struggling to introduce myself, not raising my hand in class when I knew the answer, ordering the wrong item on the menu, pretending to miss phone calls, and allowing strangers to finish my sentences.
My dad stuttered too, but only occasionally and had no shame around it. This meant that at home this wasn’t seen as a problem, but simply a quirk. I wasn’t rushed into speech therapy, prescribed medication, or given any excuses. The medical literature I could get my hands on at school backed my parents’ view: no known cause, no magic-bullet. This was a battle I had to fight on my own and I was convinced of a future where speaking would be my superpower.
So I searched. I searched in nature, in books, and on the internet for stories through which to view my own experience. I immersed myself in the words of Demosthenes, one of Ancient Greece’s greatest orators, who stuttered. I studied the work of Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist who documented her own journey after suffering a stroke. I learned about Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, a psychologist who showed the plasticity of the brain by teaching her own learning-disabled brain to read and tell time. I filled my mouth with pebbles to connect with the physicality of speaking, read out loud in front of the mirror, training with the discipline of an athlete and the flow of a musician. My bedroom became a research lab, covered in blue and green sticky notes filled with ideas and schematics drawn in sharpies. In short I took full advantage of the incredibly connected world of which we’re a part.
Stories from around the world gave me the hope, perseverance, and means to transcend my own. I learned the brain can surprise us despite our most advanced postulations.
At 19, I had my first breakthrough. In making intentional eye contact in conversation, I discovered a state of presence, an ability to focus with clarity—much like an athlete. My brain settled and the figment of an image appeared in my mind—that image represented what I wanted to say. Words came out and a new image appeared.
That was the first time I spoke without interruption, blockage, or exchanged words in order to avoid a stutter. In the years that followed, I used every opportunity I had to harness this presence. I chased interactions with strangers, friends, and family. Over time, speaking became my power. In conversation, I found the freedom to express myself. My best thoughts, ideas and breakthroughs now come through speech and, a decade after that first experience, I'm still puzzled by how it all works. I hiccup here and stumble there, but these days I see it as part of the character and mannerism of my speech.
My stutter shaped me greatly. It made me a seeker of knowledge, a believer in the power of understanding the perspective of others by experiencing the world through their eyes.
Today, I see that we experience everything through story. Who we are; what we can and can't do; the culture, religion, and nation into which we are born; what happens in the world and the vast universe of which we are made. My experience has shown me that these stories are like software for the brain – we run on them. Software that can help us make great progress, wreak havoc, and software that should often be revised and upgraded.