Hyphenate (and celebrate) yourself, but be sure to focus on your “core”

I had a great chat with several colleagues at a social event recently, and when I meet new people they usually ask “what do you do?”

A very simple question to answer, but what and how people respond is quite telling. Many answer with confidence, defining what they do with passion. Others simply reply with their job labels, the position they have… but these words seldom describe what or who they really are.

For me, my response is pretty straightforward. I’m a designer. I design things that helps people do things and/or makes their lives better. But that’s not all I am. I also write, I’m a photographer, a movie buff, a geek, a Star Trek fan. I love Twin Peaks, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, James Bond, Doctor Who, Twitter, The Prisoner, technology, music, pop culture… And so on. I contain multitudes. I’m a hyphenated person, and I think that is the great thing about life. You can have many different passions, and you can embrace different interests with as much energy as you care to apply.

I see people who just do one thing, or just love one thing, and I feel sorry for them. Being focused is fine, but being tunnel-visioned and only being into one thing is quite another thing entirely. I see this when I go to science fiction conventions, where so may people are absolutely committed to one thing (like Star Trek or Star Wars). I want to shake them, take off their blinders and say, “Look around! there’s a feast of riches all about you!”

You don’t have only one “empty slot” to fill with only one passion. You can enjoy lots of different things. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

But there’s also the practical aspects of life, the matter of purpose and self-actualization. As I stated above, I’m interested in a great many things, but there is only one thing that is a crucial part of who I am, the thing that defines me. My “core”, what I am, is that I’m a designer. It’s me. You have to be true to, and committed to, who you are… and it often takes a lot of time for people to discover who they are.

I dabbled a lot in my life, trying out creative design, worked as a radio DJ and a journalist, managed a record store… even strongly considered becoming a teacher. Then I found out what I was, what I loved the most, and being a (user experience) designer was also something that provides me and my family to have a pretty good living. It’s a great thing, when your job and your passions combine into a successful lifestyle.

Not all of us have gotten there yet… some of may never get there. I have a friend who is desperate to break into a particular industry. This friend went so far as to move to the other side of the country in their attempt to make their dreams come true. I really admire that. But, when you look at what that person does everyday, that person isn’t investing their energy and time to make that dream happen. They spending their time having fun, chatting with friends on Twitter, building a “cult” following… and working a day-job that simply pays the bills. Maybe that person will break through and “make it”… but the clock is ticking. Achievement and success not going to be handed to them… or to anyone.

I bring this up to make this point: If you want to become something, to make your self-definition true, you need to commit to it and WORK AT IT. You can say you’re a writer, but until you sit down, five days a week, and eight (more like ten) hours a week writing… you are not a writer. You may be a person who LOVES writing… but you’re not a writer. You can still add writer as one of your “hyphenates”, but it isn’t you.

I’d LOVE to have my (self-published) books picked up by a real big time publisher, and get a lot more exposure for my work and words. But I’ll be honest… I don’t care to invest the time needed to make that happen. Not right now. My core is designing and that’s where I focus most of my time. Will that change? Only time will tell.

So, in closing, find your purpose, your core… and do the work. If you do feel you’re a writer and that’s what you are here to do then work your ass of and become the best writer you can be. But you have to work at it, and even then success isn’t guaranteed.

And don’t be tunnel-visioned… pursue your passions with as much heart as you can. Enjoy different things. Become a hyphenated person.

Contain multitudes.

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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