2023 in Review Strip
Transitive verb, 3: to make bare or clear.
This year I:
- Reduced my main navigation in half
- Cut most content to follow the rule of threes
- Added dark mode
I still need to:
- Update my case studies to show more ✨ impact ✨
- Add transcripts to talks
- Trash and rewrite my deteriorating, ugly ass CSS from scratch
Special thanks to:
- Silvia and Marcus, y’all the real OGs
- Portfolio pals, especially Eli, Annie, and Dené
- And a special shoutout to Alex Kramer, I’ve never forgotten your generosity when you hosted me for my first portfolio critique
Year in review
Knowing is one thing, and feeling is another.
This year I found myself wrestling more with my sense of identity, as most humans my age do, in hopes I could shorten the gap between knowing how I should feel and feeling what I think should feel.
For example, I know how to be present, but I can’t feel it in the way I think I should. I can curl my toes, hum a song, take a walk– but I often find any sense of presence to be transitory. It’s frustrating. It’s youth. Or capitalism. Or trauma.
Regardless, I have tried (and have continued to fail) to find concrete answers that I both know and feel to be true. Specifically on:
- who I should be (family),
- who I need to be (society) and
- who I want to be (true self)
That’s not to say I didn’t make progress, if I can call it that. By progress, I think I mean deconstruction. But strip feels like a better word. It carries shame. Emotionally this process of unlearning has been raw and humiliating, but it has yielded progress nonetheless.
By stripping away who I should be over the last couple of years (by distancing myself from my birth family), I've found that my life goals were more of a chain reaction to intergenerational trauma than to my own self-actualization.
Although I still don’t know who I want to be (true self), I do feel I have more space and autonomy to imagine that future. I have a better grasp of personal values I can use to navigate day to day decisions.
To continue my journey this year, I focused more on stripping away who I need to be (society). For me, and many other Americans, that’s inseparable from our working identity.
So I tried to learn more about:
- what is the history of my work (as a designer and former consultant)
- who am I within it and
- who am I without it?
Can I love?
I was able to deepen my understanding on how:
- Colonization has shaped society’s understanding of work and community. For example, how the introduction of cattle slavery solidified disability as a physical category “centered on which bodies and minds have or generate economic value under taxing working conditions” (Against Technoableism).
- Corporations are less about making and fixing things and more about “political processes of appropriating, distributing, and allocating money and resources” (Bullshit Jobs).
- The consulting industry is preventing governments and businesses from “evolving the capabilities they need to transform our economies for the common good” (The Big Con).
- Technological advances in design “only make some lives better” from the lens of decolonization. For example, the cotton gin lead to the nearly five-fold increase in slavery within a period of sixty years and the top-ten largest server farms take up 11.7 million square feet of stolen Indigenous lands (Decolonizing Design).
- And more– but that’ll make this entry a bit too long.
Looking back on what I’ve learned, I sometimes wonder if I feel any sense of joy from my work anymore. For example, I had an interview earlier this year. I was asked what technologies or mobile app features I loved.
And I froze.
I could think of many technologies.
But can I love them?
How can I have pride in my identity as a designer when it's been crafted within systems that exploit, manipulate, and exclude people I love? How can I love technology when it is so deeply intertwined with incentives that divide us more than they bring us together?
To many reading this (myself included), this sounds reactionary. It is.
But as much as my brain understands that generalizations like this are deeply inactionable, I still find it difficult to maintain the energy to fight that instinct when our histories and futures continue to be muddy, complex, and hurtful.
So I’ll try to remind myself out loud what I think the answer to this is.
I need to touch grass more.
By touch grass, I mean to be in community. To study through people in groups (espresso), and not just books in isolation (depresso). Instead of conserving energy alone, I want to learn how to better receive, give, and grow it together with people I love. That means expending what little energy I have in my little corner of the universe to resist the systems designed to isolate and exploit us even more.
I think I’ve done that a little bit better this year.
As uncomfortable as it has been to strip apart a little more of my working identity and ego, it’s helped me to become more vulnerable, honest, interdependent, and caring as a mentor (thanks Tiff and Cath), mentee (thanks Rachael and Lydia), speaker (thanks Dave), and designer (all my VA a11y friends who I miss way too much, my portfolio pals, my Ad Hoc middle management buddies, DC design week friends, Evan and Daniel, and more).
While these values may be at odds with the work I’ve chosen, I’ve learned through emergent strategy that what I pay attention to will grow in fractals. Like fungi.
If I can focus on these values locally at a smaller scale, I hope one day they will emerge more sustainably as larger patterns in my life.
So next year I hope to ask for help more. To persist with vulnerability. To lose track of time and productivity if it's with others. To be loved.
If I can pay more attention towards who I am in a community and less towards who I need to be for work, maybe I’ll get a little closer to understanding who I want to be too.
Talks or articles ya boi wants to manifest but can’t yet
- Advocates, not experts. The case for shame-sensitive accessibility practices. (Mostly to write about my experience managing and coaching accessibility specialists in large organizations).
- A trauma-informed approach to design mentorship for Asian Americans or accessibility specialists. (I’d be interested in writing about my experiences with both and how to make use of assets-based mentorship, build competency constellations, and flatten power dynamics).
- The swiss cheese model of accessibility testing. (I kinda wrote on this already at the VA, but it never got published… yet. Brian will, one day.)
Things I was proud of this year
- Looking back on my 3 years at the VA and Ad Hoc, for once in my life I feel like I’ve made an actual, measurable and positive difference.
- I gave a talk with my good friend Dave at UVA on design ethics! If I was smarter and had money I’d love to go back to school to become qualified enough to do this full time.
- I made a more conscious effort to prioritize my personal life over my work life (including a job change and two trips to visit my in-laws). It came with a ton of anxiety that my technical skills are rotting and I’ll never be employable again, but I did it. I took the step.
Things I boarded the struggle bus on
- I continue to love reading about stuff that makes me sad and will never support me financially.
- I’ve been ghosted a couple of times in my search for a new therapist thanks to a new insurance plan.
- When I needed it the most, I failed to reach out to my friends for personal, non-work related help. I was conditioned to be an asset, and that’s still hard to unlearn.
My favorite reads in 2023
- Trauma stewardship. I was skeptical at first, but the author was just so darn human that all my cynicism melted away.
- Emergent strategy. I finally feel I have an actual, non-corporate playbook for sustainable and loving transformation.
- You deserve a tech union. Like damn, I actually feel I can form a union now.