A person’s a person, no matter how small
No matter how fat, or how skinny, or tall
A person’s a person, who lives by a dream
Who needs your respect, to boost self-esteem

~Eileen Manassian

[nectar_dropcap color=”#1e83ec”]I[/nectar_dropcap] started playing t-ball at the age of 4 in the West St. Paul, MN community that I grew up in. I can’t remember much from this time, but I can still see clearly the ball diamonds that I used to play on.

My dad coached me. He was harder on me that a lot of the other boys on the team (naturally), but it pushed me to try harder, and reach further. Year after year my dad would sign up to coach whatever age group I fell in. Year after year I found myself improving and excelling at the sport. I loved it.

I continued into my teens playing on different in-house teams, traveling teams, and at some points, even sponsored teams. We traveled all around the state competing in different tournaments, some we’d even win. I felt as if baseball was going to be my calling in life.

When each summer would end, and fall would come around, I’d sign up for some sort of football team (either flag or tackle until I was old enough to play on school teams). I wasn’t ever the biggest, fastest, or most physical player on the team, but I still enjoyed it. It came second to playing baseball, but it was still fun.

Finally, when high school came around, I could distinctly remember one of my first baseball practices, freshman year. The varsity coach gave some speech about trying hard and how he hoped to see us at the Varsity level, but alas, not all players would make it. Fact, he mentioned that most played would probably quit on their own before Varsity. I distinctly remember thinking, “that won’t be me.”

After a decent freshman year, and a poor start to the sophomore year, I found myself riding the bench a lot more than I would have liked. It destroyed my confidence in myself and manifested itself each time I would get a shot on the field. The issues compounded and snowballed.

I would use the word devastated to describe the moment in which I realized my baseball dreams were up, much sooner than expected.

It was at this moment the Varsity football coach encouraged me to push on in football (I’d been playing through the school in each of my freshman and sophomore years as well). “Push on in football?” I remember thinking I couldn’t do that. That would be a complete switch from who I was, and who I believed I was “called” to be.

The story can wrap up here. I pushed myself harder in football and started at the Varsity level in both my Junior and Senior years. But the paradigm shift that I experience going from a “baseball” athlete to a “football” athlete was a feeling I’ve never forgotten. It felt so unnatural, it felt against who I was as a baseball player.

Labels

Fast forward 10 years and this morning I’m sitting at my desk preparing to attend an event hosted by Creative Mornings (a ted talk of sorts for designers). I’ve been in the “design” field professionally for 4 years, still a beginner and striving to learn. Still insecure about my abilities when stacked up against other designers out there.

After registering for this event, I took a peak at the attendee list and gave a good laugh at the job titles associated to the people attending:

Graphic Designer, Lead Graphic Designer, Senior Graphic Designer, Design Director, Creative Director, Chief Creative Officer, Art Director, and my personal favorite “Global Creative Director”

Naturally I was supposed to think that the bigger and fancier the title, obviously, the more skilled designer they were, right? I suppose to look down at the person labeled “Graphic Designer”… newb. I’m supposed to look up to the “Global Creative Directors” obviously because they do things … globally.

I picture these guys at their desk this very same morning. They are sitting in front of their iMac, drinking a warm coffee brewed from organic beans in some south latin country I’ve never heard of. They set down their coffee, re-curl their waxed mustache, and begin sketching the dopest pencil drawing you’ve ever seen… without an eraser.

I’m not like that. I prefer a red bull to a warm drink. I couldn’t spell most south latin countries, and although I do have a pretty decent beard, my sketches suck.

I struggled for the longest time (and sometimes still find myself struggling) with the idea that I’m not like most designers. I graduated in Business Marketing with only a few classes in design. I didn’t complete a BFA from a well-known design school. I can’t sketch because I never learned how to sketch. I don’t live in a studio apartment in a big city, instead, I have a home in the Utah county suburbs where my wife and two young boys keep me on my toes. I enjoy snowboarding, skateboarding, woodworking, and screaming at the TV each Sunday as the Minnesota Vikings prepare for their opponents.

The problem

“The finer I slice my identity, the narrower my reality.” This is a concept I was introduced to by a guy named Matt Jackson of affector.com. From a very young age we tend to slice up our identity and try to fit the label we’ve created.

[icon color=”Accent-Color” animation_speed=”Slow” size=”tiny” icon_size=”” animation_delay=”” image=”fa-minus”] Male / Female

[icon color=”Accent-Color” animation_speed=”Slow” size=”tiny” icon_size=”” animation_delay=”” image=”fa-minus”] Emotional / Rational

[icon color=”Accent-Color” animation_speed=”Slow” size=”tiny” icon_size=”” animation_delay=”” image=”fa-minus”] Academics / Athletics

[icon color=”Accent-Color” animation_speed=”Slow” size=”tiny” icon_size=”” animation_delay=”” image=”fa-minus”] Arts / Commerce

Finally, when we’ve been so thinly sliced, we have the label that we need to now become. When I compare myself to others in this field, I don’t seem to fit the mold. Therefore my conclusion has been there must be something wrong with me. Our reality has become a piece of what we really are.

I can’t possibly play football for my high school, I was supposed to play baseball. I can’t possibly be a designer, I graduated in business marketing.

Breaking out of the labels

From a holistic approach, this is not right, and I’m slowly learning this. I am me, because of the things I enjoy, and the people I associate with. These items make me unique. They allow me to bring a different idea or approach to the table. I’ve got to be comfortable in my own skin. Our world has taught me that I should try and fit a label, but it seems to be an ever more increasing trend to be an individual. Maybe that is because of age and maturity, or maybe that is due to just the changing times.

Labels belong on products, not people. Titles can be tossed in the garbage. I’ve been blessed to work with a handful of very talented designers, all who come from different walks of life, and all who bring their own style to the table. I respect each of them for their uniqueness.

My conclusion is this. Be confident in who you are. Embrace your uniqueness, and give it, whatever “it” is, all of your effort. You’ll do great things.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to continuing the discussion and trying to learn more about this.