Want to find meaning at work? Try taking an indoor road trip
Charlotte Burgess-Auburn is a designer, artist and educator. She has been Community Director at the Stanford d.school since 2005, where she teaches courses on the role of self-awareness in creativity and design. She is also the author of “You need a manifesto: how to craft your beliefs and put them into practice.”
The manifestos were a recruitment tool for collective causes – political, religious, artistic. But in this day and age, where it seems like everyone is being recruited by everyone every moment of the day, you need a way to recruit yourself to your own cause, a method to consider your own power to create and to bring about positive change in a world that needs it.
Now is the time to redefine the manifesto as personal for the present moment. So, how to write this manifesto and implement it? Try taking an indoor road trip.
The inner road trip
A practice of self-awareness gives each maker, maker, or problem-solver an essential understanding of their own relationship to the process of getting work done. To know itselfand everything will work better.
In this landscape, you might think of goals as your destinations, values as the fuel you need to get there, ethics as your steering wheel, and prejudices as well-worn paths and ruts in the roads.
Get to know your destinations
Goals are destinations. The journey to them can be shorter-term, like “writing my book,” or longer-term, like “raising my children to be healthy, thoughtful, and productive adults.” They are a conceptualization of a place, time, or state of being where you want to arrive. However, as with anything in the future, we must regularly re-examine this course in relation to the present.
As Andrea Small and Kelly Schmutte put it in their book, navigate ambiguity, orientation is about attention – cultivating awareness of where you are and what is going on. You may have a destination in mind, but there are many ways to get there. And as you find your way there, new destinations might draw you in more strongly. So while a goal gives you direction and structure for your journey, it’s not always where you end up.
Take the time to think about your goals, those you would like to have as well as those you you are actively pursuing— can help guide you towards work that is meaningful to you. The only way to truly know your goals is to look within. Get to know yourself. Dig to see what goals you might already have in your backpack.
Put gasoline in the tank
Values are simply what you value in your life. They help you determine what is important to you in the long term and in the short term. Some come from your personal experiences, some inherit you from your family or your culture, and others you adopt as part of your learning. Your values are changing. What is valuable to you today may not be so in ten years. (Actually, let’s hope not.) Your values are also personal. I can’t tell you what values to have, they are yours, not mine. What I can tell you is that you need it. Why? It’s gas in the tank. Values motivate you. They push you. Leave them.
Values matter because they are present in everything we do, but they are also hidden in our actions – they are not always self-evident and often self-evaluating. By broadcasting your values as part of the work of creating your manifesto, you have the opportunity to examine and evolve your sense of purpose as you gain experience and wisdom. Look at your daily activities as a way to discover what you value beyond the obvious. Start with the behaviors, actions and objects that are important to you and extract your values from them.
Where’s the steering wheel on this thing?
If values are the accelerator for driving towards your goals, then ethics is more like the brakes, the steering or the lines on the road. Ethics are the rules and constraints that we set ourselves so as not to run in all directions, crushing everything that stands in our way. Without an accepted set of rules of the road, you may find it difficult to know how and where to stop, especially when your vehicle may take you far beyond where it is safe to go.
Ethics are your rules, whether they are personal guides to your own behavior or a collective set of laws that keep us all on safe paths. Built according to your values and adapted to your experiences, they indicate your limits and the ways by which you arrive at your destination.
While you are creating your manifesto, take the opportunity to ask yourself if there are any safeguards, brakes, limits. If you have your personal ethics in place, you will be better able to tell when you, your organization, or your field are heading in the wrong direction.
The ruts of the road
Prejudices are the predetermined preferences we hold; they can be favored routes for travel or ruts in the road. Very often we make choices based on instinct, but it is important to understand and consider how your preferences have developed. Understanding them can help you see where you need to push unnecessary or unfair boundaries imposed by conventions, negative influences, and systemic or structural biases.
Prejudices are tendencies to favor or disfavor anything based on your past experiences or cultural norms. Everyone has biases – they are the product of a learning brain. They form because the brain categorizes new experiences based on prior knowledge. Our brain connects new ideas, new people, and new things to categories we’ve formed from all our past experiences, and then responds to them the same way it does to other things in that category.
While some of these biases are very helpful (to keep us from walking through oncoming traffic) and some are harmless (like “sour cream and onion crisps are just better than barbecue”), some are incredibly harmful both to others and to ourselves. The stereotypes passed on to us by our families, the cultures we grew up in or live in, and the media and information we consume can predetermine our ideas about ourselves and others based on race, cultural background, religion, gender, sexual orientation and so much more. While it may not be possible to live a life without biases at all, it is essential to know that they exist, to become aware of what yours are and to bring them to light so that you can spend time and effort to change when you need it. at. By exposing your implicit biases, you can make more deliberate choices.
Go for it
All this talk of values, ethics, and purpose can make writing your own manifesto seem too important. But the beauty of the approach you’re about to take is its flexibility. You don’t set anything in stone. Your first manifesto will be a prototype, as will your second and third. Free yourself from any sense of obligation, you owe nothing to anyone. Trust your intuition. There is only one person your manifesto can and should be totally true for, and that is you, right now.
Reproduced with permission from “You need a manifesto: how to craft your beliefs and put them into practiceby Charlotte Burgess-Auburn and Stanford d.school, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
“You need a manifesto” is part of Stanford d.school new series of guides by looking at the methods and mindsets behind creativity and design.