Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
Holistic? Honest? Senioritis in reverse.

Yesterday I had three epiphanies. Check it out.

I. If I continue Dreamsbay while I'm in school, I need to outsource my client management.

I've always had a hard time disconnecting my personal life from my professional one. I believe that one should always be honest, and every time I've ever tried to live a compartmentalized life, it's gotten me in trouble. In my opinion, it's far better to live a holistic life and thus not put on the phony face that one tends to assume is necessary for a "professional". This also has been known to get me in trouble, because when I don't lie to a client they sometimes get upset. I don't sugarcoat things, and when I don't know the answer to something, I'm not going to lie.

When I left my last dayjob, I soured relations with my old boss because I told her months in advance that I was thinking about moving, and we spent the next couple of months with her hounding me as to whether or not I was leaving, when I'd be going, and so on. She was pissed that I didn't know, and I was pissed that my being honest and open had such negative ramifications. I'd done amazing things for my department, I'd extended our capabilites, I'd radically improved relations with other departments in the company, and I can't ask her for a letter of recommendation because of that experience. I know she's been bad-mouthing me behind my back. Again, it's all I can do not to call her out on it – I recognize that managing uncertainty is difficult, but I have a hard time believing that a simple two weeks' notice would have been preferable. Unfortunately, that's my take-away lesson from that experience.

More recently, I have a client that's irritated because something's taking longer than it was supposed to, but the reason why it's taking longer is a one-two punch of a technology not being fully ready for prime time (this is the last time I use a 1.0 release on a client gig) and the client wanting to be able to update the site without learning how. While I'm all about keeping the user interface simple, nine times out of ten the beauty of the output is directly proportionate to the complexity of the backend. The client wants drag-and-drop simplicity for updating, but they don't want to take the time to enter all the metadata associated with it, or take the time to remove the spaces from their filenames, or even take the time to run it through a utility to do it for them. It's taking all my strength not to reply to their cussing me out in kind – especially since all the troubles they're complaining about are the result of their not wanting to bother to learn and their unwillingness to pay for further development. So I wind up doing weeks of additional work for free. I'm about to the point where I'll refuse to give estimates anymore.

So, yeah. I feel that honesty is critical. I feel that bullshitting people is wrong. I feel that sugarcoating relations with a client is wrong. That said, both of these experiences make me realize that it may be a necessary evil – so if I continue my consulting business in the future, I'm this close to hiring a used car salesman to do the sweet-talking for me. Oh, and hiring an enforcer as a collections agent. I need a sweet-talker and a Guido.

II. The rhythms we develop in school have long-reaching impact.

I still feel the pull of the new every fall, and the desire for relaxation every spring – two instinctual desires for change implanted in me through the academic calendar. I'd recognized that five years ago, when I graduated from college. What I just realized yesterday is that there's also a four-year twitch – ever since last fall, I've been feeling a distinct urge for a new direction in my career. What I recognized yesterday is that I started feeling that almost exactly four years after graduating from college. Four years in high school, four years in college – and then four years after that I was ready for school again.

Notably, this theory has a hole in it big enough to sail the Titanic through – not all academic sessions are four years long. Grade school for me was seven years (K-6), junior high was two years, and then only high school and college were on four-year periods. My CMS program is only a two-year M.S., and then if I continue on to my Ph.D. after that, God only knows how long that'll run.

That said, however, I am so ready to go back to school. As I noted in my earlier post, I am so ready to go back to school, which leads me to my final epiphany.

III. I have an awful case of senioritis in reverse.

I am thoroughly excited about grad school, which is resulting in an increasing antipathy towards my consulting work, especially in web development. Lately, every time I fire up BBEdit to write code, I start to get a stomachache. This is not good. I still have ideas for things I want to build and design for clients, but they're becoming increasingly eclipsed by my thinking about school-related stuff: transmedia storytelling, branding culture, and so on.

For example, yesterday I went to get my hair cut, and I spent a couple hours bumming around Westfield Mall just people-watching. I sat in the center court for a long time taking note of what people were wearing and thinking about what their choice of wardrobe actually said about each person and the branding culture as a whole. The phrase that kept popping into my head was design narrative – when someone purchases an outfit, are they attempting to identify themselves with the brand (characterization from outside, grafting the pre-existing identity of the brand onto themselves to gain identity), do they select the brand because they identify with its character (characterization from inside translating into purchasing brands that match their pre-existing identity), or...? I'm inclined to believe it's some combination of the two. It does raise an interesting question: what are you trying to say with your clothes? Do you even think about it? Appearance is, like it or not, a broadcast of identity – what do you want your appearance to say about you? And, more insidiously, how can brands help you say it?

I've got less than sixty days left before the start of classes. I can't wait until I can start thinking about this stuff for class credit, writing papers that could be sent to people that make real-world decisions, and in short having some real impact.

Bring it on.

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