A Brief Moment of Clarity

February 27, 2012 5 min read

What do I do again?

I love solving problems, I’m fascinated with the web, technology, and putting things together that can make people’s lives better in some way. I’m used to wearing a lot of hats, and I like it that way, but I’m constantly forced to choose between focusing on one or two things to be really good at, or chasing a whole bunch of interests at the expense of never being The Expert at any of them.

A smart person I used to work for told me that the work I take will be the kind of work I keep getting. To my unamazement, this has proved true. I’ve learned that low-budget, ASAP projects where I’d occupy a narrow role are the worst to take on. They offer the most stress for the least pay and tend to be a drain on everyone involved. On the other hand, I work extremely well in situations where I’m the glue; there’s a big, undefined problem that needs to be identified, solved, and executed. It may involve translating between people with different interests and skill sets, or helping a small client solve big problems on a small budget. It may mean researching and building some weirdly-specific thing that nobody else could figure out how to do. I love this stuff, partly because I’m hardwired to take pleasure in organizing things, and partly because the conversations and relationships involved are engaging and interesting.

And Then There Were Answers

Through trial and error, I’ve finally started to figure out where my interests and abilities overlap. This makes it infinitely easier to know how to choose projects and who I’m looking for to collaborate with.

Things I know now…

I’m a good designer and a lousy artist.

You can argue that there’s overlap between the two, and I’ll agree to some extent. But I’m convinced that a designer is a person who solves problems, and an artist is a person who creates (or at least observes and interprets if you’re in the "nothing is new" camp).

Reliability is something I sell.

I want to be the person with the killer Dribbble feed, or the eagle-eyed pro that spots new trends before they’re big. But I’m neither. One of my most useful traits isn’t sexy or even all that interesting: I do what I say I will, when I’ve said I’ll do it. I try and communicate clearly, spell and punctuate like I give a damn, and actively take ownership of any mistakes while doing whatever I can to make them right. I’ve learned that, despite being hopelessly dull, this is a desirable trait.

Work does not happen in a vacuum.

I spend an awful lot of time at a desk by myself, and sometimes fall into the trap of believing that I work on my own. The reality, however, is that every project I work on is the result of a process, often with lots of focused communication. A huge part of what I do is to cultivate relationships that allow for efficient problem solving, be it with clients, collaborators, or both.

My spirit animal is a stodgy old man.

I can’t help it: I think that capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and grammar count for something. I don’t think Facebook, Twitter, or many newfangled ways to communicate make thoughtful communication obsolete. Intentionally crappy drawings don’t impress me, regardless of what the hipster holding the poster looks like. Maybe I’m drawn to things that seem inherently well-considered. Maybe I’m just a jerk.

The Inevitable Redesign

With these realizations, and even before articulating them, I decided it was time to redesign my tiny website. The old site, despite being tiny as well, was wasting time spreading a minimal amount of content over a few pages, and started using silly visual motifs that were more whim than anything else. So I did what felt right: focused, simplified, and made sure that design, responsiveness, and page load times would support the myriad of browsers and devices that could end up at my humble little domain. Caslon feels way more appropriate for me than Museo ever did. And as fun as it is to add excessive textures and faux embossing to type, it’s just not me. I’m also not bold enough to build a site without a stylesheet altogether. I only considered it in the moment while writing, but I suppose I’m not purist enough to take it that far.

End of Post

I’m not sure that this post will be meaningful for anyone but me, but it feels important to leave a note for my future self that says, "remember you’ve been learning things." After all, no matter what I end up doing next, no matter how wonderfully or terribly it goes, I can take pride in having learned things and helped people solve problems.

Matt Stein’s face

by Matt Stein

Full stack tinkerer, sporadic blogger and Craft CMS fan occasionally found on the devMode.fm podcast.


Updated 6/16/19 at 6:15pm