Sitting in My Box

I’ve always had a fascination with children’s books. Every time I go to a bookstore, the first place I go after the arts section is the children’s section. Because of this, to my delight and detriment, I have amassed a healthy library of children’s books. A good children’s book is timeless, and has the ability to use whimsy and joy to discuss the harder topics in life. They don’t feel contrived and their subtlety is often too nuanced for its intended audience.

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I was recently in my head, when my mind wandered to the book, “Sitting in My Box” written by Dee Lillegard and first published in 1989. Growing up, this was one of my favorite stories. In this story, a boy sits happily in his box reading a story about wild animals. One by one, he is interrupted from his story by a series of pushy creatures who “ask” to sit in his box, but really just force their way in. By the end, he has no place to sit. When a small flee jumps in, unannounced, the flee begins biting all of the animals, promptly emptying the box. Once again, the boy is alone and able to read his story.

Now, what does this story have to do with design? Well, a lot, actually. Almost 26 years later, I think I understand what this book is trying to say. Granted, this is sort of a leap, but just go with me, here.

We go into a design project with a clear objective. We have a plan. We have a design brief. We have a task list. One by one, however, we become side tracked, demanded of, burdened with the requests and wants of others. We are “asked” to help someone with a favor, to just do one more rewrite of a paper, to dig just a little deeper into that concept you don’t want to dive into. Before we know it, we are surrounded by the unfamiliar, and our original objective is lost in the white noise of everyone else’s needs.

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Trying to make room for those around us, we have given up our seat at the table. We are no longer able to perform the task we set out to do.

Now, I am not saying that we shouldn’t offer our services and skills to others. I will always praise the importance of service. What I am saying, however, is that we need to recognize when we are being valued versus when we are being over taxed and taken advantage of. We have skills, and those skills have a value assigned to them.

The flea? Well, the flea is our recognition of this value. When we are able to advocate for ourselves as designers and professionals, we can objectively evaluate the tasks in our lives and cut out the clutter. Sometimes, the flea is a smack over the head. Other times, it builds gradually, slowly revealing itself.

That being said, I’m still looking for my flea. This past week has been a slew of conflicting demands—personal, professional and academic. One thing pulls me north, while the other pulls me south. My box is full and I don’t know where I put my book. I need the flea to jump in put everything in perspective for me.

That being said, I’ll let you know when I do.

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