Orientation Reflections: Trusting in the Process

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

In May 2014, just about this time five years ago, I was doing some random Google searches. This doesn’t sound important, but it is part of why I am here at AC4D today.

I’d been trying to figure out for a while how to marry my interests in creative work and making a positive difference in society. “Social impact design,” “social good design” and other similar phrases led me to several grad school programs across the country. I had already been considering grad school for some time before, either for writing or nonprofit management. But these new programs I was encountering were not what I expected. 

Where the two former subjects were interesting and seemed like logical steps for my career, design thinking was compelling and just felt right, though I couldn’t yet understand why. 

Jump ahead to present day, August 2019. I’m now a more experienced graphic and visual designer: earning an associate’s in graphic design, serving on the AIGA Austin board, and working in the industry for nonprofits and then as a freelancer. 

I had applied to AC4D a year and a half earlier, after amassing a portfolio I was proud to showcase. After a long while of thinking it wasn’t going to happen and continuing my professional life elsewhere, the opportunity to attend finally arrived.

Somehow, even though this had been my goal for over five years, I got cold feet.

Enter the inner critics and naysayers: How does this change my plans? What about all the other projects I’d started in the meantime? Why do I need this anyway? What if I’m not good at it after all? What if I can’t take it? What if I change all my plans, and then fail at this? (My brain can be a hyperactive place!)

One way I often dial down that noise is to educate myself and do research. I did the needed probing to calm my monkey mind, to reassure myself this is a step in the right direction. But I still wanted to ensure my mindset was in the right place. The Sunday before orientation week, I visited someone that reminded me of one of my greatest values: trust your intuition. 

I can move forward even on an unfamiliar road. I don’t have to, nor should I try and control everything. Doing this doesn’t mean I’m abandoning everything else. Release, and let things fall in place.

On the first day of orientation, Ruby walked us through expectations of the program and the three pedagogical tenants of AC4D:

  • Make Things.
  • Build Empathy With People.
  • Make Inferences. Trust Your Intuition.

When I saw this exact same phrase mirrored back to me in the official introduction to our experience here, I knew it was an important message. I know I’m in the right place.

And I know that message will be continuously countered through the course of the year. I have been impressed with AC4D on several points, one of which is their total transparency about how challenging this program will be. 

In day three of orientation, we conducted our first practice round of field interviews. I have done AC4D bootcamps and similar design thinking interviews before. But for some reason, preparing our questions for this one and the prospect of having to talk to strangers scared me in a way it hadn’t before. Enter the inner critic again: are you sure you’re up to this? This is the real deal now! What have you signed yourself up for?

And my counter-message to myself: Trust your intuition. Trust the process. Trust you deserve to be here as much as anybody else. 

I trust my personal background and prior design experience will be valid and useful through the course of the year. By the same token, I expect those same experiences may be a hindrance in stepping outside of my own understanding. I trust I will resist change, embrace it, and shed my ego when necessary. 

Finally, I trust I will build the skills necessary to exercise true autonomy — even if I don’t know what that looks like yet.