by Justin Ahrens
This Mahatma Gandhi quote is often overused: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” But, overused or not, the fact of the matter is that it couldn’t be more true.
Whether you are the owner of the firm or a part of the team, you have the power to be change—and to be changed. By serving as a team outside of your design environment, you can completely transform the way you see the world and how your firm sees the world. You’ll also find a shift in how you view your work. Now, this may sound like a naïve or pretentious perspective, but it’s really a perspective developed from experiences. Check it out—almost daily, designers obsess about spacing, color, type, html code, deadlines, etc. On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with this; it’s who we are and how we’re wired. But, when we lose sight of the realization that we can make a difference outside of these obsessions—when we forget that life is too short to blow a gasket when a client doesn’t like the PMS we’ve chosen—serving others can help realign that inner compass.
Where to start
Years ago, my firm was given the opportunity to do some design work for a client who served the needs of underprivileged youth. In order to gain more info about their focus, we agreed to go and serve with them on a project. That experience changed our perspective on the world—as designers and as people. We discovered something that became extremely important to us. So, what’s important to you? What bothers you about the world or your community? Make a list and share it with your team. Then get on the web and do some research on local organizations you can build relationships with. If your cultures and perspectives align, ask how you can best serve them. Go on, get up out of that Eames chair and go serve.
You’ll gain from this only as much as you’re willing to commit to it. Open yourself up to the needs you’ve discovered. For example, I work most often with the poor because I can’t seem to wrap my mind around the concept of poverty. Serving in it has shown me that poverty is not a simple problem—the reasons behind it are often quite complex. This realization gives me a different outlook on the world, my work day, the work I do and they way I do it. In fact, it’s changed the way our entire firm works, so much so that we serve together in our community a couple of times each year. But, it started with saying yes and getting out of the chair. Get up and say ‘yes’ to something today…work will still be there tomorrow.
Go on, get up out of that Eames chair and go serve…work will still be there tomorrow.
1. Don’t go into serving with any expectations of what you’ll get out of it, because it’s not about you. Allow yourself to give freely of your time and spirit.
2. Get out of your comfort zone. It’s too easy to choose something you’re comfortable with, but to truly allow yourself to grow from the experience, get out of your familiar.
3. Don’t do a design project. Again, find a way to serve in a different, new capacity and discover your other talents.
4. Serve and serve again. Whether your experience is good or bad, keep serving and continue learning from each opportunity. You’ll find yourself discovering more than you ever realized.
Looking for some organizations whose focus is serving others? Check your local chamber of commerce for some local leads or you can start with some national organizations that may have a chapter near you:
American Cancer Society
American Red Cross
Habitat for Humanity