I am one of the lucky ones.
I was fortunate enough to get a paid six month internship when I graduated from grad school. However, after a few months in the role I found myself getting grumpier and more frustrated with my work environment. The building that my department was in was one of the first buildings built by this company, over 50 years ago. This was before biophillic design and LEED certified buildings had permeated the mainstream. Needless to say, I ended up in a grey cubicle in a building with no windows. I’d like to amend “Don’t Feed the Artists,” to, “Don’t put the creatives in a gray box with no windows.”
I know there are probably other creatives and designers that are working in less-than-ideal situations, waiting and working towards the dream job and the dream lifestyle. Here are some things that I’ve learned to do to cope with Corporate America.
1. Get outside as much as possible.
I cannot stress this one enough. Getting outside is so important for our health and well-being. Sitting inside for 40 hours a week under fluorescent (or LED) lighting, with no windows or natural light and staring directly at a computer is a real bummer. Most companies give their employees a 30 minute to an hour lunch break and two 10-15 minute breaks. Spend all of them outside!
Walking back from the bathroom: Take the long way back and go outside, look up at the sky, eat the sun and say hello to some birds. Only then are you allowed to go back inside the gray box.
On your lunch break: Yes, it’s important to make connections and friends at your company. Build that social capital! But tomorrow ask them if you can sit outside rather than in the break room (also, no windows in there).
On your other breaks: On my 15 minutes breaks at work I walk around the parking lot with the slivers of green space and trees while listening to my POTD (podcast of the day).
2. Compile a list of your favorite podcasts.
There are so many podcasts in the world right now. Find your genre and add them to your cue. And then find not your genre and add it to your cue. It’s important to expand your worldview and get out of your listening bubble. Listen to what you agree with and listen to what you don’t agree with. If anything, the podcasts that make you angry will at least get your heart rate up…
3. Spotify Discover Weekly playlists are the new bright-spot to your Monday.
If you’re a Spotify freak like me, you’ll already know about the Discover Weekly playlists they curate for you every Monday with new music that you’ll love. If you don’t know, then know you know… Switch it up between podcasts and music to fill that 8 hours of screen time with a variety of ear-bud love.
4. Hold on to your process.
Rule #1 of Human-Centered Design: design with people and not for them. But how do you design with your customer if your just being given the final directive and don’t have access to them in order to even have conversations with them? As an intern, no matter your age or experience level, you probably won’t be trusted to do much on your own and you probably won’t have that much responsibility. These two factors can take away a lot of your confidence and agency when making decisions and trying to do your best work. If you’re in a traditional corporate environment, you are probably the lowest level on the hierarchy and (if you’re like me) don’t get invited to sit at the table when decisions are being made. That doesn’t leave you a lot of space to actually contribute to the design process other than delivering on the final piece of the puzzle that they ask you for. As a graphic designer, this means designing whatever poster or logo is asked of you.
But designers have more to contribute to the process than just making the pretty final product. We can contribute a different way of thinking about the world. Sure, I’m proud of the final posters and logos I design, but only because I was able to do the research about my client, ask questions about the challenge they’ve posed in order to find out if that’s even where the problem lies, and to be an active part of a team that’s working together towards a better solution. That’s what gives me pride in my work; not just adding another pretty logo to my portfolio.
So, my design interns out there, when you’re asked to design something for a customer at your company (someone in another department) don’t plow blindly ahead and just take what you’ve been given. Your role as an intern is to challenge the way that company has been doing things for so long without questioning their own processes. Ask questions. Provoke people in your company to think about what they really want to achieve, and then work together to figure out how the design process can be used to get us where we want to be. If you love the design process, then hold it close to you and don’t let Corporate America take it away from you.
This is me speaking from my personal experiences. If you’ve had a different experiences working as a design intern in Corporate America or have developed any other coping mechanisms to get through the day, please let me know!
Defining the roadmap for the next 7 weeks.
Thanks for tuning in for today’s update on Project Seven: an Experiment in Sustainable Living, brought to you by artist and designer JLB (with original inspiration from 7: an Experimental Mutiny against Excess author Jen Hatmaker).
The outline you see before you is my roadmap for the next 7 weeks, embarking on an experiment in what it means to live a sustainable lifestyle on this little blue planet we call Earth. Each week will be an intense focus on one aspect of sustainable living, (although they’re just categories people - we systems thinkers know that everything is connected) and with some pretty harsh guidelines to follow as I start to put some more restrictions on my Western consumerist ways.
Here are the categories broken out by week for 7 weeks:
- Clothing & Possessions
- Diet & Nutrition
- Energy Consumption & Media
- Health & Wellness
- Skills for Sustainability
- People & Places
Week 1: Clothing & Possessions
Wear only 7 items of clothing for 7 days and donate 700 items by the end of the week.
7 items of clothing for the week:
- Tank Top
- Yoga Pants
- Red Flats
Why am I only wearing 7 items of clothing for 7 days? To prove a point, of course. There are many other minimalist fashion initiatives circulating on the web right now (capsule wardrobes, 333 wardrobe, 10 items - 10 ways to name a few). They’re setting out to show that we simply have too many items of clothing in our closets and that sometimes less is more. Most of the clothing we own we never actually wear, only wear once or twice a year, hold onto for sentimental reasons or keep around in the hopes that we’ll fit into them again someday…
Not only that, but we keep buying more. The fast fashion industry pumps out more than they know what to do with and has a huge (pronounced: /(h)yo͞oj/) environmental footprint. Not to mention, the social factors of unsafe working conditions and poor pay for the workers involved in this industry. Not to mention the inequities that must be perpetuated in order for the developed world’s closets to stay full and the undeveloped world’s to remain empty. Not the mention the social and psychological problems of advertising and marketing that set out to make us feel inferior for having last season’s clothing and pit us against one another as we all seek to broadcast our social and economic status to the world through our wardrobe. The list goes on and on.
If no other reason than to expunge doth bullshit from my life, then at least to help continue the conversation about the differences between what we should value and what we’ve been told to value from those who don’t have our best interests in mind. So, let’s talk.
(Underwear and bras are not counted as a part of the 7, but they will be limited in use and hand washed frequently throughout the week.)
Donate 700 items in 7 days (only to places/people that really need them):
- Kitchen utensils
For Week 1, Matthew and I also be doing a serious deep clean of our apartment and taking inventory of everything that we own. Yes, everything. There will be spreadsheets involved, with columns and rows of stuff. The stuff we’re keeping and the stuff we’re giving away. My goal is to give away 700 items this week (the little things add up, or at least that’s the hypothesis I’m going to test). If you find that to be an unimaginable task, then you probably have too much stuff as well.
Week 2: Diet & Nutrition
Eat only 7 items of food for 7 days (as local and zero waste as possible)
- Eggs - from a Georgia farm
- Onions - Vidalia Onions from Georgia
- Kale - Georgia grown
- Sweet Potatoes - California
- Broccoli - Virginia
- Black Beans - USA grown
- Apples - USA grown, organic
A lot of thought and planning went into creating this list. While in the beginning I was aiming for 100% vegan, zero waste, seasonal and local food only for this week, some exceptions we’re already made in the planning process. I’ve been a vegetarian for going on 9 years, and have been inching closer to veganism for a while now. What I’ve learned about pursuing a sustainable diet over the last few months is that it’s not easy to make conscious and guilt free decisions, and that almost every decision you make comes with a tradeoff. Vegans, locavores, seasonal eaters, zero-wasters, raw foodies and every other group you can imagine all think that their diet holds the truth to health and wellness. Maybe none of them do; maybe all of them do. I’ll be getting more into this during Week 2, so stayed tuned.
Week 3: Energy Consumption & Media
Use only 7 hours of fossil fuel energy in 7 days.
Limited to the following uses:
- Cooking on the stove or in the oven
- Lighting (only when daylight is not available and candles aren’t enough)
- Potentially for charging cell phones and laptops (if we can’t get a portable solar panel by then)
This means consciously foregoing the following:
- Refrigeration/freezer (it will be unplugged; food bought this week will have to live without it!)
- Clothes dryer (we can hang drying on our clothing rack/outside on the balcony for towels and blankets)
- Television (we’ll be participating in some low-tech hobbies this week instead)
- Hot water use, whenever possible (yes, that means cold showers, cold dishwashing, etc.)
- Air conditioning (it will be completely turned off for the week. Yes, in this Georgia Summer.)
In preparation for Week 3 we (Matt and I) will hopefully be purchasing a small solar power unit to charge cell phones and laptops throughout the week (with minimal use of both, as part of this week is also about disconnecting from technological encroachment and reconnecting with what matters the most: nature and each other). This week is a chance to experiment with a low-energy lifestyle in an urban environment. Just because our homes and apartments have been afforded with lovely modern amenities doesn’t mean we should use them, or rely on them. They may not always be there. While I don’t plan on becoming a prepper anytime soon, I’m keenly aware that change is the only constant in life and I’d like to be a little more self-sufficient and less tech-reliant if shit happens to hit the fan.
Side note: I won’t be able to do a lot of this stuff while I’m at work where there’s no natural light and the AC turns my cubicle into a freezer. Already proving the point that it’s damn hard to live a sustainable lifestyle working 40 hours at a company who does not share the same lifestyle habits.
Week 4: Skills for Sustainability / Self-Sufficiency
Learn 7 new sustainability related skills in 7 days.
- More specifically, this week I’ll be learning the process of how to can tomatoes. Canning is an important skill for learning how to live off of a more seasonal diet. Despite what our grocery store produce section tells us, most fruits and vegetables are not in seasonal all year. If you want to live more sustainably and still eat the foods you love during the winter months, then start learning how to can and preserve those foods so you have them when you want them.
- Cheese Making
- Vegans be warned, this section isn’t for you. While I’ve been getting closer to a vegan diet for a while now, there are a few things I’m not ready to give up – and I have my reasons. I think that vegans and locavores and zero-wasters need to sit down and have an open and honest conversation with one another over some kombucha and talk out our post-modern sustainability options. We’d all be crying by the end. However, I am putting a few barriers in my way of instant cheese gratification. Whatever cheese I eat from now on will either be produced locally and sustainably, or made by lil’ ole’ meh with milk that has been produced locally and sustainable.
- Indoor & Outdoor Farming
- It’s time for me to start nurturing my green thumb and growing some of my own food at home. I have a whole list of herbs, veggies and fungus I want to grow, so stay tuned to see what I actually choose to tackle this week.
- Sewing for Creation & Repairing
- First battle, I need to find a sewing machine, preferably used and cheap. I know my way around a needle and now it’s time to move to the next level. I’m thinking of saving some articles of clothing from my purge of Week 1 and sewing them into a blanket. Seems like an easy first shot on the sewing machine…
- Bicycle Repair & Connection Forging
- This week is the time to form a bond with my bike. Rob Greenfield, you modern-day-Jesus-inspiration, have inspired this un-athletic former couch potato to get closer to that good ole’ fossil-fuel-free pedal power. My bike and I currently do not have a great connection. We know nothing of one another. I don’t understand its parts, and it doesn’t understand my emotional ways. Also, my pedal is broken and I need to figure out how to fix it. So here we go.
- Crochet (Plarn & Yarn)
- Even though I’m living in the sunny south right now, that doesn’t mean crochet skills won’t come in handy someday for sewing clothes, pot holders, blankets, etc. If not for myself if I ever move back north, then for friends and family members at Christmas. Also, I’ve been saving a bunch of plastic bags (which we are not bringing into this house anymore Matthew…) and have been turning them into plarn for a little while now. Time to start crocheting my plarn bag this week!
- Dumpster Diving
- Okay, you’ve been with me up until this point, right? Just keep hanging on. Like I said in my first post, strange times call for strange measures, and in a time when 40% of food is wasted by the American consumer, and when grocery stores are throwing out perfect good food while our neighbors are going hungry and living under bridges right around the corner from us… Well maybe it’s time to stop complaining and start doing something about it. Dumpster diving is a last effort to save food before it becomes landfill juice; it’s not going to change the system, but it might feed someone for the day who is less well-off. And, like I said before, if shit hits the fan in my lifetime, it might help me be a little more self-reliant as well.
Does that seem like a lot of new skills packed into one week? Well, good. I've got a lot to learn.
Week 5: Health & Wellness
Complete 7 healthy habits a day for 7 days.
- Bike 7 miles a day
- Strength training at the gym every day
- Meditation every morning and night
- Yoga every morning and night
- No drug use of any kind
- Spend 7 hours a day outside ‘in nature’
- ‘Healthy diet’ (vegetarian, local, plant-based, no junk food, no unnatural sugars, drink only water, 8 glasses of water per day)
Part of what I’m testing this week is to see if leading a healthy, sustainable lifestyle can be achieved while also working 40 hours a week (in a cubicle with no windows in sight). My hypothesis is that by Wednesday I’ll either be regretting all of these healthy choices and be exhausted all day at work, just wanting to come home and sleep; or I’ll be so energized at work that I can’t wait to be free and go ride my bike 7 miles to the gym again! To be determined. All I know right now is that I’m not taking care of myself (for many inner reasons that I’m also trying to tackle through this project) and I need a kick-start into action.
Week 6: People & Places
Meet 7 new people in 7 new places in 7 days.
This whole experiment is about breaking out of bubbles. I fell out of my university bubble and into the real world, which is filled with so many social constructed bubbles you think it would be easy to walk around and pop all of them... But alas, the bubble metaphor has its short comings, as the ideologies we subscribe to are more like brick walls and soapy air holders. This week isn’t fully constructed yet, but here are some of the bubbles I want to break free from this week:
- Political bubbles
- Gender bubbles
- Class bubbles
- Race bubbles
- Age bubbles
- Sexuality bubbles
Week 7: Money
TBD (suggestions welcome)
I have a few nuggets of ideas to explore for this week, but after reading all of the above I wonder if y’all will have any suggestions you think are worth exploring. I currently don’t save money, just got out of grad school, but at least make a living wage at my internship that is about to end in a few months (and then, the great abyss). I have many qualms with capitalism and the way that wealth is distributed in this country. Also, I really hate money. I think it causes more problems than affords us solutions, and some have even shown what a lifestyle can look like if you want to live without it (Rob Greenfield and Mark Boyle, I’m looking at you ~). For now, it’s up in the air.
All 7 Weeks:
Visit a different place of worship once a week for seven weeks.
1. Week 1: First Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church
Most of what you’ve read so far about these next 7 weeks has been grounded in the physical world. But this experiment is about trying to figure out what a sustainable lifestyle looks like, and I think part of the reason we are where we are as a society today is because we have forgotten to take the time to look up. We’ve been so caught up with conquering the physical world and showing nature whose boss (newsflash humans: it’s not us) that we’ve lost a higher connection. Now whether you think that higher connection is with God, with Mother Earth or with each other as a human race is your prerogative. I have my own opinions, but in my 24 years they’ve been only loose opinions and they need some solidification. For my first week, I’ll hopefully be visiting the Baptist church right across the street from my apartment in Downton Savannah. I hear their singing and walk my dogs past this building every day. I think it’s time to go inside, if they’ll have me. I’m keeping the rest of the weeks under wraps for now.
By the end of 7 weeks:
Make 7 commitments to myself about how I want to live my life.
- Possessions & Shopping
- Food, Diet & Nutrition
- Energy Consumption & Media
- Health & Wellness
- Skills for Sustainability
- People & Places
This 7 week experiment is only the beginning. It’s a kick-start into a new way of life that I can feel proud of living. While all of these weeks are extreme dives into the somewhat-radical deep end compared to my ‘normal’ life, none of these weeks would be sustainable to carry out for an entire lifetime (at least for me). But the radical serves as mirror back onto our current way of life; it says, ‘maybe you don’t need to eat only 7 foods for the rest of your days, but do you have to keep eating the way you’re eating now?’ Humans like to think we have all the answers; I’m just trying to ask the right questions.
P.S. If you noticed some references to a specimen named Matthew: yes, that is my boyfriend and yes, he did get roped in to doing some of these weeks with me (of his own free will I might add, as the words “I’m all in.” did actually flow from his mouth.). Compounded by the fact that I will probably be doing the cooking for Week 2 and also that we live together and share some items that will most likely make the list of 700 to donate (yes, I’m looking at your tie and hat collection Matthew). Maybe I’ll even get him to write something too… TBD.
Reading list for Project Seven and how I plan on reading 7 books in 7 days.Read More
I am embarking on a seven week project to discover what it means to lead a sustainable lifestyle.Read More