How to Emasculate the Mississippi

A Special Hell for Designers Like me, part 15

What kind of filth was being carried downstream, rolling by, hidden under the muddy Mississippi River? Massive flooding had lifted the water to the top steps climbing closer to the base of the St. Louis Arch. As a photographer I stood in awe of the destruction, wondering how my camera could possibly capture the power of a river.

All it takes to emasculate the mighty Mississippi is a photograph. A flooded river is stunning when you stand on his banks but the second you put a border on it, freeze it in a still image, the power is gone. A force of nature is reduced to a dirty pond with twigs poking out of it.

These thoughts were interrupted by a cute couple who asked if I would take their picture.

I obliged and to my surprise they began stripping down to their underwear.

“Wait, what kind of a picture are you expecting here?” I asked.

“We want you to document us swimming in the river.”

“I don’t know how safe it––”

Before any rational thought could kick in they were diving, I kid you not, head-first into the void of muddy water.

I obediently documented the spectacle. Nobody died.


How well does this story parallel your experience as a designer?

You have so much ambition, you are constantly looking for opportunities to pour all your energy into changing the world.

You find work. This might be your chance.

As soon as the project kicks off it becomes clear that the stakeholders don’t share your devotion to design. They see you as a tool, the thing they hired to make their vision a reality. Your agendas are so misaligned that they might as well be skinny-dipping in a flooded river. You are left there on the banks of a disaster holding a camera, documenting the destruction, embarrassed to be associated with the fiasco. Nobody dies, but no art is created either.

Let me change the frame slightly, point my camera in a different direction.

It is easy to get discouraged if you focus on the fools in their undies on the edge of the water. But remember why you are here. The real prize is the river, not the tourists nosediving in the filth. Everything you create is a drop of water, an addition to a body of work that grows more powerful with each project you ship. Some of your work will be great, a pure stream of creativity that you can be proud of. Other projects will flop, pollute your reputation, poison the well, cloud the purity of your ambition. Keep doing the work anyway, doing the best your can with every situation. Eventually the work will rise, break the banks, and change the landscape. The river always wins.

Thanks for reading. Every Saturday I tell you stories like this, add a trickle of ideas to the stream. Stay creative.


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