Design Your Life

By Kurt Kraisinger

As a landscape architect, when I speak about design, I’m generally referencing the design process.  I’m alluding to a literal design, possibly a landscape design or a pool design.  And that’s typically how people think about design: as a noun.  The word “design” calls to mind product design, or clothing or possibly a famous designer like Coco Chanel or Frank Lloyd Wright.  However, how often do we consider the action verb “design”?  We forget that sometimes design isn’t what you create but it’s what you do.  We can design a process for working with clients, or a path forward as we navigate the construction process or a system for billing.  We need to expand our notion of design to include how we work with clients, construction and billing.  When we think about design as an action, it brings an intentionality to work that could even include how you manage people or organize your day.

 A perfect example of designing as an action verb comes in an unexpected place: from a high school drop-out, who started a family at age 17 and hobbled together short videos that he made on an store-bought camera.   His name is Casey Neistat and he’s a YouTube sensation with 11 million subscribers.  He’s the perfect example of a man who is intentionally designing his life, in his own way, and he happens to be my current source of inspiration.    As I’ve watched his videos, I’ve discovered that he’s a great model for how to start a business from nothing and do it your own way. Below are three ways that Casey and I see eye-to-eye on our approach to designing our life and business.

Tip: Do what you say you’re going to do.

Phrases like “put your money where your mouth is” or “the rubber hitting the road” alludes to investment and traction.  In other words, invest in yourself, quit talking and do what you say you’re going to do.  Casey Neistat began selling short stories on YouTube—it was hardly glamorous but it worked at the time.  His lists of videos grew and eventually, HBO purchased eight episodes chronicling the life of Casey and his brother for almost two million dollars. Four years later, he was hired by Nike to make a commercial. He didn’t know what he was doing so he simply did the next thing that he wanted to do.  He spent the entire budget on traveling, documented the experience and ended up creating one of the most successful Nike advertisements in its history called “Make It Count”. We can do the same.  We can give up the idea that we need to know what we’re doing because we don’t.  

We can figure it out on the way—I don’t need to know every step, just the next one.  What do you want next? In every project, I stress the importance of an overriding concept—once established, it paves the way for every decision that follows.  So what’s your overriding concept?  Who are you? What is your skill set?  Now go do what you’ve been saying you will.  You can waste your time researching, reading, coming up with a game plan or thinking, thinking, thinking and stalling, stalling, stalling.  When there is incongruency between your words and actions, it’s like driving with one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator. You simply must ease off the brake and shift from thinking into doing in order to gain forward progress–be confident, be yourself and take a chance.

Tip: Don’t do everything at once.

As you move forward with your focus on the next step, remember that you don’t have to do everything at once.  No doubt there were times when Casey Niestat was overwhelmed by his life or work but he just kept moving forward with the next to-do.  He didn’t set out to make commercials for Nike or work with large multi-million dollar companies and he didn’t try to do everything all at once.  He just kept making videos.  When we try to do everything, we don’t finish anything.  Our overly-ambitious good intentions dilute our efforts.   I compare it to a computer with too many windows open–close some of the windows and the computer becomes more efficient.  Rather than starting a million tasks and not finishing anything, focus on one thing at a time.  In this season, perhaps you’re focusing on refining your sales process or streamlining office protocol.  Remember that your small efforts will add up over time.  There’s a lot of trial and error and it will take years to fully put your business together.  You may have to come back to your own overriding concept that guides your steps.  In Casey’s case, he always came back to making simple videos.  In my case, I always come back basics like circulation and flow, grading and drainage and the client vision. Those elements are the fundamental principles that guide the process.

Tip: Say no to limited thinking.

Outside of not doing what we say we’ll do, or trying to do too many things at once, we can also get hung up by self-imposed limited thinking.  In Casey’s case, he may have never started because he didn’t have top of the line equipment or formal training.  However, he didn’t let it stop him.  In your case, perhaps you’re holding yourself back because you don’t have a “nice” office or a “nice” vehicle.  Perhaps your limit is something intangible, like a belief that you can’t close a deal or that you need more financial resources in order to move forward.  Casey Niestat’s success can be attributed to his relentless pursuit of his dream, not his high-end gear.

“Action Expresses Priorities”–Gandhi

In conclusion, we need to expand our ideas about design.  It’s not just creating a design, but rather, designing our life, business and day.  If we are intentional about following through, doing one thing at a time and rejecting limited beliefs, I think that our work could translate into the success that Casey Niestat has experienced.  Like him, we can design our life, in our own way.

— Kurt Kraisinger of LORAX Design Group