33 Lessons from 33 Years

— 4 minute read

At the beginning of November, I had the opportunity to speak with Kermit Bailey's Professional Practice class, virtually, for N.C. State's soon-to-be-graduating Graphic Design students. It was a two-hour long reflection on the what I've learned since graduating from the same program...10 years ago.

It took a while to figure out just how to envelop 10 years of experiences & lessons in a digestible, not-overwhelming session. The final title of the presentation was: Preparing for Professional Practice, Some Stories & Lessons Learnt.

This week, I'm celebrating completion of 33 years on Planet Earth. So, in the classic birthday listicle, I wanted to share the 25 Lessons I shared with the students, adding a few more to make it to the appropriate number.

  1. Try lots of new things; design is diverse.
  2. Ask for help; people will donate space, time, and food.
  3. Work is much more fun with other people; as a team.
  4. If nothing exists, start something!
  5. Find your people; establish friendships.
  6. Design lives in the complexity & context of people’s lives.
  7. Sometimes, success is repeatable; other-times, not.
  8. Plan for things to go wrong & break; own it, learn from it.
  9. Defaults are designed; change respectfully.
  10. What’s obvious to you may not be for others; share your ideas & thoughts.
  11. Design actively excludes & includes; despite intent.
  12. We design with & for others; “nothing about us without us.” Listen.
  13. The world is filled with so many differences; with far more similarities.
  14. Need common purpose & goals to do good work.
  15. Learn to communicate, in-spite and de-spite conscious self; an invaluable necessity.
  16. Reflect on yourself. Do the work; try and do better tomorrow.
  17. Focus on your unique strengths.
  18. No one knows what they’re doing, everyone’s figuring it out.
  19. Ask forgiveness rather than permission.
  20. It’s okay to not know. Ask questions curiously, authentically, and tenaciously.
  21. Health, family, and friends come first. Then work.
  22. Say no more than you say yes; “Guard your yes.”
  23. Create boundaries. More will always be asked of you; good enough is good enough.
  24. Rest, Relax, Recharge. Rest up so you can show up.
  25. Be open for the journey, see where it takes you. It can be quite the adventure.
  26. Put things to paper; the documentation process creates clarity, and can be shared.
  27. Ask for feedback & critique, but understand you don't always have to act on it.
  28. Emotions & feelings are valid data; reflect on what they're telling you.
  29. "Soft skills" are some of the hardest & most important skills; far too often disregarded or ignored.
  30. It's okay to let go of things or quit, that allows you to pick up others that can bring more value.
  31. Life is an occasion; rise to it.
  32. Change is constant; each day is different, layered with lessons & impact of the past.
  33. Be kind.


  • #12 comes from the Disability Activists & Movement from the 1990's; extremely applicable to Design, User Research, Product Development, and most things when trying to create for rather than with.
  • #22 is a mantra from René Brooks—a Mental Health Advocate, Blogger, Speaker, behind Black Girl Lost Keys. It's a lesson I learned from her, read on, and taken to heart. You can buy stickers, t-shirts, and her book about this exact thing!
  • #31 is a quote from one of my favorite movies; one that I've revisited throughout the years: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. I resonate with the titular character, his view on life, and seeing the magic in everyone & every day.
  • #33 can be read more about, and is one of those lessons I've tattooed to myself, on my post titled, "A Goodbye; A Look Back; A Thanks; & A Request."