debbie millman

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Commentary: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I have been feeling rather ashamed of myself this week. It is quite a peculiar feeling to be in a nearly constant state of shame, but all this week I have been in Milton Glaser’s summer program at the School of Visual Arts. And in this time I have been confronting all of the daily lies I live with in my daily life and frankly, there are not always noble reasons for doing the things that I do.

I have learned a lot about myself and my relationship to the world this week. I have learned the less capable you are of surviving the less options you have, and as a person who has managed to survive quite a lot, I limit my options with my own fear. I also learned that I often get stuck in the same place in my work: at the beginning of something. This is a wall I need to penetrate—yet I have stayed here longer in this area because it is so comfortable. I often get very pessimistic at the start of something new—I am not quite sure why—but I do know this is preventing me from growing and that I am the only one capable of making any changes to this dynamic. Afraid to start something new leads me to be stuck in a groove, no longer interested in any new process or experience other than what has been successful before. Everything predictable. Kind of like a Cindy Sherman photograph.

On this website I ask the question, what would you do if you weren’t afraid. Would you quit your job? Would you start a rock band? Would you write a novel? Would you start your own company? Would you travel around the world? Would you call your mother? Would you say you are sorry? Would you say I love you? I have been asking myself these kinds of things these last few days, and while I don’t have any definitive answers right at this moment in time, I do have some guidelines that I am considering for articulating my answer.

I am calling them Debbie’s Guide To My Own Personal Happiness. Here we go:

1) Try not to brag about things you do in order to convince yourself that you are worthy.

2) Wearing make up will only make you feel prettier until you have to take it off. Same for pretty clothes. How you feel about yourself can not be repaired by how you look.

3) Pride is different than hubris. Know the difference.

4) Assume that change will not kill you.

5) Having some money in the bank will not give you courage. Courage begets courage.

6) Freedom is not another word for nothing left to lose. Freedom is knowing what you want to lose.

7) People are like plants. They need a lot of water.

8) Being right is not as important as knowing when you are wrong. Admit it.

9) When you have nothing to say, it is better that you keep your mouth shut and listen.

And my most profound realization:

10) True love is not only about unconditional acceptance. True love is also about true love. It also helps if you assume that love is a good thing.

Ultimately I don’t really think I am searching for love or happiness or answers to how we got here and why. What I am searching for is some semblance of authenticity. I think with authenticity all of those other wonderful things come organically. So now I am asking myself, and I am asking those around me with intense curiousity: what nourishes you? What do you do with your intuition? How can we make a real difference, a real contribution to our friends, our families, our colleagues, our loved ones…and the world? Heady questions for a hot and sticky afternoon, but long overdue and I think, well worth the effort.


Anonymous Duane Michaels said...

I do certainly enjoy the Cindy Sherman photograph plug...

10/05/2005 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger lemonberry-koolaide said...

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2/01/2006 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Ms. Millman,

I am not a blogger myself, but I stumbled upon yours when I was researching Milton Glaser. I recently met Mr. Glaser when I was in New York. I interviewed him (rather unsuccessfully) about his life and career, for a research paper.

Because of my experience in the interview, I am interpreting that Mr. Glaser lead you to these realizations about yourself. Am I off base?

Also, this blog was posted on my birthday. Interesting.

My email is



6/29/2006 02:31:00 PM  

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Location: new york city, United States

Debbie Millman has worked in the design business for over 25 years. She is President of the design division at Sterling Brands. She has been there for nearly 15 years and in that time she has worked on the redesign of global brands for Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Campbell’s, Colgate, Nestle and Hasbro. Prior to Sterling, she was a Senior Vice President at Interbrand and a Marketing Director at Frankfurt Balkind. Debbie is President of the AIGA, the largest professional association for design. She is a contributing editor at Print Magazine, a design writer at and Brand New and Chair of the Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. In 2005, she began hosting the first weekly radio talk show about design on the Internet. The show is titled “Design Matters with Debbie Millman” and it is now featured on In addition to “Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design,” (HOW Books, 2009, she is the author of "How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer" (Allworth Press, 2007) and “The Essential Principles of Graphic Design” (Rotovision, 2008).

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