What’s a personal bio good for?

Hit and Miss #11

Hello there!

I’m writing after a nice little weekend visiting friends. Taking time for myself is really, really important, but I too often let it slip. Sometimes a break can do wonders.

This week, I want to expand on disciplinary labels, which we previously discussed. I want to speak a bit more broadly, about the role of a personal bio.

A few months ago, I rewrote the biography on the front page of my personal site. Here’s how it read previously:

I’m a designer in Ottawa, just doing my best. I’m interested in how design can help humanity, and I work here to determine my part in that process, while also exploring my various interests.

Here’s what I changed it to:

This is what I care about:

  • Remembering the humans. Everything we do comes back to people—care for them.
  • Questioning arbitrary barriers. Disciplines are human constructions—mix them.
  • Listening. Nobody has every answer—consult widely and humbly.

The old one wasn’t bad! It described where I am, what I do, and why I do it. But the new one nicely demonstrates my “theory of biographical hierarchy”. (Still working on that label.)

Here’s the hierarchy:

  1. Label: “I am this thing!”
  2. Activities: “I do these different things.”
  3. Principles: “This is what I bring to all my activities.”

A label can be limiting, as we previously discussed. Describing activities is better because it illuminates our version of that label. But providing principles is best, because they apply to all our activities, personal and professional. Principles guide us in everything we do.

The edits I made to my bio moved me beyond labels (“a designer”), toward activities and principles. (I merge the two, describing my principles through universal activities.) It’s far more enduring than the previous: while I may not always be a designer, I’ll always be remembering the humans, questioning arbitrary barriers, and listening.

Is this hierarchy really so important? A bio is mostly meant for those who don’t yet know us. But I think the real value in revising my bio is that it forced me to consider how I understand myself. Explicitly enumerating my guiding principles clarified what drives me.

In the end, perhaps my bio isn’t for others so much as it’s for me. It’s a reference to what’s important in my life, a set of personal principles that I’m proud to share with others.

Have a great week!

Sent on November 19th, 2017.