I love music. I have zero ability to create it, but I love listening to music. I was that kid in high school who used clothing and hairstyles to hide my earbuds during class, kept a collection of CD binders in my car, and organized my iTunes library like my life depended on it. My little blue iPod Nano was my best friend. Today, I am the person whose bass you can hear loud and clear as I’m driving, who closes their office door because the music will distract teammates. I listen to music while I’m keeping house, making a meal, running… suffice to say that I rarely have quiet moments.
Like most people, I have a certain preference for a specific genre of music, and like any self-proclaimed audiophile, there are certain bands and singers whose music I gravitate to, whose music comprises actual double-digit percentages of my collection. I pride myself on knowing the words to every song on every album by certain artists. And while there is something to be said for having deep expertise about a narrow subject, lately I’ve started to realize that broad perspectives can actually improve your experience even with subjects that you already know really, really well.
I attended a concert the other night, and it was a band I’d never seen before. I couldn’t even name one person who performed, I didn’t know a single song or even a lyric. This was a first for me. I’m someone who typically allocates their “concert money” months in advance as “my bands” release their tour schedules. Even the genre of this band was different from what I normally listen to.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was excited to see live music as I always am. What surprised me the most about this concert was the extent to which I enjoyed the performance as an outsider. Even the opener was unique and interesting, and I found myself engaging with the performances in a different way than I had the weekend prior, when I’d seen my favorite artist for the fifth or sixth time as a headliner. I watched the facial expressions, the postures of the singers, and actually noticed the lighting and how it worked with the music. Every element was new and different, and my brain was processing it much more intensely than at my favorite musician’s show earlier that week, where the lyrics and performers were as familiar as a sibling.
While I felt the need to assess and dissect the set list, the differences between live and recorded versions of the songs, and the persona of my favorite artist during his performance, I was able to just sit back and absorb every slice of this foreign show and think about the music from a higher perspective. It was quality music. The band was skilled and I could appreciate their individual talents as I was listening and watching. I could hear the individual instruments and their contribution to the overall sound. It was a way of attending a concert that I hope I can experience the next time I see an artist that I’ve seen five times already. I want to appreciate the stuff I’m comfortable with in the same way I was able to appreciate the new, otherwise it might get stale on me and I maybe won’t love it as much later on. It’s a sad way to let a passion die.
I think this is an important perspective to take in your own work as well, especially if you, like me, genuinely like the work you’ve committed your professional life to. Being able to tackle your work from a new angle keeps it fresh, and frankly, makes it better. Recently, I started to feel this way about the work I was doing. My team and my job itself were wonderful, which made it even harder to understand why I felt the nudge of growing apathy as I began each day. I’ve been designing the same content each day for 5 years. My professional life has been a cycle of marketing, management, finance, accounting, and the like, year after year. Granted, there have been a couple of really great projects that have come my way over the years, but my “bread and butter” is traditional business topics.
So, all of this is really a long exposition to some personal news I’ve been waiting to share regarding my role at Penn State. Effective June 1, I’ll be an instructional designer for the College of Arts and Architecture’s Office of Digital Learning!
Shifting from business to arts will be a great way to flex my design ability and gives me a chance to work with new content, new faculty who think differently, and serve a different population of students. It doesn’t get much different than personal finance and comic book design, does it?
Suffice to say I am looking forward to this opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Leaving Smeal is bittersweet. The environment is a great place to be. The administration is supportive of the online education effort, and the competitive drive among business schools offered motivation to the community. But I know the field of arts and architecture offers a variety of new opportunities to test out creative uses of technology in ways that just aren’t possible in a business context. Based on my recent concert experience, I think this is a fantastic chance to rediscover what I love about the field and view instructional design from a new lens.