RWDevCon 2016 Inspiration Talk – What’s Your Why by Jaimee Newberry

In this inspirational talk, Jaimee Newberry explains how we can use the concepts from design to better understand our own lives and focus on what’s important. By Christine Sweigart.

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Note from Ray: At our recent RWDevCon tutorial conference, in addition to hands-on tutorials, we also had a number of “inspiration talks” – non-technical talks with the goal of giving you a new idea, some battle-won advice, and leaving you excited and energized.

We recorded these talks so that you can enjoy them, even if you didn’t get to attend the conference. Here’s the final inspiration talk from RWDevCon 2016: “What’s Your Why?” by Jaimee Newberry. I hope you enjoy!


I want to tell you about this life changing phone call I had a few years ago. Before I do, I want to ask a couple questions.

How many of you love your work?

Yes! This is why I love speaking at these events: people are here to learn, sharpen their craft, and improve on work they love.

Has anybody ever seen any of my burnout talks before?

Okay, so a couple of you, that’s cool. I talk about burnout a lot, and in 2013 I hit burnout. Has anybody here felt burnout? All right, so it happens to us even when we love our work, right?

The Phone Call

Let me tell you about this phone call. In January of 2013 I was having a phone call with a friend of mine, and the phone call was me sharing my experience about an eight month ramp up to the worst burnout I’ve ever had in my life. It was triggered by the death of my dad in early 2012. Month after month this sort of built up.

Now, if you’ve seen my burnout talks before don’t get nervous, this isn’t the same materials, this is some things I’ve learned since working through burnout. (I had to make that disclaimer.)

Ring! Ring!

Ring! Ring!

Ring! Ring!

I’m having this phone call with my friend and I’ll telling him, “Okay I’m coming up on a two week vacation, and I’m really just trying to figure stuff out.” My two week vacation wasn’t about going somewhere tropical, or getting away from work so much as figuring out if I was going to leave the only career I had ever known for the previous fifteen years. Burnout had been so bad that death actually seemed more appealing than designing another product.

I was in a pretty bad place, and I was having this conversation. The question that I asked, I was like, “Okay Stephan,” (my friend on this phone call), “I’ve got to figure out if leaving is right. That is what feels right, but I don’t know what’s next.”

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He says to me, and this is what made it a life changing phone call: “It’s not about what’s next, it’s about what’s important.”

He kind of continued on, he didn’t say it like it was this sage advice – it was just a casual thing for him to say.

I struck me. It was the most important message I had heard. I was hearing the right thing at the right time. It helped me put into perspective where I needed to be.

It wasn’t about what was next, it was about what was important.

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Figuring Our What’s Important

I thought about what was important. For three years after that phone call this started me on a journey of designing my life. Basically what I did is for that first year I spun the product design process towards myself.

Instead of designing products I decided to design my life as if my life were the product I was designing. I did quit my job, I had other things bringing in income, but I really put the focus on what was important.

In terms of what’s important, this was the first list that I made:

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As soon as I got off that call with Stephan I made this list, and this is the list that said, “Okay, right now, right here, at this moment, these are the things that are the most important thing to me in the world. More important than work, more important than money, these are the things that are important to me.”

I thought that was great, it walked me through the design process. The first thing that you try to do in the design process, or when you’re making products is to figure out, “Why?” What it is, what’s your reasoning, what’s the logic behind all of this?

I realized that I was doing something wrong and I didn’t realize that until a couple years later, about a year and a half later. This was my first list and I thought, “Okay, this is me right now, but this could change, this could be somewhat dynamic as life situations change and in situations, your needs change. I might need to update the list, and re-prioritize the list.”

What I realized about a year and a half in, things were going pretty well as I was working my way through burnout using the design process. My habit was to kind of review the list every three months or so and figure out if everything was still on track.

Where I Went Off Track

I reached a point about a year and a half in where my savings had dipped a little bit. I was like, “I need to replenish that, I’m going to put something financial at number one. That’s going to be my focus.” A couple weeks after I did that I got a three month engagement with a client that was killer money, but I was taking a step back from what I had been focused on.

I didn’t really realize until I got about two weeks into the project and I was like, “God I’m miserable all over again.” I haven’t recovered from burnout, even though I thought I had. I ended up compromising number four: doing things that I love. It took changing this list for me to realize that was wrong.

I always explore the parallels in how we create the kinds of products we make, and how we can apply those to our actual lives.

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There’s so many parallels there. In making that error I started to analyze things and go back to what had worked. At points in my life, and in my professional career of designing super awesome products I started to analyze, “Okay what was working? Where did I go wrong here?” What I realized is that breakdown occurs when clarity of vision is lacking.

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You have your goals, and this clarity of vision, but when you derail from that, that’s when things start to go wrong. Whether you’re making a product, or you’re designing your life the same thing applies.

I started to think, “Okay, all right, all right. Everything that I’ve ever done, my philosophy, the clarity of vision applies to every product I’ve ever made, or will make. It applies to every goal I’ve had, or will have. It also applies to who I am, and who I want to be.”

Then when I needed to reassess, okay, what product history do I have that went really well. What product would I really consider a success, and what was right about it? How do I analyze this so I can fix whatever is going wrong in my process here?