Sometimes you have to work for people who are less than honorable to keep the lights on.
Sometimes integrity is a luxury that people with resources can afford, and the rest of us wish we could.
But for those of us once stuck in that machine, and those of us now “free,” but much more poor and wounded for the experience, there for me was once a comforting thought I had after it was confirmed I was losing that job.
There was a young man who had been in a similar job within the same company for years. He saw the work I did and occasionally came to me to ask how was I able to design for causes and people I found detestable.
I confessed to him, some things I created made me physically ill. Pounding headaches and nausea and I had to sit in the dark to create them and try not to be eaten up by disgust and self hatred.
But two things allowed me to get through it.
Reserving funds from their work and donating to the opposite cause.
…and being a grain of sand in the machine.
I did my work and provided quality design but often on one of my comps, I designed in the truth they wished to hide, and if you were looking for it, you could see it. In meetings, I would ask the questions that would make the project managers realize the people we were trying to mislead were our family and friends, and the energy in the room would drop, and I’d forward ideas on how we could do that, each with a tiny grain of sand.
A grain of sand is tiny. It really can’t do much but be subtly annoying, but over time, that grain of sand can ruin the smooth working of machines.
I told him, if you find yourself in the same position, keep yourself alive, but find a way to lodge a tiny grain of sand in the machine.
You’ll be surprised at how this can alleviate despair.
So the end came a year ago or so, and I packed my things, and declined to go out for that final drink, because I said my goodbyes to those I liked, and it was a bridge too far to ask me to smile and be kind to those I really detested, so I put my things in my car, and despaired on the drive home since I knew it was going to be harder to keep the lights on.
I was underemployed for almost 7 months, doing everything from delivering booze, to taking small design jobs from friends who probably could have done the thing themselves.
Friends took care of me in big and small ways and to those friends I am grateful and often feel amazed and undeserving of their kindness and care.
More clients came. Not quite the same as before and never as much money as before but the lights stayed on.
…and occasionally I hear from the other designers each inside their own machines in various degrees, occasionally asked to make the thing that kills their souls just a little bit to keep the lights on.
…and I remember the little grains of sand.
So I told him my secret, and he smiled a smile that should never be on a face so young, so I know he understood me.
So, if you are stuck inside a company, and they ask for the thing that is detestable and you do not have the privilege to fight openly or decline, focus your despair, your rage, your disappointment. Distill it down to a tiny point, no bigger than a grain of sand. Do the best you can so you can keep the lights on, but make sure that grain of sand makes it into the machine.
Because a grain of sand is tiny. But too many of them over time degrade and eventually destroy the machine.
…and in doing so, in feeling a little less futile maybe you can save yourself.
Sometimes my rants on here are like little grains of sand…