I am crying. And I am desperately trying not to smear the mascara I just put on.
I’m emotional this morning (well, more emotional than normal) because a professional dream of mine has been fulfilled: I’ve been published by A List Apart.
I read A List Apart when I was in college and needed to understand the difference between usability and design. I read A List Apart when I started my first full-time job and needed to create my first wireframes.
Today, people are reading Issue 311 of A List Apart and it’s my name at the top of that article. No One Nos: Learning to Say No to Bad Ideas by Whitney Hess. Woah.
Kevin Cornell’s accompanying illustration is kept under wraps until the article goes live. When the page loaded and I finally saw it, saw how perfectly he captured the essence of my message…that’s when the tears started flowing.
A shield and a
whip mace. Holy shit.
I believe this is what Oprah calls a “full circle moment.”
In the summer of 2003, just around this time, I sat at my desk, head in hands, trying to decide which career path I was going to walk down. I was entering my senior year of college and thinking about grad school: Master of Arts in Professional Writing, or Master of Human-Computer Interaction. I was double-majoring in both, and now I was being forced to choose.
In my heart, I wanted to be a writer. I wasn’t great at it, but I loved writing more than anything in the world. I loved the research, and the synthesis, and the craft, and the iteration. Newsrooms turn me on. But my parents warned me of a lifetime of pain and suffering and measly paychecks. Was I, a Manhattan girl, really going to spend my 20s at a free newspaper in Tulsa? I had second thoughts.
Having been a gadget freak since the age of 3, the technology sector was always the obvious choice for me. I had taken computer science for all four years of high school, and had been accepted into Carnegie Mellon’s prestigious School of Computer Science. But within weeks of getting there, I hated it. Being in the computer cluster spending hours hunting for a misplaced semicolon just wasn’t for me. I wanted to go out and explore the world, and I wanted to make it better.
When I first learned about HCI, a light bulb went on over my head. It was a calling. Thank God for Carnegie Mellon or I just might never have found it. Yes! I can “make technology more useful, usable and desirable.” That was our HCI program’s tagline. And it fit me to a tee. The research, and the synthesis, and the craft, and the iteration. Still I couldn’t see the parallels at the time.
So there I was, deciding which grad program to apply for, and I was crying. I was furiously searching my mind for a way to combine my love of writing and my love of HCI. Now you’re going to find this hard to believe: it never occurred to me that I could write about HCI. Even at 21, I was sure that the only way to combine writing and tech was to be a tech writer, and I desperately didn’t want to do that. I wanted to write about people. I wanted to write stories. I wanted to write to inspire. And in my mind, traditional journalism was the only way to do that.
And with a mental flip of a coin, I gave it up. I said no to writing and I chose HCI.
Seven years later and I’m crying again. I’m crying because I haven’t thought about that day ever since. I woke up this morning and pointed my browser to alistapart.com and I saw my name at the top of the page. And it all came flooding back. I remembered. I had been heartbroken over having to give up one passion for another…
Today I realized that I never did.
These are tears of joy. These are tears of revelation. These are tears of pride.
I am doing what I love. Both loves.
What a gift. It hasn’t been a straight path, but then again, fulfilling your dreams never is.
Thank you to acquisitions editor Carolyn Wood. Thank you to editor-in-chief Krista Stevens. Thank you to article editor Mandy Brown. And thank you to the entire crew at A List Apart for allowing me to take another wild step forward on this incredible journey.
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