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Debbie Millman

The following is an excerpt from a conversation between Debbie Millman and Jonathan Fields for the Good Life Project. Millman shares her career path and wisdom on how to find purpose in your life. Watch and listen to the full episode here.

Do what you want

I teach seniors in college. And my class is about getting a job. But it’s about getting the job of your dreams. Not just getting a job to pay the rent.

You can actually try to do both right at the get go. And if anything it’s easier right at the get go than rebooting your life at 32, 10 years in. Because you suddenly realize, I’m getting older and if I don’t do what I want at some point soon, I’m likely going to die not doing what I want ever.

And it’s a lot harder at 32 or 42, than it is at 22.

Growing up

I kept diaries from 1973 to 1992. And I’ve been going through and reading them all. I realized just how low I felt and how hopeless I felt about life.

It’s sort of interesting. As you grow as a person or human being, you somehow think you’re still the same person. You’re just bringing all of those same experiences along. Yes, you’ve realized more but your intrinsically the same person.

I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Now that I’m in my 50s, I feel like I’m still 14. But then when I went back and read my journals at 14 or my diaries, I am definitely not 14. And I’m nothing like that 14 year old person. Nor am I like the 32 or 42 year old person.

But going through that is what gives you that clarity. Seeing how far you’ve come, how there isn’t quite as much self loathing, how there isn’t quite as much insecurity - it’s still there, but it’s not the prevailing emotion.

The one common denominator that I can share with anyone that is going through self loathing in their 20s, 30s, 40s, or even 50s - is that don’t give up that it might never go away. Because I think it does.


I think one of the unfortunate aspects of the technologically driven world that we live in is the speed in which people want things to happen. I’ve been joking a lot lately that we’re now living in a 140 character culture.

Because we expect things to not only happen instantly, but also be expressible in this sort of very short telegraphic manner.

I was doing a lecture for a group of students several months ago, and I was talking about how long things can take. I feel as though I really didn’t achieve, in this sort of classic achievement model, anything that would be considered successful - really until I was in my 40s.

A young woman raised her hand at the end of the lecture, and asked for some advice because she had started a blog and she was hoping to get some pointers on how to get people to come to the blog, to read the blog. Because she was feeling very discouraged. She had been doing it for awhile and people weren’t reading it. She wasn’t getting any traction.

Of course, my first question was how long have you been doing it? And very sincerely, very earnestly, she said six weeks.

Like I can’t even come up with an idea in six weeks, let alone a viral blog. This is a really unfortunate ramification is this 140 character culture.

Success takes time

People in there 20s, when they graduate from college, expect that they have to be successful. And if they aren’t successful in their 20s or right out of the gate, that there is something wrong with them. And that builds into this real sense of hopelessness because they haven’t achieved something quickly.

First of all, I don’t even know if I would want to achieve something in my 20s looking back. Anything significant. Because then you have to maintain it. Then you have to keep doing it over and over. You have to keep hitting the home runs.

I’d much rather build to something that could conceivably be sustained just because of the length of time its taken for you to get there.

Fulfillment and Happiness

This is where I think we run into trouble in being fulfilled. If you think about it, our grandparents didn’t come home at night and talk to their spouses or siblings or whoever about whether or not they were happy at work.

It was about how they were going to survive, support their families and themselves.

You have to make your own happiness wherever you are. Your job isn’t going to make you happy. Your spouse isn’t going to make you happy. The weather isn’t going to make you happy. A restaurant isn’t going to make you happy.

I think you have to decide what you want and you have to find that way of doing it, whether or not the outside circumstances are going to participate in your success.

And for people that want to create something meaningful, if you’re not getting it at work then do it at home. If you’re not getting everyday in the workplace, self generate your own work.

Make what you need to do to be happy. Even if other people think it’s crap. Even if other people think it’s terrible. You have to be able to create your own happiness. Period.

What’s a good life?

Imagine immensities. Pick yourself up from rejection and plow ahead. Don’t compromise.

Start now. Start now - every single day.


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